Today’s post is a foray into the world of brow make-up products.
In recent years perfectly shaped brows have stolen the spotlight. Knowing how to do your brows well is the very foundation of your make-up game. But it doesn’t help that there are so many products out there, all of which are seemingly meant to achieve the same thing – perfect brow arches. An understanding of brow products – and lots of practice – should help you master those brows.
Disclaimer: the base of your brow game is, of course, the shaping of your brows (ideally done by a professional).
Brow wax usually comes in two forms – as a stick (think clear crayon) or in a pan (usually in brow powder kits). Wax can be applied onto your eyebrow hairs as the very first step, before you do anything else. It will help brow powder adhere to your brows better and it will also make your hairs stay in place better. A word of caution though: it’s easy to overdo it with brow wax, especially if you’ve got sparse brows (like me). I normally don’t use wax on my brows as it tends to make my rather sparse brow hair clump together a little too much. But wax can be a great tool for those with fuller eyebrows!
The three Ps of brows
There are three main categories that contain products for actually filling in your brows: pencils, powders and pomades. In short – the three Ps.
Brow pencils are one of the best known brow products. They are excellent for creating brow shape and filling in any noticeably sparse areas. They usually give a well defined look without making brows look too harsh – but it does require some practice.
Visually brow pencils look a lot like eyeliner pencils but they are specifically meant for your brows and so have a different consistency. There is great variety in the brow pencil world – there are wooden pencils that require sharpening, mechanical (retractable) pencils, double ended pencils that come with a lighter and darker tone, pencils with spoolies, triangular pencils….You get the idea! Companies are constantly trying to come up with a better shape, design or formula so there is a lot of choice.
Brow pencils have several main characteristics. The combination of these characteristics will make a brow pencil easier or harder to work with. The characteristics are:
- shape of the tip;
- colour payoff.
There is no perfect formula that will suit everyone’s needs. It’s all about finding what you like to work with to achieve the look you’re going for. But my general tips would be to pick a pencil that isn’t too waxy and has a nice glide to it – it will usually give better colour payoff and you won’t need to press too hard. But it shouldn’t be too soft either or you’ll easily end up using too much product and won’t be able to be precise in your application. The shape of the tip should match your brow needs. I personally prefer the control that thinner pencils give me, but then my brows need a lot of help. Generally, the thinner the tip of the pencil, the better you can draw fake brow hairs on and the more control you generally have – but it’ll take you much longer to perfect your brows. In comparison, triangular tips are great for filling brows in faster (giving a wash of colour), but they’re too thick for drawing on fake brow hairs in particularly sparse areas.
Tip: You can modify the look of your brows by changing the pressure which you apply the product with. Instead of going in with a brow pencil full on, use feather light strokes and build up the colour on your brows as each place requires to achieve a more natural, sophisticated look. You can also mimic the look of brow hairs in sparse areas by drawing fake hairs on with sharper pencil strokes over a softer overall colour.
Pro tip: Never use black brow pencil even if your brow hair looks black. Black brow pencils look too harsh and unnatural – use a deep dark brown colour instead.
To have a good brow day when using a brow pencil:
- Make sure you get a good colour match to your natural brow hairs – undertones matter!
- Pick a pencil that has decent but build-able colour payoff so you can modify the level of colour intensity.
- Pick a pencil with the right tip, I generally prefer very slim brow pencils because they let me shape my brows more precisely. They need a lot of help and I’m willing to spend 5 minutes just on my brows!
Brow powder is a pressed coloured powder that is best applied onto brows with a very thin, slanted brush. Brow powder generally gives brows a soft, natural look. It’s excellent at making you look like you were born with naturally perfect brows, but you’ll struggle to thicken your brows or change their shape noticeably.
Powder is the best choice on no make-up or light make-up days when you still want to frame your face with neatly shaped brows. On such occasions brow powder tends to work best for people who either have darker brows or have rather well-behaved brows that only need slight shaping and general filling in. Brow powders are not nearly as good for hiding larger sparse areas in lighter brows unless you build up the intensity – which then no longer looks as natural. Because of the soft, diffused nature of powder, brow powder cannot create the effect of natural contrast between skin and brow hairs that easily – which can be quite noticeable up close.
Brow powders come in a variety of shades and intensities – some brow powders require building up on your brows whereas others are very pigmented from the get go. Which one is better for you depends on your needs, preferences and experience. Stiffer formulas usually mean spending more time doing your brows, but they’re relatively forgiving of any mistakes and you can create a more natural looking brow. More pigmented brow powders make it easy to overdo it accidentally, but they can be much quicker to work with.
Tip: An advantage of using a powder is that they often come in sets of two colours, one lighter and one darker. Apply the lighter powder on the front of your brow and use the darker for middle and tip of brow to create a smooth, natural gradient.
To have a good brow day when using a brow powder:
- Make sure you get a good colour match to your natural brows.
- Use a brush that gives you precision and good control over the distribution of the powder. Stiffer, thinner brushes may be your best choice.
- Pick a powder with good staying power! Brow powders can fade over time which is the last thing you want if you have any evening plans.
Brow pomade is a coloured cream that usually comes in a little pot and requires a brush for application. It is one of the most recent additions to the brow product family but it has already become incredibly popular. With brow pomade you can easily shape your brows, fill in sparse areas, draw on fake hairs and even create bold, artistic brow looks. Of the three Ps it is the best for creating thicker brows, allowing you to easily change the shape of your brows in the process. Brow pomade gives brows a well defined look and usually such brows don’t look completely natural. I find that well defined brows look best when wearing face makeup (such as foundation) – they can add a lot of sophistication to a glamorous make-up look.
A good brush is of extreme importance when using brow pomade. Very thin and fairly stiff brush will give the most control over where and how much of the product gets applied. As brow pomade is essentially a coloured cream, every wrong flick of your hand will show up. It’s best to use short strokes in the direction of your brow hairs. You’ll also need to have some patience – doing your brows with a pomade cannot be rushed.
On top of being the most precise brow product, an important characteristic of brow pomade is its longevity. After drying down it will not budge or smudge, making pomade the perfect choice for a night out dancing, stage make-up or hot areas. But the cream consistency is also one of its drawbacks – like all cream products, brow pomades can dry out over time in the pot even if you’ve only used a little.
Tip: You can modify the intensity of the colour by using lighter or stronger brush strokes. This is very important for the front part of the brow so that you don’t create a blocky, uniform brow. It may even be best to leave the front of the brow completely alone if you don’t feel confident about being able to use feather light strokes with a pomade.
To have a good brow day when using a brow pomade:
- Make sure you get a good colour match to your natural brow hairs, although you can also easily use pomade to darken your brows.
- Pick a good synthetic brush, It should be very thin but densely packed and rather stiff so that you have great control over where the product is applied.
- Use pomade to define the bottom and the tip of the brow but ease up on the product at the front and top of the brow.
- Use short strokes, mimicking your brow hairs.
Brow gel is the last step in your brow routine that sets your brow hairs in place. When brow gel dries down it creates hold on your brow hairs, preventing them from going wild – much like hair gel, just for your eyebrows. It plays an important part in making sure your brows look polished and well done all day long. If you’ve used any of the three Ps on your brows, you should definitely apply brow gel, too. After all the effort you’ve put into creating your perfect brows you really want your brow hairs to stay in place instead of drooping, getting messy or going outside the brow lines. But brow gel can also be very useful on naked brows (especially thicker ones), holding brow hairs in place within the shape of your brow and making it look like you’ve spent far longer on your brows than you actually have.
Brow gels come in a variety of colours and finishes. Clear brow gel is the most popular version and is perfect for setting your brows as they are. Coloured gels let you add another dimension to your brows. For example, using a lighter shade can create highlights in your brows whilst using a matching shade gel with fibres can create a fuller, thicker brow effect. Most of brow gels dry down to a natural finish, although some give a more glossy look. Which one you choose depends on the look you’re going for, but I would generally advise starting off with a clear natural finish gel.
The lasting power of brow gel is one of the most important things to pay attention to. Some brow gels lose their hold too quickly to last through the whole day. Others have a softer hold which can easily be disturbed by accidentally brushing your brows with your hand/scarf/sweater etc. Look for a gel that creates a strong, long-lasting hold on your brows without needing to apply very much (which can clump up your brows).
To have a good brow day when using a brow gel:
- Pick the right colour – tinted or clear – for your brows or it may throw off your brow look.
- Brush a gel with strong hold through your brows in diagonal upwards strokes to give your brows a lifted effect.
- Avoid using too much gel on your brows as it can make your brow hairs clump together – your brows can end up looking sparser instead.
Extra: brow highlighter
As you’ve already seen there are a variety of products that can help make your brows look their best. But not all brow products necessarily go on your brows. One such exception is brow highlighter. It’s a light colour (lighter than your skin tone) that is applied on the brow-bone, right underneath the brow. It brightens the area and draws attention to your brows, accentuating the shape of the brow.
Brow highlighters most often come in two formulas – powder or pencil. They can be subtle or shimmery and you can use whichever one you feel your look requires. By applying any brow highlighter (even a light matte shade) just underneath the arch of the brow you will further define it and give the brow a lifted look.
It’s worth mentioning that brow-bone highlighting is often treated as being part of eye make-up so you don’t necessarily need to invest in a separate product for highlighting your brows – you can easily use your existing eye-shadows, powders or highlighters to achieve the same effect. However if you come across a brow highlighter that is just right for you no matter the occasion…. It may just be worth investing in!
To help better understand the differences between the three Ps I’ve swatched all of the brow pencils, powders and pomades that I own side by side. As you can see below, they clearly differ in consistency, definition/softness and colour (although they all more or less fit my eyebrows). I do use all three Ps regularly, choosing the one that fits my mood best.
If you’re looking into buying your first brow products, Anastasia Beverly Hills is one of the best brands for all three Ps. Lately Benefit has also come out with some really wonderful brow products. If you’re looking for something more affordable, Eylure, L’Oreal and Milani are good brands to look into. Just be cautious about buying affordable wooden brow pencils – I’ve generally found them to be worse than retractable ones.