When it comes to style and fashion, minimalism has its appeal. The same aesthetic, however, does not apply to eyebrows. When brows become see-through and patchy, women tend to panic, and for good reason.
“Well-shaped eyebrows add symmetry not only to the eyes but to the entire face,” says Taylor Chang-Babaian, a celebrity makeup artist and lecturer in Los Angeles and the author of Style Eyes. “This symmetry is what creates a person’s facial expression.” Shape is important, she notes, but equally critical is how plentiful the hairs are.
“Hairs typically begin to fall out unevenly from the brow after age 40,” Chang-Babaian says, “resulting in less color, definition and framing effect. Hair is regarded as a woman’s crowning glory, but healthy eyebrows are just as important to the way a woman feels about herself.”
If thinning brows aren't troubling enough, they can lead to another problem. “When eyebrows are less ample and no longer stand out, onlookers tend to shift their gaze to the lids, which, by now, are sagging and drooping,” she says.
In her lectures on cosmetics, Chang-Babaian says the top audience concern is always eyebrows — specifically, how to get fuller ones. People associate sparse brows with poor health or lack of vitality, she says, yet often have a fear of using cosmetic products to enhance the appearance of fuller brows. “They’ve seen badly drawn eyebrows and are afraid of doing a poor job on themselves, but they want to do something.”
What Causes Brows to Thin?
In some cases, sparse brows are our own doing. “Repetitive or excessive tweezing when you’re younger to narrow the brow line causes scarring in the follicles,” says Dr. Amy B. Lewis, a dermatologist in private practice in New York and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. “This scarring kills the growth phase of the eyebrows' growth-fallout-dormancy cycle.”
Then there are additional factors beyond the normal hormonal changes that come with age: a hypoactive thyroid (a likely culprit when the thinning is concentrated in the outer third, beyond the arch) and the No. 1 factor, Lewis says: heredity, meaning there’s nothing you can do except enhance them cosmetically.
Fortunately, there are safe and effective ways of creating lusher, more attractive eyebrows. Here’s a list of helpful dos — and one big don't — for eyebrow repair.
Dos and Don'ts for Beautiful Brows
1. Get a prescription for Latisse. This prescription treatment has Food and Drug Administration approval to help grow eyelashes, but many dermatologists prescribe it for eyebrow-challenged patients. (Its formulation is based on a treatment for glaucoma and was developed for cosmetic application after users noticed the unintended side effect of thicker lashes.)
“Helping spur brow growth is an ‘off-label use’ of Latisse — and it works,” Lewis says. Just apply it at night to where you want more hairs to grow. “The results, which most people will see within four to six weeks, can be dramatic,” Lewis says. The product costs about $120 for a bottle that can last several months.
2. Use eyebrow powders to fill gaps. “This should be every woman’s first choice to cosmetically remedy thinning brows,” Chang-Babaian says. Non-shimmer powders are highly pigmented and contain ingredients that help the product adhere to the skin. “Their increased color content makes them more opaque than eye shadow, so you can apply less to get a more natural effect,” she says.
Taupe and ashy shades match most brow colors. Use a short, stiff angled brush to apply it with light strokes. In a pinch, you can use regular eye shadows, but because they are typically less pigmented and less sticky, they won’t last as long on the brow.
3. Sketch with eyebrow pencils. These tools are a mixed blessing. On the down side, because skin becomes drier over time, color from these wax-based pencils doesn’t always adhere well. And, Chang-Babaian says, “pencils can create a hard look when applied improperly, so users may inadvertently give themselves an angry scowl.” They’re best for eyebrows that are still relatively full and need only a few strokes to fill in gaps. “Keep the pencil well sharpened and draw short strokes to replicate hairs,” she says.
Pencils are ideal for one task. “After you apply powder, take a pencil and define the high point of your arch and the ‘brow tail,’ which is where many women first lose hairs,” she says. Choose a light-colored pencil if you have dark head hair and a dark pencil if your head hair is lighter. A natural-hair angled brush will nicely blend harsh pencil lines.
4. Use brow creams (or pomades). A mix of powder in an oily base — basically a cream in a glass pot — these products contain more pigment than other brow remedies. "They're good for very sparse eyebrows, and people generally use them as a stand-alone product applied with an angled synthetic brush," Chang-Babaian says. "Because they glide on smoothly, they’re great for dry skin, which absorbs the extra oil.” If the cream adds an unwanted shine to the brow, smudge it with an angled brush or pointy Q-tip or add a bit of eye shadow.
5. Don’t get permanent tattoos. “I’ve seen about a thousand eyebrows that have been inked in,” Babaian-Chang says, “and about two have been visually decent. One was truly disturbing.” Problem No. 1: lack of symmetry. Babaian-Chang says they tend to look crooked or be colored in straight with no arches. “Poorly executed work can give a woman a perpetually angry or sad look,” she says. And as we age, skin changes unpredictably.
Another problem (beyond the fact that eyebrow style trends change over the years) is degradation. “The color of the original tattoo typically fades to red or blue and, in some cases, to green,” she notes. “And if you’re unhappy with the results, it’s really difficult to undo them. Laser treatments typically do not remove all the color or they remove it unevenly, resulting in patches of color variation.” If you really want to go this route, insist on seeing the artist’s portfolio. Or if you happen to see someone sporting a well-drawn tattooed eyebrow, ask for a reference.
Bottom line: A steady hand and a bit of patience to try a number of cosmetic approaches should result in fuller, lovelier brows. Babaian-Chang's suggestion for women who can’t achieve the look they want on their own: Get a professional opinion at a hair salon, spa or makeup store they trust. “Staffers are usually happy to show you how to apply products,” she says.
Coeli Carr (www.coelicarr.com) is a business and lifestyle writer in New York City.
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