The Ultimate Guide To SMP Hairlines

scalp micropigmentation hairlines

This post was first published in January 2015, and updated in May 2016 and again in December 2021. An update was required due to phenomenal advancements achieved by a significant number of SMP providers around the world, in the creation of incredibly natural SMP hairlines. Defined hairlines are still popular however, and these are covered too.

There are a number of factors that determine the success of your scalp micropigmentation treatment. Although some people prefer a ‘statement’ look, particularly younger clients or those of Asian or African American descent, for most people the aim is a high level of realism. To create an illusion of hair that is convincing enough for your new look to never be questioned.

The most significant factor that determines the level of realism, is the position, shape and design of your frontal hairline. This is because the hairline is the first thing you see when you look in the mirror, and also the first thing other people see when they look at your ‘hair’. It is important to realize that the human gaze is naturally drawn to straight lines. If you have an ultra-straight SMP hairline, you’re much more likely to be called out.

Let’s look at the decisions you’ll need to make regarding your frontal hairline. The first two are self-explanatory – it is the third factor that is the focus of this article.

The position of your hairline

This should be a really simple decision for most clients, but one that so many people get wrong.

I remember a client of HIS Hair Clinic who demanded an ultra-low hairline, so low in fact that he would have looked ridiculous if they had given him what he wanted. Following lengthy discussions with the guy, it turned out that he was clearly suffering from Body Dismorphic Disorder (BDD), which is basically a compulsive and unreasonable obsession with one or several ‘flaws’ with a persons physical appearance. Of course the company refused to give in to his demands, and rightly so. He remains, however, a good example of a client who believed that an unnatural hairline position would look acceptable.

The best advice I can offer is to start with the position of your ORIGINAL hairline, before you started to lose your hair. It may help to refer to some old photos of yourself if you can’t remember

A couple of exceptions:

  • Clients in their 40’s or older might want to choose a slightly more receded, age-appropriate look. Start with your original hairline position and factor in some widows peaks and higher overall position. A competent technician can help you with this process.
  • Those with a naturally high hairline might want to bring their new SMP hairline a little lower than its original position. This is perfectly acceptable however proceed with caution. Moderation is key.

The shape of your hairline

Real simple one this. In most cases I would recommend that you start with the shape of your ORIGINAL hairline, and go with that.

If you want to make adjustments, ensure they are only minor tweaks. Remember you cannot change the shape of your face, and a hairline that is significantly different from your original is likely to draw unwanted attention.

Straight hairlines are spotted a mile away, so only go for the Jamie Foxx look if you don’t mind getting called out. You definitely want a rounded shape of some description. A nice rounded hairline that works with the shape of your head is what you should be looking to achieve. By all means add widows peaks, give yourself a slight point at the center or go for something more randomly shaped, but stay away from straight hairlines if you want to remain inconspicuous.

A number of American providers offer defined hairlines, but as natural looking hairlines have gotten more and more realistic, the defined look has fallen out of favor and tends to be the reserve of less-experienced technicians now, so it really shouldn’t be chosen unless you’re sure it’s what you really want. Many people are now lasering off their old hairlines and opting for a more natural look.

The style of your hairline

This is the clincher. If you’ve followed my advice about the position and shape of your hairline, you’re nearly there. Now make sure the finish of your hairline, the most important part, is executed professionally by an experienced technician. Needless to say, this part takes a certain degree of skill.

The broken or jagged hairline

A broken SMP hairline requires the scattering of random pigment deposits below the actual hairline, to simulate the natural distribution of real hair.


The reason why broken hairlines are so popular is because they mimic the appearance of a natural hair pattern. Very few people have a naturally defined hairline, at least not without the help of a barber, so broken hairlines are best for recreating a persons original appearance.
A jagged hairline takes the concept a step further, by breaking up the hairline more aggressively to remove any linear aspect to its appearance. Hairlines like these can work exceptionally well for some clients, and ultimately achieve the same goal as a broken hairline.

Lightweight hairlines

A lightweight hairline, sometimes referred to as ‘faded’ ‘feathered’ or ‘gradient’, is applied with an extremely light touch with no ‘line’ whatsoever, to completely remove any boundary to the hairline, thus avoiding unwanted attention. When executed correctly, lightweight hairlines push the boundaries of realism to new levels.
Another lightweight hairline in a slightly different style

If a lightweight hairline is what you want, there are two important considerations that you must take into account:

  • Faded hairlines are not suitable for everyone. They do not work well on darker skin, or on clients that require lighter pigments. In both cases, the ‘fade’ tends to get lost and results in a more defined look than was intended. There is little the technician can do to avoid this. The best candidates have light skin with medium to dark hair, or medium skin with dark hair.
  • Even when the candidate is ‘ideal’, it takes a considerable level of skill to create this look. The technique is beyond the capability of the average scalp micropigmentation technician, therefore it is essential that the right technician is sought and evidence of their results is acquired prior to any commitment being made.

The ‘edge-up’ hairline

Often combined with a defined hairline shape, an edge-up SMP hairline is often referred to as a ‘hard line’, and involves no deviation from the intended hairline position. No pigments are scattered, and no attempt is made to break the hairline up.

These hairlines are still popular among younger clients, particularly African American and Asian clients, however a natural appearance is not usually achieved. The style is best suited to those who want a ‘statement’ look and aren’t concerned about being called out.

Also, a word of caution. Nothing but edge-up hairlines in a technicians portfolio is often a sign of limited experience, or a sub-standard skill level. Defined hairlines are simpler to create than ultra-realistic hairlines, and frankly, require less talent to produce. Don’t be put off at all if a technician has hairlines like these in their portfolio, but be mindful that they should be able to create a mix of hairlines, including the latest broken, jagged and lightweight examples shown above.

Defined hairlines are particularly popular and suitable for clients with darker skin, like this African American client above

What’s the deal with super straight hairlines?

Having just returned from a much-needed family holiday, and consequently unplugged from the scalp micropigmentation world for a few days, I jumped onto Instagram to catch up and see what I’d been missing. After browsing my usual selection of favorites, I happened upon a really great treatment by Scalp Aesthetics New England, an SMP clinic in Massachusetts, USA.

Without a doubt, the quality of the artistry is sublime (see below). The blending is excellent and despite significant post-treatment redness, you can already see a great result in the making. The only issue is the super-defined hairline, and this got me thinking.

You see, the sharper ‘edge-up’ or ‘line-up’ look is actually very popular. American technicians in particular receive requests for this kind of style all the time, and for some clients, a straight ‘statement’ hairline is the only way to go. They simply won’t have it any other way. I would guesstimate that around a quarter of all American clients ask for this style.

This approach contrasts sharply with what we see on the other side of the pond. The best British clinics would never suggest a straight or defined hairline, and would only agree to create one if the client absolutely insisted. Most European clinics are so used to producing natural broken hairlines, they probably wouldn’t know how to do an edge-up, even if they were asked. A clinic I visited recently had to redecorate their entire office, because clients objected to murals on the walls showing clients with straight hairlines.

Yet in America, clients go crazy for the sharper look.

Why are straight hairlines so popular?

I might not be a fan of the edge-up, but many people are, and the flexibility of scalp micropigmentation, including the range of available hairlines, is one of its greatest strengths. However, I fail to understand why preferences Stateside (and to a lesser extent, in Australia) differ so much from those in Europe. It’s a discussion I’m keen to raise at the Scalp Micropigmentation Conference in October.

Straight hairlines are easier to produce than broken hairlines, and act as a starting point for many clinics with less experience. The more complex jagged or faded hairlines tend to appear in their portfolios later, when their technicians have gained sufficient skill to tackle the broken hairline. However, it would be wrong to suggest that straight hairlines are produced by lesser clinics, because very often they are simply responding to client requests. All American clinics are asked to produce the edge-up, from the very newest to the longest established.

This is the hairline I found on Instagram. Great work by Brian Santora

I can’t help but wonder if the trend is driven, at least in part, by the clinics offering the service. Although technicians at Scalp Aesthetics are happy to create more natural hairlines, the company is well known for it’s edge-up styles. When a high volume provider like Scalp Aesthetics demonstrates a particular talent and preference for a certain style, overall trends can sometimes be influenced.

A broken hairline, also by Scalp Aesthetics. Although the company offers both hairline styles, there has been a definite increase in the number of clients requesting edge-ups.

Scalp Aesthetics is by no means alone. Other clinics report the same requests from American clients. The edge-up is not only here to stay, but it’s actually growing in popularity, despite ever-improving broken hairlines being produced by leading clinics.

Why do you want scalp micropigmentation?

I believe this is the key question behind the straight hairline phenomenon.

For most people, the answer is the same as it has always been – they want to look like they have real hair. They’re sick of going bald and want a believable appearance of hair that isn’t going to draw any unwanted attention. These are the guys who quietly slip into their nearest SMP clinic, and after their procedure, exit just as discreetly and return to everyday life, their friends and family none the wiser.

Carlos Diaz is featured in the video above, and specifically requests an edge-up hairline.

However, there is a growing number of people who want to take scalp micropigmentation a step further, and make a statement with their new look. Far from hiding their procedure, many of these guys discuss it openly and have no fear or embarrassment when people realize their ‘hair’ is actually just a really effective illusion. They want to rock their look, and are happy to carve a style that makes a statement about their personality.

If you’re the type who wants to keep your treatment a secret, then the straight or defined hairline is definitely not for you. If, however, you’re happy for people to know and you really want a younger, fresher look, then an edge-up might just work.

Getting what you want

With so many different SMP hairline styles, it can be hard to explain to your technician what you actually want, and sometimes even harder to find a technician who can deliver what you’re looking for.

Many of the terminologies like ‘broken hairline’, ‘feathered hairline’ and ‘edge-up’ have become industry-standard terms. If you ask your technician, the chances are good that they will understand what you mean.

Ultimately it’s about communication. A skilled scalp micropigmentation technician should be able to replicate any hairline style you desire, whether you want a totally natural appearance or a braver style. The key is to ensure your technician understands exactly what you’re looking for. Take photographs if necessary, or ask to see examples of their work so you can use them as a point of reference.

Search By Country