Great question and the answer depends on your preference. There are SMP practitioners who are known for using darker shades and there are some practitioners who are known for their lighter touch. At Edge Scalp Ink, we customize our treatments to the individual,
SMP on Shaved Hair vs. Longer Hair
The name of the game is matching the pigment to the existing follicles. This takes an expert eye, experience, and advanced technique to accomplish. If the artist is working on a person who has their hair shaved down, then the pigment shade used should be lighter. In contrast, if the person has longer hair and wants more hair density, then the pigment shade should be much darker than the one used for the shaved head.
Match Match Match
The key here is to match the pigment to the client's existing hair or the SMP will not look real. A trained eye and extensive experience is needed to get it right. A seasoned SMP artist will mix the right pigment and will always start lighter because if they go too dark, they can't go lighter later. The artist will also know to anticipate some fading which is normal and makes the pigment look even more real on the scalp.
Finding the right pigment for SMP is not easy. There are some artists who have their own special pigments, but they don't sell them. There are some SMP pigments that are sold commercially, one of the best is Folicule.
Scalp micropigmentation should never be completed in only one session. There are too many variables at play for the SMP artist to consider. Time and patience are the keys to a great SMP job.
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Never use regular tattoo pigment for scalp micropigmentation. It is formulated differently since it is used for a different purpose. A lot of the SMP horror stories you've read are a result of an inexperienced artist using the wrong pigment for SMP.