As microblading grows in Columbus, health official explains tattoo, piercing and permanent cosmetics rules

NBC4 Investigates

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Microblading, a cosmetic procedure exploding in popularity, has little room for error. So, Columbus Public Health officials have cracked down on unlicensed providers of the procedure, which is a form of tattooing to fill and shape the eyebrows.

Tattoo artists in Columbus have been regulated for years to ensure their facilities are clean and safe. But when the microblading trend caught on about five years ago, CPH made changes to make sure microbladers were also keeping customers safe.

Kathy Keeney is one of dozens of licensed permanent makeup providers in Columbus. In addition to her steady hand and eye for symmetry, Keeney needed special training and inspections, and she was required to provide certain documentation to health officials in order to perform microblading procedures at her business, Boss Gal Beauty Bar.

“You have to have an infection control plan, you have to have your bloodborne pathogen certificate from the Red Cross, and you have to have good quality supplies with lot numbers and expirations,” Keeney said.

A registered nurse who used to work in the emergency room, Keeney said she’s never seen an infection in her five years of microblading.

Over that time, health officials say microblading has expanded in Columbus. There were only six licensed providers in the city in 2015, but now there are 64. In total, the capital city has 122 active businesses providing tattoos, piercings or permanent cosmetics.

“In the beginning of the permanent cosmetics trend, there was some confusion on whether or not microblading was required to be licensed,” said Sarah Badenhop, the coordinator of the CPH program that licenses body artists.

“It’s sometimes coined as semi-permanent … but it’s still a tattoo procedure where you’re inserting pigment under the skin,” she continued, “So, there were some people that had maybe aesthetics licenses already through cosmetology and thought that they could jump right into this.”

Licensed permanent makeup artists undergo two inspections each year. In addition to the infection control plan and bloodborne pathogen certificate, licensed permanent makeup artists in Columbus are required to complete first aid training. They also need in-person training in microblading, which includes performing the procedure on live models.

columbus business inspection color code
This graphic shows the color code of outcomes from business inspections conducted by Columbus Public Health. (Screenshot/Columbus.gov)

Online-only training courses are available, which Badenhop said are insufficient for a license anywhere in Ohio. She pointed out that some states do not have licensing requirements for body artists.

Badenhop also said she rejects a “handful” of applicants each year for insufficient training.

Occasionally, Bandenhop said, she will learn via social media or word of mouth about an unlicensed microblader. When that happens, CPH will issue a cease and desist order to that provider. The agency issued seven orders to unlicensed permanent makeup artists in 2018, two in 2019, four in 2020, and two so far in 2021.

Among the providers that are licensed, “We have very good compliance rates with all of our body art facilities. We have no body art facilities in enforcement right now,” Badenhop said.

If you know of a permanent makeup artist in Columbus that is not licensed, call 311 to report them. Search Columbus business inspections here.

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