Beautiful brows, but at what price? Experts call for regulation in the Show Me State

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 10:24 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- On celebrities and in social media, when it comes to beauty trends, eyebrows are having their day in the sun but to achieve the look, or even to have any eyebrows at all, more people are turning to tattoos.

It’s referred to as permanent makeup. But in Missouri, it’s largely unregulated, and can be very dangerous if done by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. It’s very rewarding work for Emily Thomas, owner of Inked Beauty Bar in St. Louis. She has been doing permanent makeup for years.

“I have clients that cry in my chair and it is the best feeling to be able to see them so happy,” she said. “A lot of these women they’ve undergone cancer treatment they don’t have eyebrows, maybe they don’t see as well, maybe they’re just not very good at doing their brows or didn’t have very much.”

Business is booming, she’s fully booked out for months. She’s even done local celebrities and television personalities.

“I think so many women are just normalizing it. So it’s just a normal thing just like body art, or Botox,” she said.

Because it involves breaking the skin, at her shop, proper procedures are the top priority.

“We are putting something that’s potentially permanent on someone’s face and not only that we are dealing with blood. And anytime you’re dealing with blood, you’re dealing with blood-borne pathogens,” she said.

It’s why, she said, training is so important.

“It’s really sad like it almost makes me tear up because I weekly have people sending me pictures, ‘Can you help me, I went somewhere and got botched,’” she said.

Pictures show what can go wrong: double brows, scar tissue and permanent problems.

“I was self-conscious, I was like, that’s my face,” said Kimberlee Shook. She told News 4 Investigates she didn’t do enough research before doing her brows in western Missouri a few years ago.

“It had faded a lot, and it was higher than they are now. One was higher than the other,” Shook said. “I have quite a bit of scar tissue from it.”

Shook turned to Meg Melchert in Kansas City of Ink’d and Classi to help reverse the damage. Melchert said it’s just one example of what she sees nearly every day, particularly because people are taking quick courses and thinking they know what they’re doing.

“They are teaching technicians just enough to be dangerous and scarring women’s faces in some cases indefinitely, where it’s irreversible,” Melchert said .

The big problem, she said is a lack of regulation in the Show Me State.

“Missouri is for lack of a better term, a wild wild west,” Melchert said.

Unlike almost every other beauty technique and certainly unlike other tattoos in Missouri, permanent makeup on the brows is unregulated.

“It is the oldest form of tattooing and it is quickly becoming the most dangerous,” said Melchert.

In fact, Missouri’s office of tattooing body piercing and branding even now has a disclaimer on its website, stating: “Although the Office recognizes the potential for public safety issues, the Office has not been given specific statutory authority to regulate these practices.”

Melchert and Thomas, along with others, have taken their concerns to local and state leaders, but they said they haven’t sunk in. Former State Rep. Nate Tate might not seem like the face of permanent makeup, who found out about it from his hairdresser, but when he learned more, he told News 4 it was disturbing.

“People are being hurt, scarred, it’s ruining their lives essentially,” he said.

He felt compelled to file bills in Jefferson City.

“The reality of someone thinking they can do this out of their basement or the trunk of their car is disturbing. A tattooist cannot do that,” said Tate.

He said it’s not about more red tape.

“Nobody wants more regulations and I try to explain that this is not about more regulations,” said Tate.

So, he proposed bringing the practice under the umbrella of tattoo regulations.

But his bills didn’t get far in Jefferson City, and now, he’s no longer there.

“I hope someone will pick up the torch and run with it,” said Tate.

“I think there needs to be something,” said Thomas. “Most states across the board it’s about 100 hours that you need in order to get licensure, and I think that would be exceptional.”

Back at Inked Beauty Bar, Thomas started her own training course, Inked Academy, to allow others to properly learn the trade. It’s an industry that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“I just love helping people feel good about themselves,” said Thomas.

The big takeaways here are: do your homework and make sure you’re asking the right questions. The services can be a bit expensive, so be wary of people who charge a lot less, or who seem to have wide open availability.

News 4 Investigates has been talking with current lawmakers to see if the legislation will be renewed. We’ll keep you updated.