Browse fashion magazines or Pinterest and you may notice beauty’s current “it” feature: the eyebrow. The hashtag #eyebrowsonfleek has more than a million posts on Instagram.
“Eyebrows are in the spotlight now more than ever,” says Emily Joy, owner of Dollistic, a DC salon that offers eyebrow services including microblading. (More on that in a bit.) “The right eyebrows can make or break your face.”
Gone are the days of over-plucked and arched to the sky—now it’s all about thick, lush, subtly sculpted brows.
“The ideal shape right now is on the fuller side,” says freelance makeup artist Crystal Rhone, who until recently worked at the Birchbox pop-up inside Georgetown’s Rent the Runway. A plus, she says: “Fuller brows add a more youthful appearance to the face.”
What if your brows are genetically sparse, unruly, or tweezed to oblivion? Here are three ways, from dramatic to DIY, to fix that.
What it is: Essentially, tattooing. While that might sound scary, microblading isn’t done with an electric tattoo machine but with a handheld tool that has a tiny comb-like attachment at the tip. These small needles allow the aesthetician to draw fine lines between existing hairs.
What to expect: The tattooing involves the aesthetician dipping the tool into a pigment and stroking it on the skin with quick, short movements. At Dollistic, microblading takes two to three hours for a new client, says Emily Joy, a bubbly redhead with more than a decade of eyebrow experience. (She trained under Beverly Hills brow master Anastasia Soare, whose clients include the Kardashians, Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum, Victoria Beckham, and Cindy Crawford.) Joy says it takes that amount of time to study the client’s bone structure, facial features, and symmetry to get the best brow shape.
Does it hurt? “It really hurt,” says a working mom in her mid-thirties we’ll call Holly. Her aesthetician didn’t use a numbing cream, as is done at some places such as Dollistic. With the numbing cream, says Joy, some clients find the pain no worse than having brows tweezed or threaded.
There are things you can do to minimize pain, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol 48 hours before your appointment. Afterward, expect to be a little tender, possibly red, and slightly swollen for a few hours.
Results: You won’t walk out with the final look. A touchup is scheduled six to eight weeks later, so any areas that didn’t retain pigment can be filled in. Brows will appear darker for a week as the skin heals, so if you want them looking their best for an event, do the procedure four weeks ahead. Unlike with permanent tattoos, cosmetic pigment fades, which is why an annual touchup is recommended.
Katherine, a mom in her thirties who didn’t want her last name used, turned to microblading after the skinny-brow trend depleted her natural hairs: “I went to high school in the late ’90s—Kate Moss was boss. I fell victim to over-plucking.” Katherine tried for years to grow out her brows, with no luck, before getting microblading. “It looks so natural,” she says.
Holly is also happy with her outcome, saying she saves at least ten minutes every morning now that she doesn’t have to shape her brows with an eyebrow pencil.
What it costs: This probably isn’t a procedure you want to skimp on. Ask any practitioner you’re considering if you can see before and after photos, and ask about her training—good certification programs involve months of training and testing. At Dollistic, new clients typically pay $650 to $950, depending on the aesthetician. The follow-up appointment is included in the cost, as is an initial consultation during which a client can preview brow designs and pigments.
On any given day at Georgetown Nails, you can find notables such as Obama insider Valerie Jarrett, Shannon Bream of Fox News, CBS’s Norah O’Donnell, and philanthropist Katherine Bradley getting their nails done. Most also slip behind a curtain to the tiny treatment room of owner Doan-Trang Nguyen, whom everyone calls Dawn, for brow grooming. (Nguyen also happens to be Michelle Obama’s manicurist of several years.) The Vietnamese native has been waxing and shaping brows for more than two decades. About two years ago, she added tinting with a semipermanent dye to her menu of services.
What it is: Hair dye for your eyebrows. The process can result in bolder brows, giving the illusion of more fullness.
What to expect: Nguyen recommends a brow shaping with wax or tweezers prior to the dye. “The results are more natural-looking if there is clean shape to the brow,” she says.
After shaping, an aesthetician mixes the dye. Nguyen sometimes uses a blend of two or three shades to achieve the perfect color, typically one to two shades darker than the hair on your head. It takes four to seven minutes for the dye to set, depending on how dark or light you want your brows. (If an aesthetician leaves the dye on longer than ten minutes, say something—or else you could end up looking like Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest.) The dye is then washed off with a warm cloth.
An aesthetician should be trained in the process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about her experience before plunging in.
Does it hurt? There’s no pain, but a wax beforehand can leave a sting.
Results: “My brows have begun to thin as I age, but I was coveting the bushier eyebrows I’m seeing in fashion spreads and blogs,” says a woman in her early forties whom we’ll call Kim, who got her brows tinted. “I now have the look of darker, thicker brows, with very little investment.”
Nguyen says you should expect the color to fade gradually with washing and sun exposure. She recommends touchups every four weeks.
What it costs: Expect to pay $20 to $40, plus tip, for tinting. Nguyen charges $22 to $25 for tinting, $17 for waxing.
What it is: A mix of powders, pencils, and grooming gels—there are more than ever now on the market—can create a fuller eyebrow that looks real when done well.
How it’s done: Practice will make perfect, if drawing in brows is new to you. Crystal Rhone says there’s an easy rule to figuring out brow shape: “The inner edge of your brow should line up with the outside of your nose. The highest point of your arch should be where a diagonal line extending from the outside of your nose meets the outside of your pupil.”
Face shape also is key. “A round face should have a higher arch to add the illusion of facial length,” says Rhone. A square face should have rounder brows, and a heart-shaped face should have a straighter line. Oval faces have more leeway on shape and arch height.
Pick a powder or a pencil or both—your preference—two shades lighter than your hair color, suggests Carl Ray, the makeup artist at One80 Salon in DC, who is also Michelle Obama’s makeup artist (and keeper of her now much fuller brows). “Make small, hair-like strokes in an upward direction, imitating natural hairs.”
Rhone recommends lightly outlining the bottom of your brow along the natural brow line to help create a base for the shape before layering on color. She says not to be afraid to use powder, pencils, and tinted gels all together: “Combining multiple textures creates dimension, which softens the overall look.”
Don’t forget the brow bone. “A touch of concealer or highlighter just beneath the actual brow adds lift and brightness,” says Rhone.
Does it hurt? Nope—though a fresh tweezing to make sure eyebrows appear polished is never pleasant. A tip from Carl Ray: Tweeze in natural light, even if that means taking a hand-held mirror outside. “It’s best for seeing stray hairs,” he says.
Results: The actual look can depend on the products used. You may want to buy a “spool” eyebrow brush, a good set of tweezers, and a pair of mini-scissors for trimming, along with pencils and/or powders. “My favorite pencils are the Kevyn Aucoin Precision Brow Pencil,” says Rhone, who also likes MAC Eye Brows and Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz. For powders, try Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Powder Duo. “Use a stiff, angled brush for feathering throughout the brow.”
What it costs: Professional makeup application typically ranges from $50 to $150 for the full face. If you’re doing it yourself, most eyebrow makeup and tools are relatively inexpensive. Pencils and brushes generally cost $3 to $18, powders $9 to $35. A good set of tweezers could run $20.
This article appears in the December 2016 issue of Washingtonian.