When Glossier released the brand's soft-hold eyebrow mascara Boy Brow back in October, it was such a hit that it reportedly launched a waiting list 10,000-people long. It was a sign that there was a general shift in brows coming. Not that this specific product started the movement — it was just a very clear indication of what we in the beauty industry could all feel coming in our bones: the very groomed, well-trimmed "power brow" would step aside for a gentler, more natural, and less "perfect" look.
You see, like most trends that catch fire quickly, bold brows got a little out of hand, and now everyone is suddenly itching to scale back slightly. Allow makeup artist Nick Barose (who has worked his magic on Lupita Nyong'o, Brie Larson, and Rachel Weisz) to put it in perspective: "Brows are like picture frames for your eyes. You wouldn't want flashy frames that stand out more than the painting."
Truth. That's why it's currently all about volume that doesn't read as "colored-in." For awhile there, the "look" was expertly trimmed arches — often completely solid — with the occasional brushed up inner corners for those who wanted a wilder effect. Now, it's all about a less precise look, enhancing and honoring your natural shape.
Luckily, beauty companies forecasted this, so a whole new wave of products has popped up with formulas featuring softer hold, less attention-grabbing finishes, and pigments that disappear more naturally into the tone of the brows so you can fill in without going super-dramatic. Before I got to work testing out all of the loot hitting stores on my thick (like thick, thick, thick — I'm half Iranian), dark brown arches, I asked Barose to break down the basic categories and what you can expect from them.
The one type he says to skip: fiber-spiked fillers. Their hair-like pieces, in theory, should mimic the look of hair to make brows appear naturally fuller. But, he warns, "they sit on your brows and look very unnatural to me. You're better off with pencil." Noted. Now on to the rest:
Brow pencils: Your general go-to for creating volume in very thin brows or drawing in completely bald areas. Regular pencils don't need much blending, but if yours says "gel" on it, you might need to work a little more to get them to look natural.
Brow powder: An alternative to pencils that give you a softer result. Barose says, "I prefer the kind that comes with two colors so you can use the lighter one in the inner corners so it's not as harsh, and the darker one to define sparse areas like the outer corners that need definition."
Brow gel (the kind the comes in a pot) and pomade: These have more hold, so they're great if you need help with structure to get them to look symmetrical without plucking them into submission. As a bonus, they're often water-resistant.
Brow mascara: Perfect for those seeking a very subtle boost. "Great to brush over brows to deepen them, but they won't build shape."
Highlighter: A newer category of product with subtle light reflectors meant to soften the natural hue of the hair to brighten the face. "They're great when you're doing dramatic eye makeup and want to play down the brows." Warning: Don't cake 'em on or you can end up with goops, chunks and dried-up shimmer.
Brow pens and fine pencils: These have fine points like liquid or ultra-skinny eyeliners so you can draw on feathery strokes. "I like this [type] if you have decent brows because it's subtle and meant to fill in between hairs" (as opposed to laying down a full block of color where you've got a bare spot).
And now, read on for the latest and greatest, all available to shop online.
Glossier Boy Brow, $16, available at glossier.com. Since this was the first product of the new wave that got my attention, I figured I had to include it. And I have to say, I'm on board the love train. It's got a very gentle-hold and it just kisses the hair with a touch of color, so it's truly brush-and-go. You can layer it on if you're still holding on to the bolder look, but that's not the goal with this stuff — so I say why bother?
Maybelline Eyestudio Brow Drama Pomade Crayon, $9.99, available at ulta.com. A fool-proof crayon that's buildable and easy to wipe off so you can course-correct if you get a little overzealous or go outside the lines. The creamy texture means it's sheer, so it never looks drawn on.
Pixi Eyebrow Enhancer, $12, available at Target. I was skeptical about this gold brow gel for fear I would end up with sparkly vampire "Twilight" brows in the sunlight. But it's surprisingly subtle, giving the look of a sun-kissed brow, which I didn't even realize I would like until I tried it. It made me look more awake. I also imagine it would be if good you're going from brunette to blond and want your brows to get in on the action.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Definer, $23, available at Sephora. Leave it to Anastasia, the mayor of Brow-ville, to make what might be the most foolproof pencil ever. I love that it slides right on without getting spotty anywhere. Another plus: It comes in 10 shades, so it's the best choice if you've got hard-to-match coloring.
Wander Beauty Frame Your Face Micro Brow Pencil, $21, available at Sephora. The tip of this little guy is so thin that you can make strokes as fine as a cat whisker just where you need them. Though not heavy looking, the color deposits a bit stronger than the others I tested, so I consider this my "night brow" pencil.
Milk Makeup Gel Brow, $18, available at Sephora. This pencil glides on smoothly with a matte finish, so it's great for any kind of light. The texture is more like a pomade than a traditional pencil, so you can fill your brows in like a coloring book and they still won't look scary. As a bonus, I found that it photographed really well.
MAC Brow Duo, $22, available at Nordstrom. Generally I think a powder is a powder when it comes to brows, but what stood out to me here was the great pigments that give good payoff without reading as makeup on the skin. This mini-kit includes two tones and textures (one color slightly darker than the other and one matte, one satin) so you can mix 'em until you get something that works for you. Or you can use them to tag-team your brows, applying the darker shade in the "bald" spots and then going back over the entire arch with the lighter shade to blend.