There’s something different about the way my friend looks. It’s not her fringe, which has remained in the same style since I met her at school. Nor is it her skin, though she did ask me about the merits of forehead Botox a few months ago. I’m staring now and if I don’t avert my eyes just a smidge lower, I’ll come across rude. But I’m fixed. In fact, I’m impressed. It’s her eyebrows — and each hair is quite literally defying gravity.
From bleached brows to skinny brows, the descent into brow mania seems never-ending, but nothing has had more of an influence on beauty than the dramatically brushed-up brow. It all began with brow lamination, an eyebrow treatment involving a perming solution, which relaxes hairs and hoists them into a slicked-up shape. Perhaps the sensible thing for us mere mortals would’ve been to leave it to the celebrities and influencers. But in 2019, we asked an R29 staffer to investigate, and in her words, the results were “astounding”. It’s no wonder, then, that brow bars up and down the country began to offer brow lamination. There were even at-home brow lamination kits with surprisingly excellent reviews.
Is anyone laminating their brows anymore?
Fast forward to 2023, and thanks to brands like Refy, NYX Professional Makeup and Too Faced, you no longer need to visit a professional to achieve sky-high brows like my friend’s. Gone are the days of watery brow gels that would flake off in minutes. Now, brow products are heavy duty: One swipe is enough to make even the thickest, waviest of brow hairs stand to attention — and we’re obsessed. On TikTok, the phrase “brushed up eyebrow trend” has 62.7 million views and counting, while the hashtag #browlamination has an even bigger 3.2 billion views.
But scanning comments sections proves that the higher the brow, the closer you are to… The haters. In fact, the laminated brow is starting to give beauty enthusiasts the ick. “Someday, we’re all gonna look back at pictures of us from this year and see our eyebrows and be like, What was I thinking with those stick-up eyebrows?” observed TikToker Cora Breilein. “They are the pencil eyebrows of the ’90s, the perm of the ’80s. We have to stop.” Breilein isn’t the only one to look at dramatically laminated brows with the same disdain as the over-plucked arches of the past. In a video with 2.8 million views and captioned “Makeup trends I fucking hate (on me)”, viral beauty content creator Alessandro was quick to namecheck laminated brows. Similarly, Melissa Murdick, makeup artist to stars including Selena Gomez, recently went viral with her take: “I’m a celebrity makeup artist and I feel like this overly laminated brow is on its way out,” Murdick told her 1.3 million followers; they’re “electrocuted-looking.” Murdick’s video amassed over 16K likes and hundreds of comments, most in agreement: “Thank god,” wrote one. “The laminated brow is such a weird flash in the pan.”
So is its reign finally over? Just as easily as TikTok can make a trend, it can also break it. Laminated brows are no doubt a sign of the times, and they are particularly synonymous with the divisive “clean girl” aesthetic, which champions exaggerated, fluffed-up brows and flawless skin. While the “clean” makeup trend may have achieved viral status, its connotations are inherently problematic. Clean makeup wearers almost always boast clear skin void of any kind of texture, and those with skin conditions like acne, scarring, pigmentation or rosacea, for example, are denied access. Even the word “clean” has negative undertones and suggests that anything which doesn’t fit the bill is “dirty”.
One thing is clear: The clean girl aesthetic perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards. So where do brows come in? A quick scroll through the comments on “before and after” brow lamination videos on TikTok proves that, just like the “clean girl” aesthetic, laminated brows are often only palatable on a select few. Qualified aesthetician and beauty expert Alicia Lartey hints that the trend for exaggerated, laminated brows is exclusionary. “I think you have to have very stereotypically ‘beautiful’ features for people to really love the look on you,” she tells R29. Sure enough, most brow lamination inspo videos feature the likes of Hailey Bieber, Kylie Jenner and influencer Alix Earle.
It’s no secret that these celebrities are young as well as conventionally attractive. Interestingly, the consensus among most brow experts featured in this story is that bigger, fluffier brows signify youth. “When thin eyebrows were replaced with thick, bushy ones from the ’90s onwards, it was because thin eyebrows were then considered to make a face look older and harsher,” says Fides Baldesberger, brow expert and CEO of Rubis tweezers. The trend for sky-high brows makes perfect sense when you consider that the beauty industry regards youth as a form of social currency.
Is brow lamination safe?
But the overly laminated brow look seems to be falling out of favour among actual brow professionals. Celebrity brow expert Kelley Baker tells R29 that she has never been a fan. “It's definitely a trend that blew up before most people did their homework,” she says. The original goal was a fluffy, natural brow effect, says Baker. “The beauty industry took it to the next level by chemically treating brow hairs with a straightening solution,” Baker continues, but while brow lamination treatments are considered safe and effective when performed by a qualified professional, it’s easy to run into problems.
TikTok in particular is awash with wince-inducing videos of what happens when brow lamination goes wrong. “Just as perming the hair on your head can lead to dryness and damage, brow lamination (which is a form of hair perming) could potentially damage your eyebrows in the same way,” says Baldesberger. The chance of over-processing your brow hairs, making them brittle and weak, is greater if you repeat the process too often, or any sooner than six weeks, adds Baldesberger, so it’s important to be honest with your chosen brow expert. Aside from hair damage, other common side effects of brow lamination may include swelling, redness, skin peeling and itching, says Baldesberger, especially if your brow technician hasn’t conducted a patch test at least 48 hours prior to the treatment. Baker even reports seeing chemical burns. What’s more, TikTokers report pain and discomfort post brow lamination, admitting they weren’t aware that using skincare with potent retinol and exfoliating acids can make skin around the brows much more sensitive. “Another more serious risk is eye damage,” adds Baldesberger, “and this may occur if the chemicals run into your eyes during the treatment.”
Rising costs undoubtedly have a part to play in people turning their backs on brow lamination, too. In London, you can expect to pay £60 and upwards for one brow lamination treatment; top-ups are recommended every four to six weeks. Beauty enthusiasts on TikTok are leading the discussion on beauty maintenance in general, specifically how impossible it is to keep on top of expenses like brow treatments thanks to a fall in disposable income. It’s little wonder that we’re giving them up for affordable, strong hold brow glues like got2b Glued, £5.50, and NYX Professional Makeup Brow Glue Instant Brow Styler, £7.99. Despite being a snip of the price, using powerful brow gels incorrectly could spell bad news for your brows, especially if you’re constantly slicking them upwards.
Overusing heavy products on delicate eyebrow hairs can damage them, leaving brows dry, sparse and harder to groom, explains Sherrille Riley, brow expert and founder of Nails & Brows Mayfair and Beauty Edit Mayfair. If you do use heavy-duty brow gels, make them the last step in your brow routine, says Baldesberger, so that you aren’t tugging on overly stiff hairs with other pencils, products or tools. “Also, opt for brow gels that have hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid or castor oil,” adds Baldesberger. How you remove your brow gel is just as important. Consider a gentle, oil-based cleanser to dissolve all traces of product. “If you’re not washing the product off effectively, this will cause buildup, which can lead to irritation, clogged pores and potentially breakouts around the brow area,” says Yana Gushchina, founder of London-based brow bar, Browfique. “Likewise, if you’re removing products harshly and constantly tugging or rubbing the brow area, this could make hair fall out, which may result in brow thinning, potentially even causing the hair to stop growing from the follicle over time,” says Gushchina.
The eyebrow trends you’ll see everywhere in 2024
If the ’90s have taught us anything, it’s that brow trends are fleeting, and as we head into 2024, experts predict that a handful of new shapes will reign supreme. Riley says that she isn’t a big fan of the laminated brow, but she has incorporated elements of the viral treatment into The Brow Lift, a service available at Nails & Brows Mayfair. While it does involve straightening the brow hairs to set them in place (followed by a tint and a tidy using tweezers) it’s far more subtle and makes brows appear full and feathery, rather than spiky. Then there’s the “cat curve brow”, says Baldesberger, which boasts an exaggerated arch and already has 108.5 million views on TikTok. Karen Betts, London-based brow expert and founder of HD Brows and K.B Pro permanent makeup academy, tells R29 that the only trend she approves of is “French girl” brows: slightly messy and undone. If your brows are on the sparse side, Betts recommends semi-permanent makeup in the form of microblading, where each stroke follows the direction of your natural hair growth pattern to suit your features and face shape.
A more natural and feathery aesthetic is to be expected in 2024, says Maya Regan, beauty trends researcher and writer at Stylus. “As we’ve seen with various new brow product launches this year, like serums targeting hair growth, a more natural and feathery aesthetic is taking shape for effortless styling,” says Regan. “Waxes and serum-infused gel formulas are packed with conditioning ingredients that nourish while achieving a desired level of volume, definition and versatile shaping.” Think The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Lash and Brow Serum, £12.40, Ukbrow Eyebrow Serum, £38, and Vegamour GRO Volumizing Brow Serum, £78, all of which feature hair-strengthening peptides. If that’s too tame, there are “anti-perfectionist” brows, adds Regan, inspired by TikTok’s “villain makeup” (filled in and dramatically arched) and the resurgence of the indie sleaze aesthetic: bleached (whether faux or genuine) and thin in shape. Finally, if you aren’t interested in trends, but want to refresh your brows, Gushchina pinpoints “brow mapping”, a concept which uses your facial features (like the nose) to determine the best shape and structure.
Regardless of how you wear your arches, one thing is true: viral beauty moments like brow lamination are entirely subjective. If you like the look and you’ve found a technique that works, who is anyone to tell you otherwise? Just heed the expert advice — brows are delicate and it’s so easy to mess them up. Whatever you do, look after them.
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