Freckles, like large breasts and thick hair, are one of those "grass is greener" physical traits: Many who have them would rejoice in their disappearance and sometimes resort to covering them with foundation, and those who lack them are wont to lament their unbearably basic skin. After all, what gives a face more character than a smattering of adorable, tiny sunspots?
Then again, the same sun exposure that creates natural freckles can, over time, cause wrinkles, blotchiness and, worst of all, skin cancer. For freckle enthusiasts (including yours truly), it's quite a predicament. But now, there may be a better option: freckle microblading.
Anyone who's ever utilized Instagram's 'explore' feature could tell you that microblading — the act of tattooing the skin with semi-permanent pigment using ultra-realistic strokes — is huge right now. It's most commonly performed on eyebrows, transforming thin, over-plucked ones into bushy, Cara Delevingne-esque brows on the faces of celebs and plebs alike. But recently, microblading experts have started to use their specialized equipment to give their clients freckles.
I won't lie — when I first heard about freckle microblading, I was very skeptical. The immediate results I saw on various Instagram accounts gave me nightmare-ish flashbacks to my high school's production of "Annie." But I still wanted more information and had about a million questions — specifically, how long does the cosmetic treatment last? Is the process painful? Are microbladed freckles safer than natural freckles? And is this something that real people are actually doing?
I decided to consult three people who I figured could fill me in on all the freckly facts: a professional microblader, a board-certified dermatologist and a woman who's actually gotten faux freckles.
First on the stand was Audrey Glass, a professional microblade artist and the owner of Audrey Glass Cosmetic Tattoo in Los Angeles, who began microblading in June 2015 after having her own freckles done three years ago.
Though brow microblading is by far her salon's most popular service (she's currently booked through October), Glass estimates that between three and 10 clients request her freckling service each month — often as an add-on. "I've had several clients ask to add freckles to their brow touch-up appointment after seeing so many photos of them," she tells me.
The procedure — which costs $200 and takes about 30 minutes — goes something like this: "I draw them on with a pencil to map them out and get the client's approval. Then I do a first pass [with a rotary machine], apply a numbing gel and then go back for a second pass to make them blotchier for a more natural effect. I also add tiny random ones to tie everything together." She typically uses 10 to 15 different pigments on each client. Results can last up to three years, with freckles on the nose lasting the longest due to a lack of fat in the area.
Glass is aware that fake freckles have their haters — the comments section on her posts frequently turns into a war of words between supporters and naysayers. But she insists that the end result is far different from the images we see of fresh freckles. "It does look very dark the day of [the treatment] and for the next couple of days," she explains. "Yes, it does look like moles or beauty marks, [but that's] normal. They heal [and fade] within a few days to a week."
Next up: Courtney Jackson — a real, live person who's had faux freckles microbladed onto her face and lived to tell the tale. I found Jackson via Glass's Instagram, and as it turns out, she's the receptionist at Glass's salon.
Jackson got her freckles about five weeks ago, and says that it was Glass's suggestion. "I have a lot of beauty marks naturally, like little freckles, mostly on just one side of my face. So one day, Audrey was like, 'Bring your eyebrow pencil tomorrow and let me just play around with dotting your face up,'" she recounts. "So she did it, and I loved it."
I was curious as to whether Jackson got microbladed to attain the look of freckles without risking sun exposure, but she says that her skin doesn't really freckle naturally, anyway. Still, she now seems fairly committed to living that #frecklelife, telling me that while she doesn't really need a touch up, she'll "probably have [Glass] add more, and maybe even go a little darker." Pain-wise, Jackson says each freckle felt like a very light pinch: "It's more of an odd sensation than anything; it's funny because when it goes over your nose, it triggers you to sneeze."
"I was skeptical of freckle tattooing before I started working with Audrey," she admits. "I feel like people are still on the fence about freckling. It's a lot newer [than brow microblading], and people are a little wary of it. They see a freshly freckled face, and they're like, 'Oh, that's really aggressive,' or [they think] it looks like blackheads."
But, like Glass, Jackson is adamant that the drawn-on look is ephemeral. "My freckles faded really quickly," she says. "They fade so naturally and so fast, and I've gotten so many compliments on them" — including some from her initially skeptical friends. "At first, my friends were like, 'Really? You got freckle tattoos?' But then when they see them healed, they cant even tell what was there before and what wasn't."
Finally, I spoke with Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital. Though well-versed in the more traditional brow microblading, Dr. Zeichner seems surprised by the advent of freckle microblading. "The majority of my patients actually come in asking how to remove freckles and even [out] the skin tone," he said, referencing the lightening creams, chemical peels and lasers he keeps on-hand for precisely that reason. "But this procedure is totally the opposite."
Freckles (technical term: ephelids), of course, are a direct result of sun exposure and epidermal damage, so there really isn't a completely safe way to acquire them naturally. To that end, microblading may actually be the smarter option for freckle fiends who want to preserve both their skin and their specks.
But Dr. Zeichner warns that there are some slight risks associated with the process. "Anytime there is a cut in the skin, it is possible to develop an infection — so it's very important to make sure that the skin has been cleansed appropriately [ahead of the procedure], and that sterile instruments are used," he says. "Also, rarely, patients may develop an allergic reaction to the dye used for microblading."
There's also the extremely real worry that fake freckles won't end up looking legit. "It's very difficult to re-create the appearance of natural skin freckles, as they come in different sizes and shapes, with somewhat irregular borders," says Dr. Zeichner. "If you are going to get microblading performed, make sure you're being treated by a skilled artist."
So, are semi-permanent freckles going to become as popular and widespread as microbladed brows? Probably not. But for those who aren't afraid to experiment and want to add a little pizzazz to their faces without frying their skin, it might actually be a decent alternative (as long as you carefully research your microblading artist, and you aren't allergic to the microblading pigments, of course).
Just remember: Achieving Emma Stone-worthy specks takes time — or at least a few days of fading. So unless you find Pippi Longstocking comparisons to be flattering, you might want to refrain from posting any up-close selfies of your new freckles until things have settled in a little bit. Just maybe. But that's totally up to you.