What are the Differences Between Scalp Micropigmentation and Tattooing?

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Scalp micropigmentation (also called SMP, hair tattoo, or scalp tattoo) is the process of depositing pigment along the scalp to create the illusion of a fuller, thicker head of hair. While SMP uses similar equipment as a tattoo, it is just different enough for SMP technicians to need specialized training to successfully carry out these procedures.

This article will discuss the similarities and differences of scalp micropigmentation and tattooing, as well as how to find a qualified SMP technician.


Both tattoos and scalp micropigmentation are done with a tattoo machine, needles, and ink to deposit pigment into a person’s skin. This is basically where the similarities end. The machines that tattoo artists use are designed for tattoo needles, which are much thicker than those used for SMP. The tattoo machine is also designed for the movement of tattoo creation, which is traditionally a drawing, sweeping, or shading motion. As SMP uses smaller, more precise movements, it requires a specialized machine called an SMP pen. This machine is designed to hold the very fine needles that make scalp micropigmentation look so realistic.

Line Thickness

Scalp micropigmentation is measured in microns, which are 1/1000 of a millimeter. While the average human hair is around 70 microns, most SMP technicians will deposit pigment in thicknesses of 90-150 microns. This allows for fading over time while still being indistinguishable from the person’s natural hair strands.

For comparison, the average tattoo outline is 350 microns. This would be far too thick to look natural.

Needle Depth

Tattoos are meant to last a lifetime and often feature bold designs. This means that tattoos are deposited deeper into the skin than SMP. Hair tattoo results are meant to look natural, so a deeper, bolder line isn’t the most important outcome. This is why scalp pigmentation only goes into the top two layers of the skin, while traditional tattoos goes into the top five layers.


Traditional tattoos are often made using a composite ink that separates over time. This is why older tattoos tend to have a blue or green hue to them as they age. Scalp micropigmentation does not use composite ink, which means it retains its color, even as it fades. Because the ink fades over time, adjustments and customizations can be made to ensure the pigment continues to blend in naturally with the individual’s hair color.


Tattooing involves a pre-determined design that is tattooed to the skin while scalp micropigmentation is customized to each person’s unique situation. Color, thickness, spacing, direction, and other details are adjusted to ensure the finished product looks natural and attractive on that specific person. The skill of SMP is being able to look at a person’s hair loss situation and their natural coloring and bone structure and creative a cohesive look just for them.


Many people who have had both traditional tattoos and SMP say that the latter is much less painful. This may be because SMP uses a ‘dotting’ technique while traditional tattoos often use a ‘scraping’ technique. The thinness of the line and the shallowness of the needle may also factor into the lack of pain involved with SMP.

Where to Find a Scalp Micropigmentation Technician Near You

If you are considering SMP for hair loss, it is crucial to seek out a trained technician. You can start by searching for terms related to SMP and see what comes up in your area. Be sure to choose a technician that is not only trained in SMP, but also has experience with your type of hair loss. For example, you can search for “Scalp Micropigmentation Women” to find technicians that specialize in hair restoration tattoos for women. Once you find a few centers that you like, read their reviews to see what past clients have to say. So, if you are looking for somewhere female-friendly, choose a center for scalp micropigmentation women recommend.

Check their portfolios and schedule and consultation to discuss your hair restoration goals, pricing, sessions, aftercare, and any questions or concerns you have before getting started.

This is where SMP and tattooing are the most similar. Whether you are getting a tattoo or getting scalp micropigmentation, always choose a trained and experience artist who listens to your concerns and explains the procedures clearly. Going with the cheapest option or the one closest to your home may lead to disappointing results.

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