On a recent June morning in Brooklyn, Chloe Sarre nearly drifted into sleep on a bed in a cozy room as a makeup artist used a needle dipped in a semipermanent liquid pigment to carefully prick about 20 microscopic dots across her cheeks.
Keila Cummings, the artist and a co-owner of Browstress, a cosmetic tattoo shop, was blotting off excess ink with a baby wipe as Ali Gatie’s “Used to You” floated through her 10th-floor studio in the neighborhood of Dumbo.
“Oh, that doesn’t hurt at all,” said Ms. Sarre, a 35-year-old women’s fitness trainer who lives in Brooklyn. “Honestly, the eyebrow waxing is worse.”
Before her appointment, Ms. Sarre had drawn specks on herself with an eyebrow pencil to wear the latest beauty trend that thousands of people across the country are trying out: freckle tattoos. Available in the shape of hearts, stars or even astrological signs, the melanin-filled skin marks, once a cause for schoolyard torment, have become the latest TikTok obsession.
Freckle tattoos are created with the same pigment used for eyebrow microblading, another cosmetic treatment in which semipermanent pigment is etched into the surface of the skin. The effect of microblading is fuller and thicker brows.
The procedure for these artificial sun kisses takes around an hour and is less painful and permanent than a traditional tattoo. It lasts about eight months to two years, depending on skin type, sun exposure and how often the recipient exfoliates, and the cost starts at about $200 to $500, depending on tip, location and how many someone gets.
Freckle tattoos began coming into vogue around 2018, said Krystal Cummings, Keila’s 36-year-old twin sister and a co-owner of Browstress. She said she learned how to do them after a client’s request.
“She told me to call her when — not if — I started doing them,” said Krystal, whose nose is sprinkled with freckles she tattooed herself.
Krystal, a former 911 operator, opened Browstress in 2018. She was inspired to learn about microblading when her aunt was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy, which made her eyebrow hairs fall out. She watched YouTube tutorials, practiced on herself and mastered the touch required to make the freckle tattoos look natural.
“You want them to be light and airy,” she said, “and you want the edges to be really, really soft.”
Throughout history, freckles have long been misunderstood and seen as imperfections. But there was a notable shift in the mid- to late 20th century, when a tan (and the accompanying freckles) became a status symbol of a life of leisure, said Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, a fashion historian who specializes in the early modern period.
By the 1990s, freckles were associated with a more youthful appearance, thanks to the model Twiggy and the singer Jane Birkin, as well as the 1960s cultural movement “youthquake.” In the early 2000s, they had become trendy on ad campaigns and runways. Then, in 2018, Meghan Markle’s decision to go more natural for her wedding to Prince Harry led to a surge in imitation freckles.
In recent years, the rise of TikTok and the openness of influencers who are getting cosmetic work done have further bolstered procedures like freckle tattoos to a larger audience.
For Browstress, Krystal said, a majority of clients heard about the tattoos through word of mouth, web searches or social media.
Of course, not all press is positive. There are a number of posts of women sporting bright red, Pippi Longstocking-like dots right after the procedure, which some people can mistake for the final outcome. (Saki Lee, a Brooklyn-based artist who also offers the tattoos, said that was why she shared mainly images of the healed, finished results on her Instagram account.)
The worst of the inflammation typically subsides within 10 minutes, Ms. Lee said, though redness can last longer for people with fair skin. For many clients, their cheeks usually just look mildly sunburned immediately after the procedure.
At the end of the hour, Keila advised Ms. Sarre to stay out of the sun and not to exfoliate her face for five to seven days.
Oh, Krystal chimed in, one more thing: “Did Keila tell you that you can’t work out for like three days?”
“You did not mention that,” said Ms. Sarre, who, dressed in a sweat-wicking navy T-shirt, black leggings and Crocs, looked like she was on her way to do exactly that. “Why?”
“You’ll sweat out the pigment,” Krystal said.
After agreeing on a compromise — she could work out, but not too hard, and the sauna was definitely off limits — Ms. Sarre posed for some photos, admiring her new speckles.
The tattoos take about two weeks to heal and begin to lighten from a dark to a blondish brown after the first week, Keila said. Some may disappear completely.
“One to two will fall out,” Keila said, “but we can add them back in.”
The sisters often err on the side of going lighter before adding more freckles or darkening them as desired.
Has anyone ever asked to remove them?
“No,” Krystal said. “In fact, people almost always want more.”