To tweeze or not to tweeze? What a loaded question. Brow trends have come a long way from the ultra-plucked look of the ‘90s and the overly groomed arches seen in the earlier 2000s. These days, fashionistas and beauty enthusiasts strive for full brows with natural shapes, allowing for softer edges and plenty of volume. But what if you aren’t blessed with naturally full brows in the first place? Eyebrow enhancements range from the inexpensive and temporary to in-office procedures (brow transplants are a thing), all in the pursuit of thicker, fuller brows — minus daily makeup application.
“I think a texturized brow with a lifted look that is not overly shaped is classic right now,” says Sarah Maxwell, makeup artist, lash expert, and founder of Sarah Maxwell Beauty, of 2021’s most popular brow look. For aesthetic inspiration, think along the lines of celebrities such as Kiernan Shipka, Rosie Huntington Whiteley, and Zoë Kravitz.
“The brushed-up, fluffy brow is here to say,” confirms celebrity brow artist Kristie Streicher, creator of The Feathered Brow and co-founder of Striiike, who supports the movement away from ultra-sculpted, lacquered, or “super-manicured” brow styles. “I always urge people to stay away from any trend that requires the removal of too much hair. The brow follicles are very delicate and not as tenacious as the hair on the head. The brow hair is like the lash hair: the more the better!” As a testament to this, many brow artists report that clients still experience brow sparsity dating back to their days of over-plucking, in addition to other common causes of hair thinning, like aging and thyroid disease.
Over the last year especially, dermatologists and hair stylists have reported increased complaints of hair thinning — including the eyebrows. “I am seeing scalp hair, eyebrows, and eye lash thinning for two reasons,” says dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, founder of Houshmand Dermatology and Wellness. “Many COVID patients are experiencing hair loss from the stress of fighting the virus off. [Furthermore] people who never contracted the virus are losing hair because of emotional stress — whether from job loss, financial strain, the death of family members, or other developments stemming from the pandemic.”
So long as the causes of brow thinning are not genetic, Dr. Houshmand recommends addressing stress-induced brow hair sparsity by optimizing your diet, incorporating a beauty supplement, and working stress-reduction practices into your lifestyle. To rehabilitate sparse brows, put down the tweezers and leave shaping to an expert. Incorporate brow care into your regimen with a growth serum containing select oils, extracts, and/or peptides to stimulate follicular growth — Dr. Houshmand recommends the use of Latisse.
After you’ve done everything you can at home to help regrow sparse brows, then come the cosmetics that range from pencils, pomades, gels, and powders to help mask the gaps and make your eyebrows look fuller. But if you’d prefer a more long-lasting option to help your eyebrows look fuller and more defined, without needing to apply makeup everyday, it might be time to turn to the pros. Here are five of the most popular semi-permanent and permanent brow enhancement options.
Brow Enhancements: Brow Tinting
If you’re accustomed to using tinted cosmetics to provide a fuller, more dramatic look to your eyebrows, tinting them with semi-permanent dye provides a similar effect that can help make your brows look more prominent. “Tinting works by dyeing the eyebrow hairs and staining the surrounding skin,” says cosmetic tattoo artist Shaughnessy Otsuji, founder of Studio Sashiko, adding that the stain goes away after approximately a week but the tint on the hairs lasts up to eight weeks. Pro tip: Avoid scrubbing your brows when you wash your face to help prolong the effect.
Streicher incorporates tinting into her Signature Feathered Brow Service, noting that, “The tint is by far our favorite part. This is what fills in the brow, enriches any lighter hairs, peach fuzz, or grays, and gives an overall fuller look.” Dyes are custom-blended to suit your skin tone and hair color (although you can go darker for a more dramatic effect) and in a matter of minutes, the tint is complete. And while in a pinch you can DIY this at home with henna or beard dye, it’s wise to see a professional brow technician for your first tinting experience (and to guarantee you end up with the results you want).
Brow Enhancements: Lamination
Also called brow lifts, brow lamination uses a keratin treatment to separate individual strands and direct their growth upward, in a more dispersed direction that appears fuller. “Eyebrow lamination is a newer technique that offers the coveted brushed-up, fluffy look to your brows,” explains Otsuji. “It is done using a gentle perm solution and neutralizing lotion to temporarily relax and redirect your brow hairs upwards and into place.”
It pairs well with brow tinting, lasts for as long as six to eight weeks, and works best on those with an already-full base of natural brow hair. Streicher adds that those with coarse, curly, or unruly brow hairs are great candidates for brow lamination because the treatment makes the strands more flexible, manageable, and set into the trendy “fluffy” shape. “The most on-trend shape and style now is brushing eyebrows up,” notes Delphine Breyne, founder and artist at Delphine Eyebrow Couture. “It lengthens the brow, lifts the arch, and creates a softly windswept brow-effect.” Lamination, in effect, does this semi-permanently.
Brow Enhancements: Microblading
“Microblading is a semi-permanent tattoo procedure using a manual tool consisting of multiple needles to implant pigment beneath the skin,” Otsuji tells TZR. “It can give the look of hair strokes to areas that may be lacking natural hair [and] can be offered in many different brow styles including clean, defined, arched, or fluffy.” The procedure is a fantastic option for those suffering from sparse, thinning, or patchy brows, and typically lasts longer than a year with regular SPF application.
Microblading is the technique where the artistry of the individual practitioner can truly shine. “My technique is predicated on a natural, light, but full look,” explains Breyne, whose French roots undoubtedly inform her aesthetic savoir-faire. “The French-girl brow strives to be natural and chic,” she says. “In America, many clients share those values.”
Streicher’s signature “feathered” technique translates into her Hollywood-beloved variation of microblading called Microfeathering™ that is performed over the course of one to two sessions that last one and a half to two hours each. “The process is achieved without the use of machines or traditional tattoo guns,” Streicher notes. “Microfeathering utilizes “hair-like” incisions that deposit dye into the top layer of the brow skin by hand.”
For a more permanent brow enhancement like this, it’s crucial to find a practitioner who is experienced with microblading, has plenty of before-and-after photos to reference, and can speak to the needs of your skin tone and type.
Brow Enhancements: Extensions
Eyebrow extensions are a procedure that our experts advise against if you are trying to promote the growth of your eyebrow hair. “The brow hair is delicate and fragile, so I do not recommend adding glue of any kind to the brow,” Streicher explains. In case you’re curious, though, brow extensions can be applied to the skin (lasting five days to two weeks) or the hair (lasting several weeks). To preserve their application, try to keep your hands off. Extensions come in different shades and textures and are glued alongside your existing hair pattern.
If you are trying to grow back or thicken your brows, these are a risky decision. However, if you are lacking brows entirely or to a large degree — perhaps due to chemotherapy treatments or a condition like alopecia — they can be advantageous. As they do not last for as long as the other options, eyebrow extensions are great to consider in preparation for an event.
Brow Enhancements: Transplants
If your brow sparsity is permanent, you can even seek out eyebrow transplants from a qualified dermatologic or plastic surgeon. As Joey Healy, founder of Joey Healy Eyebrow Studio explains, “It seems more dramatic because it’s quite a process. They harvest hair follicles from the nape of the neck, and then they transplant them [to your brow area]. But I feel like if I had a big gap in my brow, I would be more likely to explore an eyebrow transplant than I would microblading because you get the texture and fluffiness. I think it is a good option if you’re really in need of more brow immediately.”
In some cases, the addition of hair is genuinely needed — but the procedure presents its own set of challenges. “For some clients, this treatment might not take properly. For ones that do work, it’s important to remember that these are hair follicles from your head, and grow as such. Accordingly, recipients will frequently have to trim their eyebrow hair regularly every two days,” Breyne says.
Since this procedure is the most invasive of the bunch (and can cost upwards of $5,000 depending on where you live) be sure to speak with a trusted brow expert to explore all of your enhancement options before committing to a transplant.
In the meantime, check out a few vetted brow products to help your natural brows look their absolute best.
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Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include certain photos.