Whether you overplucked in the 90s or are just obsessed with Cara Delevingne‘s and Solange Knowles‘s magnificent eyebrows, microblading could solve your brow envy. But you’re probably on the fence, especially after hearingall those horrifying stories of microblading gone wrong. One woman suffered a life-threatening skin infection after undergoing a discounted session, but the truth is, microblading really is safe when done by someone licensed and trained.

Still, microblading is a relatively new beauty concept, so it can be hard to know what’s normal and what’s not—and whether you’d even qualify as a candidate for the procedure. We checked in with brow experts Veronika Dmitriyeva, Mary Torres, Narissa Matheney, and Naomi Sinead (a.k.a. the “Brow Whisperer”), plus dermatologist Heidi Prather, M.D., to help set the record straight about what to expect if you’re considering microblading.

How does microblading even work?

With microblading, the technician uses extremely small blades to make tiny, hairlike incisions right above the dermis layer of the skin while depositing pigment directly into those incisions. As a result, your brows will naturally fade over time and require touch-ups. Because microblading is a semipermanent procedure, your brows will last anywhere from one to three years. This is unlike what happens with a tattoo artist, who injects ink below the dermis, making the results hella permanent.

To create the desired look, a technician manually punctures and penetrates the skin with the pigment color that best suits the client’s natural brow tone to give the illusion of fuller, darker, and groomed brows, Dmitriyeva says.

It can be great (but it’s not for everybody).

Microblading isn’t only reserved for thin, sparse brows—even if you’ve been blessed with naturally full ones, microblading can enhance what’s already there. But the results are especially remarkable on those with thin brows (and can be nearly life-changing for people who suffer from alopecia).

Something else to consider: “If you’re prone to keloids, or suffer from eczema or rosacea, then microblading may not be for you,” Torres says—and it’s also not a great idea for anyone who’s pregnant or breastfeeding.

What’s it like—and how much does this thing cost?

Before microblading, your brows will need to be measured, and your technician will determine a size, width, and depth that’s best suited for your face shape. Torres points out that brow technicians who rely solely on stencils to measure their clients’ brows are likely “not well versed” in measuring, so if you go to a tech who starts using a stencil alone, get on out of there. The brow mapping should take longer than the microblading itself—it is a crucial step to ensuring the best results.

Normally the technician will apply a numbing cream for at least 30 minutes to minimize discomfort, since the session can take up to three hours from start to finish. “If your brow technician spends longer than that, they probably aren’t comfortable with microblading and need more practice,” Sinead says.

In the days leading up to the procedure, fish oil supplements, vitamin E, ibuprofen, and Advil are off-limits since they’re blood thinners and can lead to excessive bleeding, bruising, and scarring. You’ll want to steer clear of alcohol, caffeine, Botox, tanning, and waxing/tweezing as well.

One session can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500 (the price largely depends on the location), but Sinead says it’s important to understand that a “higher price doesn’t guarantee quality work.”

Included in the price is a touch-up within four to six weeks after your first appointment because “40 percent of the pigment that’s been infused into the skin will fade, so the technician needs to go back in and reinfuse,” Dmitriyeva says.

Full disclosure: Dry skin retains pigment better than other skin types, so if you have really oily skin, a few additional touch-ups might be required. “That’s because the excess sebum can ‘push out’ the pigment, keeping it from giving the client the healed results he or she may be looking for,” Torres says.

Microshading, however, tends to be better suited for oily/sensitive skin types—and for anyone who prefers the makeup look 24/7, since it creates a powdered effect. Instead of making hairlike strokes along the eyebrow, the technician uses a “(round) needle to poke and deposit pigment above the dermis, focusing on areas around or directly on top of the microblading,” Sinead says. The only downside? Shading requires a certain level of expertise, so the process takes longer, costs an extra $75 to $100, and feels slightly more uncomfortable.

What are the biggest risk factors, and how do you avoid them?

Microblading is way less invasive than tattooing, and there’s zero downtime required, but infection is still the biggest risk, which means you want to do your research and choose a reputable technician who works in a sterile environment. “Your technician should have an extensive background in skin care,” Sinead says. “That includes having permanent makeup and blood-borne pathogens certificates.”

Browsing through the technician’s online portfolio is a smart move, but keep in mind it’s super easy to rip off another artist’s before-and-after photos—or use Photoshop to make one’s work look better than it is. Instead, watch for videos showing the technician’s face as they’re doing the procedure. Are they wearing gloves? Are they unwrapping the equipment before use?

Something else to look out for: the wrong pigments. “Never trust black pigment!” Matheney says. “Microblading techs should only use dark brown pigment even when doing someone with the blackest brows.”

Once you’ve found a properly licensed and trained technician, ask for a consultation. Be leery of any person who brushes off your concerns, charges a fee for the consultation, or refuses to give a complimentary allergy patch test. “They should be able to explain everything, from where they get their ink to how to properly care for your brows afterward,” Sinead says.

“When pursuing any medical treatment, it’s important to know the qualifications of the person performing the procedure,” Prather says. “You should ask: Where did this person train? How long have they been performing treatments? How reputable is the office? Going through this checklist can ensure that the person performing your treatment is using a sterile technique and following standard safety precautions to minimize any risks of scarring, infection, and transmission of blood-borne products. Board-certified dermatologists generally do not perform the microblading procedure, but they can suggest a reputable aesthetician or licensed professional who can safely guide you through this process.”

If you have friends who’ve tried microblading before, ask them about their experiences (or for a recommendation)—but follow your own gut above all else.

How long does it take for your brows to heal?

The average person needs no longer than two weeks to heal, but it takes a month for the color to set in. You might stumble across sites that advise you to not wash your brows for several days after microblading, but that’s not actually correct—not washing could increase your risk for infection.

Here are a few expert aftercare tips from Brow Whisperer Naomi Sinead herself:

·During the first 24 hours, gently blot your brows every hour using a sterile gauze and distilled water to remove excess lymph fluids.

·After day one, gently clean your brows every two to three hours with a slightly damp Q-tip and antibacterial soap, using a light tapping motion.

·On the fourth day, you can begin applying a thin layer of Aquaphor to your brows.

Slight redness, itching, swelling, and scabbing are normal. For the first two weeks, avoid rubbing your brows, exfoliating the skin, direct sun exposure, exercise, saunas, swimming, hot tubs, foundation near the brow area and/or brow pencil application, facial treatments, lash extensions, and, yes, even spicy foods (Sinead says it may increase sweating!). These things could all cause irritation and loss of pigment, as well as slow down healing.

The healing process is quite tedious, but the results really do look great. And the benefits go beyond saving you time on your morning routine for the next 12 to 36 months. “Your brows won’t come off in the pool or at the gym,” Matheney says. “And it looks way better than when you draw them on.”

Princess Gabbara is a multimedia journalist and storyteller. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @PrincessGabbara. Visit her website at princessgabbara.com.