Scalp Micropigmentation

You’ve probably heard about the different possible ways to cover up hair thinning or balding: wigs, toupees, hair volume thickeners, and a whole lot more, but have you heard about using tattoos as coverage? When we first heard about it, we knew we had to learn more. Tino Barbone, owner of The Scalp Micropigmentation Center in Ontario, Canada, told CosmoBiz all about Scalp Micropigmentation.

What is scalp micropigmentation?

Scalp Micropigmentation, also commonly referred to as SMP, Scalp Tattoo, Hair Tattoo, and Tricopigmentation, is the process of adding thousands of simulated, pigmented hair follicles to the skin of the scalp to give the client the appearance of a freshly shaved head of hair, or the look of a buzz cut. At SMC we call this process SMP HD (Hair Density). We can also use SMP to camouflage scars on the scalp due to accidents, surgeries or hair transplants. We call this process SMP SC (Scar Camouflage).

Is there a difference between hair tattoos and eyebrow tattoos?

Absolutely! The needles and ink used vary greatly between the two processes. I consider SMP to be a hybrid treatment – somewhere between permanent makeup and classic tattoo. The pigments used in permanent makeup should not be used for SMP. They are not formulated the same way, and run a high risk of changing colors. Tattoo inks may be too large of a molecule, and may cause migration or enlargement of the microdot, as well, they may leave some residue in the skin giving it a greyish, cloudy look to the skin over time. Although some PMU suppliers produce small enough needles to do the job, the taper of those needles are not made for SMP, as well as the machines used to power that needle are not powerful enough to pierce the top layers of skin smoothly enough to give us the perfect microdot needed to formulate a hair follicle.

Most providers using this method will find that their dots are way too big, giving a very unpleasant result. If the machine is not powerful enough, PMU providers will find that they need to push the needle into the skin, which of course goes too deep and causes a macrodot or big dot. Thus, there is a huge difference in scalp tattoo versus eyebrow tattoo.

Hair Density on Dark Skin Client – Before
Hair Density on Dark Skin Client – After

How long does it take to work on a whole head? How many sessions?

Although there are SMP providers in the world that guarantee that they can complete a whole head in 5 hours, and in only one treatment session, it is impossible and mostly just a marketing scheme. Because of the placement of the ink, and the fact that we would rather be too shallow than too deep (to avoid macrodots), the natural exfoliation process of the skin will delete about 10-20% of the microdots after each treatment. At SMC, we provide all clients with a minimum of 3 treatments. The client’s first treatment is 2-3 hours long.  

The second treatment, approximately 1-2 weeks later, would be 1-2 hours, and the third treatment is usually just a touch up treatment lasting about an hour. Those who are new SMP Artists in the SMP industry, will find that it may take them to 4-5 hours to complete their first treatment, 2-3 hours for their second treatment, and 1-2 hours for their third treatment. As the SMP Artist gain experience, they will get faster and faster at completing the procedure. On average, it takes approximately 5 hours over 3 treatment sessions.  For darker or oily skin types, more treatments may be needed to achieve great results.

Is there a certain type of skin or scalp that can’t undergo the scalp tattooing process?

Because we are dealing with the human body, one never knows the types of reactions that can occur. We’ve had clients come in with Scalp Psoriasis, and other scalp conditions which either prevent us from performing an SMP treatment, or run the risk of little to no results. If the client has very dry skin, there are more layers of skin that the needle needs to go through, and thus we may not reach the correct area of implantation. If we do not reach the epidermal/dermal layer of the skin to implant the ink, most of the ink will be in the dead skin of the epidermis, and just gradually flake off.  

Thinning hair with scar at the back – Before
Thinning hair with scar at the back – After

 What type of ink is used? How long does it last?

Different Scalp Micropigmentation companies and artists use a variety of different types of inks or pigments. We worked with our provider to produce an ink that stays black, lasts 1-3 years in the skin, leaving no residue, and is safe to use on all skin types with no carcinogens. All clients should make sure that their SMP provider knows their inks, their ingredients and that their ink is safe to use. Because different SMP Artists use different inks, it is hard to determine exactly how long the treatment can last.  

Some companies swear that their inks last years and years, and others even offer a 10 year or lifetime guarantee, which is abnormal and ridiculous, again, this is another marketing scheme. SMP inks have not been around that long, and thus it’s impossible to determine the validity of such a statement. All SMP tattoo’s fade, and the client will need to come in for touch ups every year or two to keep the look of their SMP treatment fresh. The sun is the greatest enemy to an SMP treatment. The sun’s UV rays fade the ink at a much faster rate than normal. Our SMP HD (Hair Density) Treatment does last longer than an SMP treatment, because the client’s natural hair protects the ink from the sun.

I advise all clients that you wouldn’t want an ink that stays in your skin permanently or for years, because I think we’ve either had a tattoo or know of someone who has a tattoo that is now unrecognizable years later due to fading and stretching of the skin. The microdot can change shape, color or size over years, and thus it is better to have an ink that fades over time and needs to be replaced with a new microdot, then to have a dot that is perfect today, and 10 times bigger in 5 years. A client’s only choice then would be to have it laser removed.

What is the average cost of an SMP Treatment?

The average cost of an SMP treatment is approx. $3500 for a full frontal and crown area treatment. Some clinics may provide this service for less, however, all clients should shop by portfolio and not by price. We’ve seen the results of low priced SMP and Tattoo treatments, and thus by looking at one’s portfolio, you can ensure you are receiving a quality treatment. Newer SMP artists may offer this service for less, which is perfectly acceptable, as long as they are being honest with their client about their experience in the field.

SMP - Before
SMP – Before
SMP - After
SMP – After

Does the tattooing process hurt as much as body tattoos?

If done correctly, this process does not hurt at all. For some clients we apply a topical anesthetic for comfort, however, most clients of SMC fall asleep in the chair because after a while the sound of the needle and the vibration becomes very soothing. The placement of the pigment is much different to that of a classic tattoo. Classic tattoos place the pigment in the deeper part of the dermis where all the nerve ending reside, and that is why tattoo causes so much pain. However, SMP is placed in the epidermal/dermal layer of the skin, and thus it may be irritating to sensitive skin, but causes little to no pain at all. There isn’t any bleeding during an SMP treatment, although there may be some plasma that may rise due to some swelling.

What inspired the opening of the Scalp Micropigmentation Center?

Seven years ago, my wife and I opened up Second Skin Medspa, and we were performing cosmetic treatments from Skin Resurfacing to Laser Hair Removal. Rose Cruz, my wife, started performing Microblading Eyebrow treatments, as well as other semi-permanent makeup treatments. I was about to join her in that venture, until I saw some online videos of men getting scalp tattoos to get the look of hair. I did some more research on the subject, and I could see what a huge opportunity SMP was going to be, not only for men, but for women too. I quickly took some SMP courses, but found that they were all missing something. The results I was getting were ok, but not what I was hoping for. After taking some more courses and seminars, I finally had to come up with my own tools to do the job, as I found these SMP training companies to be all about money, and a lot less about actually teaching the right technique. Classes were full and with only one or two clients, and 8-12 students, nobody really got a chance to touch a scalp.

When I opened the Scalp Micropigmentation Center in 2014, I wasn’t busy for the first 3-5 months because nobody knew that this process even existed yet. After doing some interviews, increasing my advertising and marketing on the subject, 6 months after opening, I was already booking for 4 weeks out. My main goal is not just to treat balding men, but to treat a wide variety of men and women with hair loss issues. This is a great treatment that can truly change the lives of those concerned with hair loss, and I’m glad to be a big part of the growth of the industry, and that is why we opened The Scalp Micropigmentation Center, and that is why we now offer SMP Training.

Tell us about your SMP Training. How can one apply? What are your requirements?

As mentioned, because there are a variety of scalp micropigmentation schools around the world offering training, some are experienced and some are not. It is very important for me to train our students the correct way, using the right techniques, and the right supplies and equipment to be able to replicate the best results possible over and over again. We only offer private, semi-private and small groups (3 max.) SMP training to ensure that all our students have enough time with the our Master SMP Artist, and each student is able to touch and work on a scalp. When our students leave the SMC clinic with their Certificate of Attendance, they are confident that they are able to complete an SMP or SMP HD treatment on their own.

Starting in this month, September 2016, we have a two tier SMP program. For those PMU or Tattoo artists, Nurses, Doctors, Hair Transplant technicians, etc, with one year or more experience in the industry, we offer an Online SMP Training Program. Once the student applies to SMC, and we verify their qualifications, they will be signed into our online learning portal and an SMP KIT will be sent to the student. Once they receive their SMP KIT, they will be able to login and follow the online lessons and training modules. For each lesson, there are quizzes the student must pass to move onto the next lesson. Once the student completes the lessons, they move on to the modules. The modules consists of various practice techniques including depth, density, building a hairline, peppering, fading, etc. They must submit photos and videos online to our Master SMP Artist in order to move on to the next module. Once they complete their final practice exam, they receive their Certificate of Attendance, however, there is one final module all online students must complete – they must practice on a minimum of 3 scalps and submit their photos and videos for evaluation. Once our Master SMP artist determines they have completed all the necessary requirements, the student will receive their SMP Certificate of Completion and be a full-fledged SMP Artist. They will receive their Certificate, as well as be placed under our website and receive a seal to let all clients know that they have been trained and certified by SMC.  

For students that are beginners, or those professional artists with less than one year of experience their respective industry, they will need to take the online course and attend our 3 day, in-class, intensive, hands on SMP training session. This is to ensure that the novice student learns everything they need to know about the SMP industry, and to provide enough practice on models to make sure they have the confidence and technique required to perform a proper SMP and SMP HD treatment.

To apply, potential students simply need to visit our website at to view our list of classes available, and/or send us an email at where an application form will be sent to the student, with submission instructions attached.