AN AFTERNOON WITH KAREN BETTS

It’s not your average day when you get invited to high tea at Fortnum & Mason with Karen Betts in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but then again, Ms Betts is certainly not your average kind of woman…

Often heralded as one of the UK’s most esteemed permanent cosmetic and microblading artists – as well as running a beauty empire that includes award-winning brands like High Definition and eyelash extension specialist, Nouveau Lashes – it’s Karen’s incredible charitable work with breast cancer survivors (which she does on a complimentary basis) which is the reason we’re here today.

As one of the earliest pioneers in the highly specialised art of paramedical tattooing, Karen talks openly about advancing the art which is closest to her heart…

Why does Breast Cancer Awareness Month mean so much to you, Karen?

“My interest in permanent cosmetics was first sparked when a childhood friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a very young age. As a hairdresser, I already styled wigs for cancer patients, but when she told me her biggest fear was losing her eyebrows – and with that the inability to express her emotions – I started to do some research. At the time, I used to rent one of my salon rooms to a tattoo artist and he told me about a technique called micropigmentation which, at the time, was more mainstream in America. I found a training course, and within weeks I was in the States learning the craft I now teach worldwide.”

You offer medical tattooing on a complimentary basis as your way of giving back. How does someone get in touch for an initial consultation?

“I support a number of registered charities including the Katie Piper Foundation, Alopecia UK and The Alex Lewis Trust. Beneficiaries of these charities are usually referred via the charity. I also offer heavily discounted treatments to people with a cleft lip and supply complimentary permanent cosmetics equipment to one of my artists, who then offers a free service to my local Breast Cancer Haven. The training academy I own also requires models – people can apply to be a model via the K.B Pro website or by calling the office.”

What are the key things when performing medical tattooing on breast cancer survivors?

“An eye for detail and an understanding of the reconstruction technique the patient has had. The ability to manage expectations and show empathy is also very important. Because people often find it hard to look at their breasts after surgery, in recreating a nipple areola, I want to be absolutely sure the patient is happy with its placement, the colour pigment I have recommended and the size and shape so they feel at ease looking at the area. Nipple areolas are not flat, so I have to use a variety of shading techniques to create the illusion of protrusion. Also, if someone has a more translucent skin tone, their veins are often more visible, so I’ll create very delicate veins to mirror the other breast and surrounding area. My aim is to recreate a near exact replica of the existing nipple areola, so I always leave extra time for the consultation and treatment and ensure it’s all taken at a pace suitable to the patient.”

Before image of breast cancer survivor post reconstruction surgery
After image of breast cancer survivor post-surgery and medical tattooing
What are the differences between what you do and microblading or semi-permanent tattooing?

“Permanent cosmetics, semi-permanent make-up and microblading are all terms used to describe the art of implanting pigment into the dermis to create treatments for eyebrows, eyes, lips and breasts. What differentiates them is the tool used to do the treatment – digital versus manual. In recent months, the term ‘microblading’ has been trending on social media but it is, in fact, an ancient method that has been available for centuries. Microblading simply refers to the use of a hand tool. Tiny precision hair strokes are created by hand, mimicking the natural direction and lengths of your brows. Pigments are then implanted into the channels created by the microblades in the dermal layer of the skin. The sensation is similar to a little scratch. I offer both methods for eyebrow treatments but only ever use a digital device for breast work.”

How has the industry changed when it comes to these procedures?

“When I first trained as a cosmetic and medical tattoo artist over 20 years ago, nipple areola tattooing was a service provided by the breast consultant after reconstruction. I worked extremely hard to meet with surgeons and explore the benefits of a referral programme or training for their nurses for this part of the patient’s journey. I had also been developing new techniques and pigments and was eventually invited to present these skills, and those of my team, to over 200 breast surgeons at their annual conference and now, I receive hundreds of referrals each year and was able to prove to many medical professionals that correctly trained permanent cosmetic artists can be a great extension to the amazing work they do.”

How long is the process from consultation to finished treatment?

“Prior to the treatment, the patient will have a personal medical consultation which will explore their medical history in detail. In order to ensure the correct outcome, I need to understand what surgery or treatments they have had (or are planned for the future). I will then talk with the patient about what they would like to achieve. This helps me develop a solution that meets their needs. In addition to that, I will take into account other factors such as skin tone, breast shape and size. During the design phase, I will put on my make-up artist hat and literally draw the new areola/nipple onto the skin. The patient will be fully involved in this process. I will be their guide, but they will be the one to approve exactly what everything looks like. Finally, I will work on colours. Depending on how natural, subtle or strong the patient wants, I will custom blend my colours to perfectly match their requirements. Again, they will be fully involved in this part of the process.”

You also offer procedures for those with burns or disfigurements like cleft lip too?

“That’s right. In 2012, I announced my official partnership with The Katie Piper Foundation. I had previously been treating Katie over a 12-month period and, during this time, our personal and professional relationship developed – which resulted in me offering my skills to beneficiaries of her foundation. To be affiliated with such a reputable charity enabled me to pursue my passion of using my skill to help those affected by facial disfigurement as a result of accident and/or illness. As a result of this relationship, the media started to view permanent cosmetics more positively, amazed what the treatment could achieve in the hands of a fully trained and skilled artist.”

“Permanent cosmetics treatments are for anyone who wants beautiful, well groomed and perfectly natural-looking brows, eyes and lips without the hassle of the usual daily beauty routine. But for some, permanent cosmetics offers so much more; for some it can be life-changing.”

“At the end of the day, whether a client is seeking cosmetic enhancement or they’re in need of having something restored every person that I treat deserves  and gets 100% commitment from me. ”

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Inspiring, right?

Thank you for reading and if you need any more details or information, please do visit Karen’s website on www.karenbetts.co.uk

F.T.

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