One of the most common questions we receive from technicians, is which scalp micropigmentation needles should they use? Often these questions come from aspiring practitioners who are about to take their training, or from trained technicians who want to expand their skillset by trying different needle cartridges.
As some technicians use tattoo equipment while others use digital permanent makeup machines, and needles are not compatible between the two, I’ll split this advice into two sections.
Needles for use with tattoo equipment
This includes popular machines like the Cheyenne Hawk Pen and Spirit, the Xion S, Kwadron Proton Equaliser, Bishop Rotary and Scalpa handpieces, although this advice applies to users of any standard tattoo machine that accepts generic fitment needle cartridges.
For scalp micropigmentation, you need Round Liners in either single needle (1RL) or triple needle (3RL) configurations. We recommend our ProTouch cartridges, the most popular brand for SMP treatments worldwide.
Single needles versus triple (3 point) needles
There is much debate about which is best for scalp micropigmentation, although the vast majority of artists now use 3 point triples (3RL).
Single needle use was more commonplace years ago, because Scalp Aesthetics trained all their technicians to use singles. However, many of their current and former technicians now use triples. Almost all technicians who were trained elsewhere were taught to use 3 point needles from the start.
There is no right or wrong answer, in fact some artists combine the use of both depending on the situation.
3 point needles make lighter work of treatments because its much easier to deposit the right amount of pigment in the skin. This is because the 3 point cluster acts like an inkwell, holding pigment at the top of the needle exactly where it is needed. However, light pressure is required to ensure the deposit size is an accurate representation of hair growing from the scalp.
Single needle users often experience retention issues, because too little pigment was deposited. That said, there are some fantastic results in evidence that were created using single needles. It is extremely important to regulate hand pressure, as single needles penetrate the skin very easily and meet barely any resistance, whereas there is more of a ‘bounce’ from 3 point needles.
What about needle diameter (gauge)?
Single needles are available in #06, #08 and #12 gauge. Triples are available in #06, #08, #10 and #12 gauge. But what exactly does this mean?
These numbers are tattoo-derived terminology for the diameter, or width, of each needle in the group, as follows:
- #06 gauge = 0.20mm diameter
- #08 gauge = 0.25mm diameter
- #10 gauge = 0.30mm diameter
- #12 gauge = 0.35mm diameter
For scalp micropigmentation treatments using 3 point needles, most technicians use #06 or #08 gauge needles, or a combination of both. Some artists have their own individual technique however, and prefer to use a #10 or #12 with lighter hand pressure. It really is personal preference.
The smallest 1 point #06 and #08 needle cartridges are too small for most scalp micropigmentation applications. If you prefer to use a single needle, we recommend the #12.
#06 gauge needles are hard to find, hence why our ProTouch #06 is our best selling needle.
Please note: whilst our ProTouch Round Liners are perfect for scalp micropigmentation, ProTouch Shaders, Round Magnums, Flats and Slopes are for permanent makeup and medical tattooing only.
Needles for digital permanent makeup machines
PMU machines have been used for SMP treatment for many years, in fact the world’s first providers Beauty Medical and HIS Hair Clinic, trained all their original technicians using such equipment. However, standard tattoo needles will not fit digital devices so different cartridges are required.
We sell Precision cartridges to fit many of the most popular machines, including the entire Finishing Touches range plus many other brands. However, there is a bewildering range of fitments for specific machines, therefore if in doubt, we recommend you contact us prior to ordering.
What sizes are used?
The vast majority of SMP procedures using digital devices are performed using a 3 micro. This is a 3 point needle with a 0.18mm diameter, and is suitable for almost all treatments relating to the scalp.
Which needles should you buy?
Exactly which combination of machine, handpiece and needle cartridge works best for you, depends heavily on your individual style and how you were trained. Choosing between tattoo and PMU machine fitments will probably be decided by what equipment you have available.
As a starting point, if using a tattoo machine, buy our ProTouch 06RL/03 and 08RL/03. These 3 point needles in 0.20mm and 0.25mm sizes will cover almost every eventuality. If you’re using a PMU device, buy our Precision 3 micro needles, however check the fitment will work with your machine beforehand. Ask if you require assistance.
How does needle size affect dot size?
This is one of the most important questions in the world of scalp micropigmentation. It’s weird that this subject isn’t more widely covered.
In scalp micropigmentation, each dot is intended to replicate a real shaven hair follicle. In order to achieve this, the dot must be the right size and shade, and it must stand the test of time. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen, hence why so many people feel the need to ask what kind of dot size they can expect from their provider. The underlying question of course, and what they really want to know, is whether or not their treatment is going to look like real hair.
Do the best clinics use the smallest needles?
This is a myth. Whilst the size of the needle does have some bearing on the size of the dot, other variables such as the type of machine used, the needle stroke and the pressure applied by the technician are far more significant in determining dot size.
By far the most significant factor is the amount of pressure the technician applies to the needle. The more pressure, the larger the dot. This is because the pressure applied determines the penetration depth, and this is crucial. The molecular structure of the upper dermis (epidermis) is much ‘tighter’ and more uniform. When pigment is applied at this level, a small and well defined dot is formed. If the pigment is applied too deep in the dermis, the structure is less dense and the pigment spreads, resulting in larger, less defined dots. This can contribute to the ‘helmet’ look, a common complaint where a treatment looks like one solid shade with little individual dot definition.
Permanent makeup and tattoo artists generally use more pressure than is used by scalp micropigmentation technicians. This sometimes causes problems when a technician tries to cross into scalp micropigmentation. They use the same technique and equipment as they’ve always used, and with the very best of intentions, but fail to recognise that SMP is fundamentally different.
Can the dots be too small?
Yes. Actually it is not the size of the dots that is the real issue, but more so the very shallow penetration depth that is necessary in order to achieve a very small dot.
Whilst shallow penetration is generally good in the world of scalp micropigmentation, too shallow a depth causes problems of its own. For example, when the micro-wound heals and scabs over, the entire pigment deposit is often removed when the scab falls off. Rather than leave behind a smaller dot, the client may find themselves with no dot at all. A further long term implication is that the pigment deposits are much more susceptible to ultraviolet rays from the sun. This is likely to result in aggressive fading, requiring the client to return for a top-up treatment much sooner than anticipated.
In tricopigmentation, an extremely superficial penetration depth is favored as this creates shorter duration treatments than in permanent SMP. However we are seeing a trend among permanent SMP technicians where penetration depth is also very superficial, resulting in finer detailed treatments that are ultimately safer, as pigment has a better opportunity to fade between top-ups.
The bottom line is you want to create small impressions, deposited in the papillary layer, the uppermost most superficial layer of the dermis. Pigments placed higher in the epidermis will fade extremely quickly. Pigments deposited deeper in the dermis run a higher risk of migration, and may appear discolored due to the layers of skin acting as a visual filter. The best way to achieve this fine balance is with a small needle and a light handed technique.