With a Khmer friend to translate, and a living room floor serving as
operating theater, the only thing missing is the anaesthetic.
Feeling old and tired? Need a pick-me-up but not quite sure where to turn for inspiration?
If you have the money and the inclination, Cambodia can supply you with a brand new,
permanently cosmetically enhanced face - in just half an hour.
Arrak Arunrat, for example, who runs Arrak's Beauty Care shop on Monivong Boulevard,
offers a pricey but everlasting solution for women who want to look their best all
the time: permanent make-up tattoos for the eyebrows, eyelids or lips.
Using a small electric tattoo gun with a tiny needle attached, Arrak injects small
dots of color, which she mixes herself, around a client's eyes. She smiles sagely
as she recites a list of her startlingly famous clientele.
"I was one of the first beauticians to do this art," she says. "Since
1992 many people have sought me out, including celebrities.
"I was taken to the house of Princess Marie [wife of Prince Ranariddh] just
before the fighting in July 1997," she adds. "I tattooed her eyebrows for
Arrak modestly says she's not sure why the princess chose her, but admits it might
be something to do with the fact that she has seen to the beauty needs of several
prominent ministers' wives.
"I think the word spread amongst those women," she says.
The beautician learnt her craft at the tender age of 11 years old, when she was living
in Thailand. When she came back to Cambodia, some years later in 1991, she brought
the tools of her trade with her, and started a trend that seems to still be growing
"I think a lot of women are getting this done now," says Dr Chea Navy,
who herself has gone a step further in cosmetic enhancement - last year she had the
fat sucked out of her upper eyelids. "I think it's quite a recent trend that
is growing in popularity."
Navy, who is now a doctor specializing in reproductive health, started out training
as a beautician, and often assisted in minor operations such as the one she herself
She opted for eyelid reshaping rather than color tattoos because, she says, "I
was not too old, but my eyelids were very heavy. I was not afraid to have this operation
because when I was younger, I was an apprentice in cosmetic eye surgery."
Chhup Savy, a midwife from Battambang and a longtime devotee to both the tattooing
and eyelid-cutting procedure, sports bright blue permanent eyeliner under her eye.
"Many of my friends have had this done," she says. "Some come from
Kampong Som and Kampot to get the procedure done in Phnom Penh.
"There was only ten hours of swellling, and it didn't hurt because the beautician
Permanent make-up tattoos have been available for some time in the west, but have
caused controversy as treatments occasionally backfire, with some tattoos seeping
or smudging on the skin. Other clients have suffered permanent scarring from unqualified
or unscrupulous practitioners.
Arrak Arunrat says she's never had any problems, although she admits that some women
come to her to ask for correction to cosmetic work done by other beauticians. And
according to her, "Eighty percent of women look better after they've had it
The process is swift - around half an hour for permanent enhancing of eyebrows, eyeliner
and lips. But surely it hurts? Why would women subject themselves to this kind of
"Oh, it hurts only a little bit," says Arrak.
"It hurt a lot," says Maggie Huff-Rousselle, a Phnom Penh resident who
opted for eye and lip tattoos several months ago.
"Having a normal tattoo hurts quite a lot. But this was around the eyes - it
hurt a lot more. And my mouth swelled up afterwards. When I looked in the mirror,
I thought, "Oh my god, what have I done?" But now, says Huff-Rousselle,
she's generally pleased with the result.
"It's very subtle around the eyes," she said, noting that several people
did not notice until she told them. "But I was not so happy with the mouth.
I got Arrak to redo the mouth several times, until the line was right."
Arrak visited Huff-Rousselle in her house, bringing all her equipment with her. "I
lay on the floor in my living room while she did the tattooing," says Huff-Rousselle.
"Which was probably not such a good idea as the light was very bad."
Wasn't she afraid that Arrak would slip?
"Well, not really," she admits. "I suppose there's a fine line between
being courageous and foolhardy."
And despite the pain, several women who have undergone the tattooing procedure were
enthusiastic about further treatments.
"I think maybe in a few years time I will have my eyes treated again,"
"Women will always want to be prettier," says Arrak, back at her salon.
"I just help them to achieve their goal."