Hair-Care Tips

Go Ahead and Cancel Your Microblading Appointment, Because OTC Brow Growth Serums Are Taking the Beauty World by Storm

Photo: Stocksy / Aleksandra Jankovic
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As the line between skin care and makeup blurs and the no-makeup-makeup look continues to thrive, there's been an influx of cosmetics meant to enhance your appearance sans makeup. Think: skin-nourishing foundations and concealers, lip-plumping glosses, and lash-lengthening mascaras, all of which keep you looking great long after you wash them off. And now, this "makeup that does more" trend is coming for our brows, with an increasing number of brands launching growth serums you can snag for under $70.

"If you wash your face and you're happy with what you see in the mirror, whether it's acne, skin, pores, brows, whatever, then you're probably going to feel better about your makeup as well," says Emily Amick, a celebrity makeup artist in New York City. "It all starts with having a good routine and sticking with it and finding things that work for you over the longterm, because makeup's just a very quick fix."

Slowly but surely, we've been taking a less-is-more approach to brows. We went from achieving super-pronounced, dark brows with Anastasia Beverly Hills Dip Brow to full-yet-fluffy brows with Glossier Boy Brow. And as brow gel has become more and more popular, we've seen a rise in gels with brow conditioning ingredients (think: Kosas Air Brow ($24), Keys SoulCare Soft Stay ($15), and Saie Brow Butter ($20). And recently, cosmetic brands have taken things one step further and begun to formulate products that stimulate growth.

This rising trend can be traced back to the launch of Latisse, the OG eyelash serum, in 2008. "What started this interest in brow growth, was really initially the focus on eyelash growth," says Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pasadena, California. "That was spurred by the [Food and Drug Administration] approval of Latisse, and the main ingredient there is bimatoprost, and that is an FDA-approved ingredient in eyelash growth serum for use on eyelashes," and is often prescribed off-label for eyebrows.

Latisse, however, is pretty expensive. "The problem with FDA-approved products like the Latisse is that a lot of my patients get really excited about it, but then at $180 a month they can't afford it—I can't afford using it every month," says Dr. Lee. Cosmeceutical brands like neuLash and RevitaLash, which also launched subsequent brow serums, stepped in with super effective non-prescription options. But those are still pricey—neuBrow is $85 and RevitaBrow is $110. Over the past few months, makeup brands Anastasia Beverley Hills, The Ordinary, r.e.m. beauty, and Kosas launched their own, less-expensive brow serums.

Understanding the ingredients

This new crop of brow serums uses ingredients that are known to condition and strengthen hair in order to an optimal growth environment. Two that popped up across the four new launches are vitamin B5 and peptides.

"Vitamin B5, you've probably seen a lot. Another word for this is pantothenic acid," says Dr. Lee. "This is in a lot of our shampoos and a lot of our eyelash and eyebrow products. This is one of the ingredients that is most heavily marketed in the brand Pantene, and it is an essential nutrient." Dr. Lee says it's important to hair health because it helps to synthesize coenzyme A, a process that's needed to keep cells healthy.

Peptides are one of the rising stars in skin-care thanks to their ability to boost cellular activity. Different peptides have different functions, but they're not as well researched as other ingredients. "The hard thing is when you look at the evidence for just peptides in skin care, it's not as strong as the evidence we have for retinoids or vitamin A, or even antioxidants and vitamin C. So I would say the scientific evidence is pretty uncertain," says Dr. Lee. Finally, these serums also include more tried-and-true hair-boosting ingredients like biotin, which stimulates keratin production in hair and increases follicle growth.

As cosmetics, these brow serums can't make strong claims like prescription serums like Latisse. "The challenge for consumers is to evaluate, 'Okay, is this legit or not? Is this something that is safe and effective, or not?'" says Dr. Lee. "The testing is very different if it's a cosmetic, versus if it's a medication slash drug."

However, with reasonable prices and thus a low barrier to entry, Dr. Lee says these serums are absolutely worth giving a try. Just be sure to test them n an inconspicuous area (like under the jaw) for a few days to ensure your skin doesn't react poorly, and go forth.

"Having these brow serums that are affordable and probably most likely safe, it's great that you can try them out without breaking the budget," says Dr. Lee. "The proliferation of this category and the fact that we have so many choices is a wonderful thing."

Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Genius Conditioning Brow Serum — $65.00

This launch from Anastasia Beverly Hills is iconic. The brand is part of the reason we can’t get enough of full brows, and now, this serum helps you enhance your natural ones. It uses red clover extract to encourage fuller-looking brows and protect against breakage, Korean red ginseng to make brow hair appear thicker, and vitamin B5 to smooth and soften coarse or wiry texture for easier styling and manageability.

Kosas GrowPotion Fluffy Brow + Lash Boosting Serum — $48.00

Designed for both the brows and the lashes, this serum from Kosas uses peptides and keratin to accelerate hair growth, leading to fuller-looking brows. It also contains vitamin B5 to promote smooth, shiny hair. In a 12-week study with 29 subjects, 97 percent saw an improvement in brow length and lash volume.

“After I created our bestselling Air Brow Clear ($24), I was so impressed by the improved appearance of my natural brows that I wanted to make a version you could wear overnight without the definition and hold,” says Sheena Yaitanes, founder of Kosas. “For the Growpotion formula, we added six times more powerful and effective hair-boosting actives so brows and lashes could reach their fullest, fluffiest potential.”

The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Lash and Brow Serum — $15.00

This concentrated-yet-lightweight serum uses a blend of four peptides and vitamin B5 to promote thicker, fuller, and healthier lashes and brows. It also contains a combination of camellia sinensis leaf extract, larix europaea wood extract, and zinc chloride to support hair density and thickness.

r.e.m. beauty Flourishing Lash & Brow Boosting Serum
r.e.m. beauty Flourishing Lash & Brow Boosting Serum — $40.00

Blending biotin and tetrapeptide, this serum from Ariana Grande’s r.e.m. beauty promotes longer and thicker lashes and brows while defending against hair breakage and shedding. It’s ophthalmologist-tested and can improve your brows and lashes in just four weeks of use.

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