“Is this your first tattoo?” the Eyebrow Doctor asks.
Oh my god, I think. “Yes,” I say. I hadn’t thought about it that way before.
“And on your face, like a badass.”
I’m lying on a plush, taupe table that would be more at home in a luxury spa than a doctor’s office, and on the wall across from me the words “hello gorgeous” are lit up in pink neon script. Piret Aava, dressed head to toe in a color I can only describe as sand (okay, it might be beige on anyone less chic), is making tiny slices in my face with a glittery blade that’s reminiscent of an X-Acto. I’m having my eyebrows microbladed, and in 90 minutes, I’ll leave with perfectly shaped, full brows worthy of any Instagram influencer or Bravolebrity inked onto may face.
Microblading (also called eyebrow embroidery or feathering) is, according to Aava’s website, “the finest form of eyebrow tattooing.” A pen-like device with a tiny blade (a micro blade) is used “to scratch and etch very thin lines into the skin, mimicking eyebrow hairs.” The result is semi-permanent, and I’m told my new brows will last as long as one to three years, with proper care.
Before Aava wields any sharp objects, she cleanses my brows and applies a lidocaine numbing cream to the area. Then, she takes a long, close look at what she has to work with.
I guess you could say I’m a brow virgin. Having never been professionally tweezed or waxed, my brows have thankfully been spared the over-plucking damage inflicted on so many in the early aughts. But I’m far from Cara Delevingne (for so many reasons, let’s be honest). My naked brows have a decent arch, but are a little sparse near the tail. Most days, I use a pencil and brow gel to fill them in and add volume.
Having worked with brows for 15 years—as a licensed aesthetician, makeup artist, and brow shaper—Aava doesn’t ask me what I’m looking for with my new brows, she just scrutinizes my face and gets to work.
She free-draws a box around my eyebrows that will act as an outline once she takes out her blade. “I don’t use measuring tools, those are for amateurs,” Aava says. But she does take a photo of her handiwork with her iPhone, and shows me how she uses the editing grid (the one that appears when you tap a photo to crop or rotate it) to check whether things are roughly the same size and shape. “Each side of your face is different; nobody’s eyebrows are ever identical,” she says. This reminds me of the truest words I’ve ever heard spoken: “I figured out my eyebrows. They’re sisters, not twins,” Ilana Glazer once said on Broad City.
Finally, Aava asks me to look in the mirror and tell her what I think. I think I look like Uncle Leo, but she’s the expert here and I trust her implicitly, so I tell her everything looks great.
I lie down on the table and Aava lines up her tools on a tray, just like a doctor or dentist would, despite the fact that she’s not a medical professional. Aava tells me that she took a course in microblading years ago to learn the technique, but her skills (which have earned her the reputation as one of the best in the business—heck, she’s even done Serena Williams’ and Vanderpump Rules star Katie Maloney-Schwartz’s brows) were honed after years of practice. “Schools teach you just basics, but it’s a lot more involved,” she says. “It’s not as easy as drawing lines; you have to practice the lines and have an eye for it—just like a regular tattoo artist.”
Aava makes a few preliminary cuts and asks me if it hurts. It doesn’t. I’d heard people describe the sensation as a pin being dragged across your skin, and that seems about right. My eyes reflexively tear up a little, like when you have to sneeze, but the feathering doesn’t feel any more painful than tweezing your brows. In fact, at one point, I ask Aava whether she’s tweezing or blading (at the time I asked, she was tweezing, but she switched between the two so seamlessly that I couldn’t tell the difference).
Aava explains that she is filling these tiny scratches—which, by the way, is what microblading sounds like—with a pigment specially formulated for cosmetic tattoos. “It’s less concentrated than a tattoo pigment; that’s why your body is able to metabolize it faster”—AKA, that, coupled with the fact that the pigment isn’t deposited as deeply into the skin, is why feathered brows will last about a year, but you’ll take your koi fish tattoo with you to the grave. Initially, she says, these scratches will turn into scabs and my brows will look darker for about a week (because of the dried blood—which is gross but also cool), but as the skin heals up over the pigment, the scabs will fall away and you’ll be able to see the real color through the new layer of skin.
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“I choose the pigment color based on your skin color and the color of your eyebrow hairs,” Aava says. “Your body metabolizes certain colors faster than others,” leaving behind the color pigment you see. “You have more warmth in your skin,” she tells me, “so I’m going to use some cooler tones, because otherwise it will turn orange, and we don’t want that.”
Less than 45 minutes after I climbed onto the table, Aava is finished. And as she swipes a Vaseline-like substance onto my brows, made from cypress oil (a natural antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial that’s “been used for centuries to promote skin healing,” according to Aava) and seaberry oil (which is known for its nourishing and restorative qualities), Aava casually drops a bomb on me.
“As far as after-care, you’re going to have to keep them dry for a week—from water. So no sweating, no sauna, no swimming, no heavy exercise like SoulCycle or hot yoga. Right now the strokes are very superficial, so when they scab and get wet, they get soft and might come off,” she says. But then it hits me. “How do you recommend I wash my face?” I ask. Carefully, is the gist of her answer.
I leave the Eyebrow Doctor’s office and head to work. Oh baby, talk about an ego boost. One by one, my coworkers lean forward and squint into my face before backing up and saying, “Wow! I need to go do that.” (When I get home from work, my husband seems confused—You got your eyebrows tattooed? Why?—but he didn’t do more than shrug when I chopped off six inches of my hair four months ago, so, grain of salt.)
That night, I cautiously wash my face with micellar water applied to a cotton pad and use a Q-tip to swab more of Aava’s proprietary healing goop onto my brows. (I’ll do this every night for the next week.) But washing my face, I find out the next morning, wouldn’t be the hard part. That would be showering.
The first day post-procedure, I step into the tub wearing a shower cap pulled low over my eyebrows and artfully dodge the stream of water as best I can. But on day two, my strands are too dirty to even rock a dry-shampoo-doused topknot. Clearly, I’m not going to able to go a full week without washing my hair.
A quick Google has me rummaging through my apartment for cling wrap and a roll of packing tape, then heading to the bathroom like I’m about to Dexter someone right there on the tile. More seaberry gel goes on my brows, and then I cover my forehead with the plastic wrap, taping it in place just below my hairline. Cute? Decidedly not. Deranged, is more like it. But effective? Yeah! I emerge from the shower with clean hair and dry brows.
I spend the next week alternating between Mr. Magooing in my shower cap and shrink-wrapping my frons, visualizing the cleanser-commercial-worthy splash I’m going to give my face when this is all over. My forehead, which I’ve been afraid to properly exfoliate until my scabs are fully healed, is starting to get flaky, as are my eyebrows, which I’ve tried not to scratch (so itchy!) lest I displace those all-important scabs before they’re ready.
It’s now been four weeks since I met with Aava, and my eyebrows have fully healed. As promised, they’re a much lighter color than they were the that first week—and while part of me misses the drama of the super-bold brows, I can see that they’re now a perfect match with my natural hair color. Most days, I no longer wear any eyebrow makeup, only occasionally penciling in some areas that feel sparser.
Touch-ups to fill in places where the pigment metabolizes more quickly are normal, Aava says, which is why she includes a free second session four to six weeks after the initial appointment in her $1,500 fee. “You pay for my experience and my expertise,” Aava told me of her high price tag. “It’s like going to plastic surgery—you don’t go to a random surgeon because it’s cheaper.” And being one less degree removed from the cast of Vanderpump Rules? That—to me—is priceless.
Originally published on February 19, 2019; updated on November 1, 2019.
Not ready to make the semi-permanent commitment? Here’s how to use soap to give yourself that big bushy brow energy, and these are the best 6 brow gels we’ve tried.
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