My brows are what you’d call…sparse. They’re there—I’m not the product of ’90s over-tweezing, and I haven’t got blonde hair that makes them impossible to spot on my face. Rather, the two brows that perch above my eyes are kind of like couch potatoes—they’re lazy and definitely have some holes in their sweat pants (read: so. many. patches.). As such, I’ve spent the better part of my life in pursuit of solutions that will give my arches some oomph, leading me to try and test every brow procedure and product out there.
While there are plenty of ways to fill in brows, whether at a salon or in your morning makeup routine, I’ve found that consistency is key to overall brow success. When you have sparse or patchy brows, it can be tempting to put off brow appointments because the hairs that you have are so precious; however, consistently grooming them can help you accentuate what you’ve got. With that, I have the definitive ranking of the tried-and-tested services and products that turn sparsity into a problem of excess.
The very best procedure you can get: microblading
I’ll be honest with you: I’d intentionally skipped out on microblading for the better part of my beauty editor career because I didn’t want those token stenciled-on brows that have become so popular on Instagram. Then, I met Shen Beauty’s Josh Beeler, to whom those in the New York City area should run (not walk!) for all things arches. Beeler’s philosophy is that you can take the core techniques of microblading and customize them to fit each client’s needs and style. He decided that my brows didn’t need a full reinvention—rather, he wanted to work with (and improve upon!) what I already had.
Ali’s field notes:
What it is: “Microblading is the process of inserting semi-permanent mineral pigments into the brows using tiny blades to give the illusion of individual brow hairs,” explains Beeler. When done over the whole brow, this creates a more “natural” look than drawing it on with a pencil every day.
According to every brow brain ever, your arch should line up with the inner corner of your eye and end just outside of the outer part of the eye at an angle. Mine are a little stumpier than this, so Beeler created hair-like strokes that mimic the real thing at the front and back of the brow to add a few extra millimeters.
For the rest of the brow, he used the same hair-stroke technique accompanied by something called “powdering,” which is meant to give a feathered appearance to brows and not make them look too drawn on. “Brow powdering is a process of depositing color through the brows using a different set of needles in a stippling technique,” says Beeler. “This is used to fill in sparse brows or just enhance your brows and make them appear a little bolder.”
What it feels like: I have a couple of stick-and-poke tattoos, so that’s closest thing I can compare it to. For those who haven’t been previously inked, I’d say it’s sort of like having the tip of a paper clip dragged across your skin. To be fair, I think I had a pretty easy go, thanks in no small part to Beeler going the extra mile to keep things calm. He first numbed the area to make it less painful, then he cracked open a CBD drink to help calm my nerves and played soothing theta waves for the duration of the procedure.
What the after-care is like: Because there’s pigment being distributed to skin, there are a few careful care notes that you must follow after a microblading session. For 10 days following your appointment, you can’t get your brows wet, so you have to figure out a way to shower your bottom half independently from your top half. It’s not quite as hard as it sounds, just make sure to wash your hair before your appointment so that you can rely on dry shampoo for the bulk of the 10 days following.
After about three days, the brows will scab up in the healing process, making them look darker. “This is mostly because of scabbing and blood mixing with the pigment,” Beeler tells me. These bits of skin will flake off, and the pigment seems to nearly disappear with the scabs. However, “once the skin is healed, the pigment rises back to the top,” Beeler says. (This usually takes about three weeks.) After 30 days, you’ll book a follow-up appointment, where your technician will touch up spots that didn’t accept the pigment quite as well (often the inner and outer corners of the brow). They’ll also texturize the pigmented “hairs” to make them look even more lifelike.
How long it lasts: Microblading is a semi-permanent tattoo because the ink isn’t deposited a deep within the complexion as a regular tattoo. That means it lasts up to two years depending on the person. “By being a semi-permanent procedure this gives us the option to switch the shape up or change it altogether, maybe fuller and sometimes maybe more structured and arched. It’s nice to also be able to keep up with brow trends,” Beeler says.
The cost: Microblading is one of the more expensive brow treatments, but like lasering your leg hairs away, you have to pay the price up front in order to save in the future. The procedure at Shen costs $900, which includes the touch up, and I haven’t had to do much to my brows (at home or otherwise) in the four months since I’ve been microbladed.
The runner-up: Brow tinting
A week before I got married, I landed in Beeler’s chair for the first time to dye my brows so that I didn’t have to rely on my own hand to draw them on the day-of. You want to be able to communicate the type of look that you’re going for (read: how bold do you want your brows to be on your face?) so your brow pro can mix up the right tint for you.
Ali’s field notes:
What it is: Brow tinting is essentially the process of having your brows darkened, much the same way you’d have your hair dyed. You go to your brow pro’s studio, they usually shape your brows by either plucking or tweezing them, and once they’re in good shape, they slather on a tint that accentuates the hairs and makes them look darker. For sparse brows, it has the added benefit of temporarily dyeing the skin beneath your brows to fill them out sans needles.
What it feels like: Once you get to the tinting portion (post wax or tweeze), the process really just feels like you’ve had a gel smoothed across your brows. It feels a little wet while it sits on skin (about 10 minutes) and then it’s wiped away.
How long it lasts: Beeler tells me that you can expect your brow tint to last for about a month, which coincidentally is about how often you should be shaping your brows.
The cost: Brow tints can run you between $20-$50 depending on whether or not you’re looking to have a wax or tweeze added on to the service.
The winner for everyday maintenance
There are tons (I repeat: tons!) of at-home options that run the gamut from pencils to pens to powders to gels. I’m here to tell you that for sparse brows, you want to reach for just two products: brow pomade and brow pencil (and Beeler agrees).
Ali’s field notes:
What it is: If you’re trying to wrangle sparse brows, you’re going to want to run a pomade through them to help them find their shape and stay there. Once you’ve nailed the brow that you’re looking to achieve, go back in with the pencil and make tiny, hair-like strokes with the pencil to fill in any gaps that you might have.
What it feels like: It doesn’t feel like much of anything, TBH. The hardest part is finding the shape of your brows, and from there, it just feels like you’re applying makeup to your face.
How long it lasts: Brow products usually last for the amount of time that your makeup stays on, so about 12 hours or until your nightly trip to the sink to wash your face before bed.
The cost: The least expensive of the bunch, brow products can run from roughly $8 at the drugstore all the way up to $30 or $40, depending on what you’re buying. Beeler recommends Ecobrow and Eyeko brow products.
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