By Léo Azambuja

Sonia ‘Sissy’ Malvas, left, and her sister, Kimberly Ramirez, at the Pretty in Ink studio in Lihu‘e.

What if there was a magic pill that would save you at least 30 minutes every day, made you look several years younger and caused you to wake up looking just as gorgeous as the previous night when you were wearing the perfect makeup?

Well, there’s no such pill. But there’s semi-permanent tattooing at Pretty in Ink, which will do all those things this magic pill would.

“I love helping people and making them feel beautiful,” said Sonia “Sissy” Malvas, owner of Pretty in Ink in Lihu‘e.

Sissy is an aesthetician who specializes in semi-permanent makeup, a form of tattooing. Utilizing needles just like in traditional tattooing, Sissy draws eyebrows and eyeliners, colors lips and even creates beauty marks. But unlike traditional tattooing, semi-permanent makeup uses an organic pigment made with rocks stones and crystalline water that fades out in two-to-three years, depending on the client’s after care.

“There are no harsh chemicals,” she said of the organic pigment she uses.

Sonia ‘Sissy’ Malvas working on a client’s eyebrow.

Although a semi-permanent makeup may last up to three years with proper care, Sissy encourages her clients to check back with her in a year. Most don’t need any touchup, but for those people with an active lifestyle — “gym rats,” surfers and horseback riders — Sissy said she always lets them know they might need a touchup in six months because their tattoos may not hold up well due to sweat and exposure to the sun.

Perhaps one of the major benefits of using organic pigments that fade out is that our faces change as we age. As we get older, we develop wrinkles, and the skin will sag a little bit. At that time, Sissy said, she can just let the semi-permanent makeup fade out and start all over again, like a facelift.

“I like the fact that it fades out, and we can start all over again, change the color, tweak the shape,” she said.

Though Sissy has clients in their 20s, most of her clients are in the age bracket between 40 and 80 years old. A job well done, she said, can shave off 10 years or more off someone’s looks.

“My most beautiful client is 85 years old,” she said.

And then there are other benefits. One of her clients would argue with her husband over the time she would spend on makeup — at least 30 minutes a day — before they would leave the house, and now the problem is gone. Another client was self-conscious about taking her grandchildren to the beach, and she has now gained a lot of confidence on her new looks.

“People think they’re just coming to get eyebrows, but this is like changing lives. People don’t see behind closed doors what happens. We draw in eyebrows, then they sit up and start crying, they’re so happy,” Sissy said.

Every night when she goes home, she thinks about how many lives she touched, and it’s overwhelming, said Sissy, adding this was exactly what she always wanted to do.

“I love it,” she said. “This my passion, this not a job for me.”

It usually takes two to three sessions to get the job done, depending on the skin. The sessions are quick, and mostly pain free: after much trial and error, Sissy found a numbing cream that lasts four hours and takes most, if not all, the pain away during the session. There’s some “discomfort” over the next 72 hours due to the healing process, and that’s it, she said.

Because her clients keep coming back for additional services — they may start with eyebrows, then eyeliners, then lip coloring — they become family to her, she said.

Sissy is originally from O‘ahu, but her best friend is from Kaua‘i, so she has been coming here since she was 17 years old. She worked in various branches of the beauty industry for most of her life, even laser tattoo removal. Five years ago she opened Pretty in Ink on O‘ahu.

About three-and-a-half years ago, Sissy started coming to Kaua‘i on a regular basis to work here. She would do it out of her friend’s couch, then out of hotel rooms, and then rented space in a couple different beauty salons. It was only in November 2017 that she opened her own space on Kaua‘i, also called Pretty in Ink.

She still lives on O‘ahu, but flies here every two weeks and spends a week working in her studio. She is so busy on Kaua‘i that it is not unusual for her to work 12-hour days, and see 15 clients a day. Somehow, she still finds time to manage branches on Maui and the Big Island, and more recently, in Vegas. But Kaua‘i, she said, is her “baby.”

Her goal for the Kaua‘i location is to be open every week, rather than every other week. For that, she began training and doing workshops to build a team here.

“If I can find a team (on Kaua‘i), when I’m gone they can work here and keep running the shop and keep bringing in business,” Sissy said.

She said she tries to keep the prices affordable. A deposit of $50 will knock the price down of the initial visit to $300, and a follow up session three weeks later is only $100.

“Everyone who comes here, they’re so happy,” Sissy said. “And when they leave, they’re even that much happier. That’s everything to me.”

Find Sissy in Pretty in Ink at 4442 Hardy St. Suite 202 in Lihu‘e, on the second floor of the same building where the iconic Ikeda Barber Shop is. Call the studio at (808) 245-6903 or Sissy at (808) 227-1527. Visit for more information.

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