She has a host of celebrities as clients and has been dubbed the Queen of Brows, but there is more to Karen Betts’s work. Catherine Scott reports
Eyebrows, it seems, have never been bigger business.
The bigger, the fuller, the wider, the better.
But for Karen Betts, eyebrows have been her life for the last 20 years.
From a small office in West Yorkshire, Karen has grown her cosmetic tattooing business to an international team of 250 employees with a turnover of more than £7m.
With clinics in Harley Street, Pontefract and Cheshire, Karen is a pioneer of permanent cosmetics which includes the current trend for microblading.
She has a host of celebrity clients, but it isn’t just for those who want a fuller and more shapely brow.
A lot of Karen’s work is now dedicated to helping cancer patients who have lost eyebrows due to chemotherapy.
It is all a long way from that tiny room in Pontefract where this working class lass started out.
“I grew up with the working class ethos,” says Karen. “My mum worked during the day and then had another job at night, I started babysitting from a young age and after I went to college I set up my own mobile hairdressing business before opening my first hair and beauty salon in South Elmsall.”
But even back then Karen was pushing the boundaries.
“I was always on the look out for the next big thing and wanted to be ahead of the game.”
It was while watching a tattoo artist who rented a room from her that she came up with the idea for permanent make-up.
“A friend of mine had had breast cancer and lost all her hair due to the chemotherapy. I decided to try to tattoo her some eyebrows. Although I didn’t really know what I was doing she was thrilled. I also made her wig and she said it gave her so much confidence. I did some research and realised that there was a real gap in the market.”
She took herself off to America where permanent make-up was more mainstream to learn the basics.
“I came back to the UK and said to my partner ‘in five years’ time this is going to be massive’.”
That was 20 years ago, and now Karen is leading the way in the field of permanent cosmetics.
Her beauty empire includes High Definition, an award-winning beauty brand previously known as HD Brows, and the award-winning eyelash extensions specialist Nouveau Lashes – the pioneer of the LVL Lash Lift. Karen’s latest venture is KB Pro, a new permanent cosmetics and microblading brand.
But it isn’t just about the beauty business for Karen.
She is the para-medical tattooing consultant for the Katie Piper Foundation. She donates 50 treatments to the foundation every year and donates at the annual charity ball and luncheons.
Katie, whose face was severely burned in an acid attack, is herself one of Karen’s clients.
Katie wanted to bring back features lost in the attack, which was well documented in the media.
She hoped Karen could put colour back in her lips and define her eyes and brows where the hairs had been destroyed.
Karen worked with Katie as she recovered over 12 months, taking into consideration ongoing surgical procedures and the condition of her skin, to recreate her lips and bring back the definition to her eyes and brows.
She also supports Alopecia UK by offering people living with alopecia discounted treatments.
One of her famous clients is Gail Porter who lost all her hair to alopecia and decided to ask Karen to microblade her some eyebrows to raise awareness of the condition.
She does most if not all her medical tattoo work on a complimentary basis as she is now in the fortunate position to be able to use her cosmetic tattoo income to support this.
For many years Karen has also supported her local Breast Cancer Charity, Breast Cancer Haven, Leeds, by providing complimentary and discounted nipple areola and brow treatments. She also supplies a locally trained permanent cosmetic artist with the free equipment she needs to hold a monthly clinic at the Haven so more people can benefit from the treatment.
“I do what I do because I like to change people’s lives for the better,” says Karen.
“I believe everyone, young or old, fighting fit or seriously ill, deserves to look their best. That’s why I give as much of my time as I can to work for my favourite charities.”
Karen’s most recent charity affiliation is with the Alex Lewis Foundation and has seen her embark on a journey to help a young father, Alex Lewis, who was left disabled and disfigured by a Strep A infection.
Alex visits Karen once a month for the next year whilst she helps to give him new lips so that his son will kiss him again.
“I am also working with Alex to try to help him in his business,” says Karen.
“One of the big things we do is give people careers by training them in the latest techniques.
“I had no idea that brows would become so big when we started out and it is hard to think that it all began in a little office in Pontefract.”
Karen, who has never had children, puts her success down to keeping ahead of the rest, but also being incredibly organised.
“I’ve never been maternal so children have never really been on my radar. But I am incredibly organised and plan my day and prioritise things,” says this down-to-earth Yorkshire woman with a broad accent.
“I spend half the week in London and the rest in Yorkshire. Being from Yorkshire is a benefit – it keeps me grounded. I am who I am and I don’t change for anybody.”