Tanya Chasse’s permanent makeup studio in Observatory Hill is a nontraditional haven for clients with alopecia, people who identify as transgender and breast cancer survivors.

Story and photo by Ashlee Green

Tanya Chasse is an artist in many disciplines. Before moving to Pittsburgh in 2013, she and her husband lived in Maine, where they owned a restaurant. She said her favorite aspect of the job was plating, or making the food look “super fabulous.”

“I think that that’s art,” Chasse said. “Creating desserts and plates of gorgeous food.”

When she and her husband moved to Pittsburgh about six years ago, she began dabbling in neighborhood art markets, selling her handmade jewelry, paintings and objects. She didn’t find her true passion, though, until she had microblading done to her eyebrows. Microblading is a form of permanent makeup performed with a handheld tool the size of a ballpoint pen. One end of the tool has a series of tiny, slanted needles which, when dunked into pigment and used to draw on hair strokes of the eyebrows, mimics real hair.

“I loved that girl’s studio, I loved what she was doing for people,” said Chasse. “On my drive home, I thought: ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Chasse traveled to Florida to train with Joyce Cirasuola and before long, opened her own studio, Chasse Permanent Makeup, which is attached to her home in Observatory Hill. She also closely follows the work of Amber Guthery and Teryn Darling out of Girlz Ink, a permanent makeup studio in Las Vegas. She loves learning, and said there’s always new permanent makeup trends on the rise, new skills and techniques to pick up.

“If somebody’s really talented, I want to know their tricks, so I will hop on a plane and go to their training and learn more,” said Chasse. She explained that experts have designed and developed specialized permanent makeup pigments which, unlike tattoos, fade with time. In addition to microblading, Chasse offers powder brows, which are done using a tattoo rotary machine and last longer than microblading, as well as eyeliner, lips, tattoo removal, and 3D areolas.

Chasse’s 3D areola tattoo clientele are either women who have had breast reduction surgery, and in the process lose the natural pigment in their areolas, or breast cancer survivors. If breast cancer survivors undergo breast reconstruction surgery, their nipples and areolas are often not replaced. According to Chasse, this is because they could also contain cancer cells.

To tattoo 3D areolas, Chasse measures a client’s breasts, helps them choose a size and pigment, then adds highlights and shading to make them look natural. Some clients even choose heart-shaped ones. Chasse feels a special connection with clients who have experienced breast cancer, because she was diagnosed with it herself just last year.

“I was doing paperwork for a breast cancer client one day and I thought, ‘Jeez, I probably should go get an exam. I haven’t had [one] in a long time,’” she recalled. She was out of work for three or four months, and said that when clients called her to book an appointment, she either told them that she was booked, or that she was recovering from wrist surgery.

“When people hear the word ‘cancer,’ they think you’re going to die,” Chasse said. “They don’t know that we can survive this, hence ‘breast cancer survivors.’” She made up excuses, she said, so she wouldn’t scare people away.

“I feel like I’m the right person for [women with breast cancer] because I’ve been there, I’ve been through it.”

Chasse said she’s tried to find loopholes in the medical insurance system that would assist women in getting compensation for 3D areola tattoos, but she hasn’t found any yet. She offers her permanent makeup services for free to two clients per year, as a way to help offset any overwhelming medical bills or loss of self-confidence from the hair loss associated with chemotherapy.

“When I was visiting the hospital, I would give out my card and say, ‘Call me, I’ll give you some eyebrows,’” Chasse said with a laugh. It was ironic that she developed breast cancer herself, she said, and it’s hard for her to maintain her composure when clients are crying at her studio, because she knows what they’ve been through.

“It’s very secretive what these women have gone through,” Chasse said. “They’ve been through hell.”

Chasse said she tries to exercise every day and eat well. Her last mammogram was clear. She said part of her job now, as a permanent makeup artist helping women with breast cancer, is not unlike that of a therapist. Consultations including the procedure last about three hours, and she said her clients often share their in-depth stories with her during that time.

“The room is filled with emotion. It’s a big deal for them,” she said. “[I’m] putting back that piece to help them feel modest again.”

Chasse also welcomes people with alopecia and those who identify as transgender to her studio.

“I’m showing them how to groom their eyebrows… shaping them [to] help them with their appearance and their transition into becoming a woman,” she said. “That’s a really fun part of my job. I love seeing the changes.”

There are always up-and-coming trends in permanent makeup, Chasse explained, like freckles, beauty marks, scar camouflage and even pointillism scalp work for men who are balding. She stays current on them by continually traveling, training and diversifying her own skills. Eventually, she’d like to train others in her craft.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying put, taking care of clients and making people happy.”