5 Women Transform Their Looks With Brow Makeovers

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
We're currently experiencing what could best be described as a renaissance of brows — a brow-aissance, if you will. In the past few years, eyebrows went from being an afterthought or a source of not-so-fond memory of youthful mistakes — a.k.a. the dreaded "tadpole" arches — to a feature of intense fascination. Thanks to a runway resurgence, full-browed beauties like Lily Collins, and a slew of new launches and treatments, brows are back in a bigger, bolder way.

That's all well and good for models and celebrities. But what does that mean for those of us with average arches, who don't have brow pros on speed-dial? Thanks to new technologies and greater accessibility to treatments, it means that anyone — with a little bit of time and $ — can have the brows of their dreams.

The treatment options for defining, refining, and boosting your brows are myriad, and more than a little intimidating. Knowing which one is going to be the most beneficial for your brows seems like it requires a Mensa membership to deduce. That's where we come in: We forced (erm, asked politely) five R29 staffers to donate their arches to the cause and try a different treatment each — shaping, filling in, tinting, extensions, and tattooing.

We enlisted brow expert Bob Scott; Wink Brow Bar's Umbreen Sheikh; and Browhaus NYC's Carol Wah and Jady Lit Tsui to give us the lowdown on each method, and then asked each staffer to tell us all about their new brows.

Read on to see their epic transformations, and find out which arch aesthetic is best for you.
1 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Kelsey Miller, Senior Features Writer
Brow Makeover: Shaping

As a naturally full-browed babe, Kelsey says her main issue has always been managing, rather than building on, her brows. When asked to describe her brows, her simple answer was: "Well, there's a lot of them."

She copped to having a "legit unibrow" until she discovered waxing as a teen. She switched over to threading until the pain became intolerable, and now relies on an occasional at-home cleanup of strays and some brow gel. Her biggest concern about her makeover? "I might get them shaped here today and think, 'Oh, I really wanna keep up with them,' but…if I don’t stay on top of it, they’ll just go wild."

Scott assured her that shaping is something she can do at home, with the proper guidance, and that professional treatments don't need to happen on a monthly basis. "With shaping, you want to either soften them if you have very strong arches, or if they’re really dense you can remove some of the hairs to soften the impact," says Scott. "Because if they’re really full, then you have a lot to work [with] — but you want to be more restrained about how you do that."

First rule of thumb for at-home shaping: Let them grow. Scott says you want them to be as full as possible before beginning. "Put down the tweezers and let them grow for about a month-and-a-half to two months," he says. We know: That sounds like a recipe for disaster. But Scott assures us that the payoff is worth the potential unibrow.

Once you see where your brows are at naturally, Scott says you can look more comprehensively at your arches and adjust the shape to reflect your desired outcome. To clearly define that shape, he advises drawing around them with a white eyeliner pencil to make an outline of what you want the shape to be.

"Kelsey has a great natural shape — there’s a density in the center of it, which is what I’m going to follow, but [the hairs] do soften as they spread out...they sort of diffuse," he notes. "So I’m going to clean that up by taking the little, fine hairs that are above the brow and [the ones below the browbone that] creep onto the eyelid. I’m not going to go too high into her arch — most of the pulling up I’m going to be doing will be in removing a couple of rows from the length, and pulling it down through the top." In brow-novice terms: "Tilting instead of pulling the arch way up."

Second golden rule: Once you've determined the shape you want, take your tweezers and go row by row across the brows. "If you look at your brows left to right, you'll see that there is always going to be a hair next to another," he says. "They might stagger slightly as you go, so you won't be able to [tweeze] from top to bottom." Instead, he advises you do one row across, left to right, then stop and see what it looks like before going on to the next one.

Another fun fact: Scott says many people are hairier on one side of their face than on the other, so he advises identifying the less hirsute side and to start tweezing there. "You have less to work with, and if you can get that one perfect then it will be really easy to get the other one [right]."
2 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
It's been two weeks and Kelsey says her new brow look is still going strong. She also says she can continue to keep up. "As ever, my unibrow did begin to grow back in almost instantly, so I did do some tweezing maintenance there; but that's the kind of tweezing that takes little skill or effort," she notes.

Kelsey adds, "There's something so fantastic about well-done brows — they make your face look instantly put-together in a subtle, sophisticated way. Having these brows was like having a little black dress on my face."

A word of warning to would-be shapers: Scott says to be conservative with how much hair you remove from the stems (the outer corners of your eyes), because that hair is more likely to grow back when it's been damaged. If you're still nervous, head to a pro for this process; take notes, and emulate their technique when you try to recreate it at home.

Above all else, Scott says to avoid waxing: "We should know by now that waxing is not good because it damages the skin and removes too much hair, so they look too manicured. I always [recommend] tweezing first because you can get those super-clean lines, but you can also give a softer shape, which generally looks better on everybody." Noted.

We should mention that Kelsey's makeover received the ultimate aesthetic approval: "I got a compliment on my 'brow game' from one of my Instagram followers, which is like an instant self-esteem boost."
3 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Neha Gandhi, VP, Editorial Strategy
Brow Makeover: Filling In

As a self-described lazy girl, Neha says her usual upkeep is to get her arches waxed, because she doesn't like the idea of threading and the fact that it requires audience participation. "I do not want to hold my face while someone goes to town on them for 30 minutes. I don’t want to be a participant in my own torture." As for filling them in, she's been using a NARS gel liner that she sheepishly admits is not meant for brows. "I've tried so many brow pencils that felt very heavy-handed. I have black hair, and the effect [of pencils] is that they make [my brows] look a little gray — they don't seem to match my hair."

According to Scott, Neha's brow-treatment match is filling in — it helps those whose hair goes all the way across the browbone but lacks density. The goal is to make the brows appear fuller and darker.

His tool of choice is a pencil, because it's easy to use and gives you more control. "You can create depth, add fullness and thickness to the brow, and you can make it look natural — or make them stronger as you build up the product."

Scott suggests picking a pencil that has a powdery finish, rather than a clay or waxy crayon. "It will sit better throughout the day, and it’ll look more natural than something that has more of a tackiness to it," he explains. "It’ll be easier to use because it moves more gently over the skin, as opposed to building very quickly. [A pencil] builds very easily, so you can create the depth but you also have a lot more control over the product." He used Nudestix' new Eyebrow Stylus Pencil & Gel on Neha because it fit the powdery, easy-to-build ethos perfectly.

While many people advise stroking a pencil across the brow to create the illusion of hairs, Scott says the technique is actually a little more nuanced than that. "You want the pencil to look like the shadow that your brow hairs would cast against the skin — more so than strokes or actual brow hairs. Creating the brow hairs can be very difficult and tricky to make it look real." He used the pencil in the sparser patches of Neha's brows, and then switched to the gel to fill in the "sprouts" in the front, extend the ends, and make the shape more elegant.

As for Neha's gray complaint, Scott says it's not necessarily the pencil causing that effect. When the hair on your head is both dark and dense but your brow hair is lighter or sparser, he explains, the arches will read as more gray in comparison.

The solution is not to use a pencil that matches your hair color, but to choose one that's one shade lighter. In Neha's case, that meant opting for a dark-brown pencil, rather than a black one. In fact, a black pencil would look too stark on her, Scott says.

Nudestix Eyebrow Stylus Pencil & Gel, $24, available at Beautylish.
4 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Post-makeover, Neha's first move was to check out her side view in the mirror. "I hate getting my pictures taken from profile on the right side, because I feel like my right eyebrow is a little bit sadder than my left eyebrow. It’s sort of incredible looking in the mirror from the side with them filled in like this, because they both look beautiful. It feels like a different profile."

Explains Scott, "When you pull the length towards the top of the ear, it’ll help to lift the eye and that’ll make it seem a little bit brighter."

So did we convince Neha to drop the eyeliner and pick up a brow pencil? "So far, so good! The pencil is pretty much foolproof — this is exactly my speed of beauty routine," she says. "It's honestly even easier to deal with my brows than it was before. I feel less compelled to do things like worry about eyeliner and mascara, because my brows make me look a little more awake and bright-eyed."
5 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Sydney Hass, Designer
Brow Makeover: Extensions

Sydney's brows have always been a source of frustration for her, but not in the way you may think. Rather than trying to make them thicker — which Sydney says made her afraid that people would think she had "furry brows" — her concern was about visually elongating them.

"I’ve always had very short eyebrows, ever since I was little," she says. "They never really grew; [that] was the biggest issue. I didn't do much to them. I got them tweezed like once or twice before my Bat Mitzvah, and they trimmed them a little, and that’s literally all I've ever done. So I started filling them in a couple years ago, when I started wearing more makeup." This made her the perfect candidate for brow extensions.

For those who want to create hair where none naturally grows, extensions can help fill in those areas and extend the brows, explains Sheikh, Wink Brow Bar's founder and CEO. The treatment involves applying small, natural hairs to the skin and existing brows with a bonding glue. It is semi-permanent — Sheikh says you can get up to two weeks of wear out of the hairs applied to the skin, and up to three weeks for those attached to the existing brows.

For Sydney's extensions, her technician looked at her brows in detail, and then threaded them to clean up the area and applied a tint to sketch out the shape of her new arches. Sydney then lay down on a "very comfortable bed" for about an hour and a half while her technician methodically attached tiny hairs to her brow area. When she had finished, the technician trimmed the hairs that were sticking out too far, gave strict instructions about after-care, told Sydney not to wash her face for 24 hours, and sent her on her way.
6 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
According to Sheikh, the most important thing to remember with extensions is the proper way to take care of them. In order to get the longest wear, she says you need to clean them with oil-free cleansers only — oil will break down the glue and cause your extensions to fall out quicker.

Also, how you sleep makes a difference to your brows' longevity. "Just like lash extensions, brow extensions are delicate for the first few days post-application, so make sure to try sleeping on your back for the first few days to ensure that you do not wake up to hairs on your pillow," Sheikh says.

Sydney was enthralled with her new look. "I love them. I think looking at yourself in the mirror the first time, it feels like a really big change, but I sent a picture to my parents and they were both just like, 'Oh, you just have more brows.' So it’s not a crazy change, but it’s a good change."

Sydney did notice her brows begin to fall out after about a week, and they were gone after two weeks. At $250 per session, it gets expensive, and while Sydney loved her new brows, she wishes they had a little longer of a shelf life. "I'm obsessed with having brows now," she says. "I felt so much more confident without any makeup on, since my brows were always [perfect]."
7 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Erin Cunningham, New York Editor
Brow Makeover: Tinting

Erin's brow-maintenance routine was pretty simple: She didn't have one. "I’ve never done anything to my brows, ever. I just let them grow," she says. The reason for this laissez-faire attitude was not laziness or winning the genetic brow lottery — Erin has patches and some bald spots due to her nervous habit of pulling on her hair when she is anxious. Every hair mattered, so she didn't see the need for removal.

Enter: brow-tinting. It involves applying a semi-permanent dye to the brows and immediate surrounding skin to create a uniform color and darken the finer hairs surrounding the arches. Because Erin's brows are deeper in the inner corners and get fainter and lighter toward the ends, tinting helped color the more pronounced hairs to give them volume and even out the overall color, explains Scott.

For his clients, Scott custom-mixes hues to best accentuate their hair colors and natural brow colors. Again, this isn't about matching the hair color to the brows, but rather about making them complement each other. For Erin, Scott mixed a deep blonde and a soft brown. He applied the dye to her brows, and also around their perimeter — most people have very fine, almost invisible hairs around their brows. The tint deepens their color and makes them stand out, in turn giving your arches a fuller look.

Scott left the tint to set for five minutes, and then wiped it away. Then, he went to work shaping the brows. He says you should always tint first, and then tweeze — because the hairs have been darkened, you have more to work with and can craft a better, fuller shape.

This is one of the most effective, long-lasting, non-permanent brow treatments around — it can last anywhere from four to six weeks before you'll need a touch-up. However, Scott says this is one you should leave to the pros. Trying to use a box hair dye or root touch-up kit on your brows can at best lead to Joan Crawford arches and at worst do serious damage to the eyes. Hair colors aren't formulated to be used on the face and could cause irritation, not to mention the increased potential of getting a runny formula in your eyes.

But, Scott says, that doesn't mean you should just go to your hair colorist either. "The hair on your brows is much thinner than the hair on your head," he says. This means that many of the formulas colorists use can be too harsh on the face, and can change dramatically as they develop over time.

The actual color is also important, says Scott. Cooler shades look much more natural, and most brow specialists know to keep their tinting formulas on the cooler side — while many hair colorists may not, he notes.
8 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Erin's brow transformation was both dramatic and immediate — her brows were considerably darker and fuller after just 15 minutes. And, according to Erin, they held up perfectly and are still going strong (with a small amount of fading) three weeks later. "The darkness of my brows was a bit shocking at first," she says, "but I think it was mostly because most people were not used to seeing me with such thick, full brows."

If you're looking for consistent, long-lasting results that don't require any upkeep or manual labor on your part, then tinting might be your next new favorite thing. Scott recommends getting tweezed and tinted by a pro every six weeks for the best results. "My goal for people who come [to me] regularly is that they don’t have to do anything in-between," he says. "They come every six weeks, and then just forget about [them]." Sounds like our vision of brow heaven.
9 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
Marin Moore, Lead Support Engineer
Brow Makeover: Tattooing

Admit it: You read the word "tattooing" and immediately thought, "Nope." That's not an uncommon reaction when you're talking about inking your face. While brow tattoos are definitely not something to take lightly, and may not be for everyone, this option works best for a certain type. Like our girl Marin here.

Marin describes her eyebrows as having a good shape, but says their lighter coloring makes them look "non-existent." To combat this, she would get them tinted every three weeks and apply a pencil, powder, wax, and setting gel every morning. She consistently and meticulously tended to her arches on a daily basis, which took up a good portion of her morning routine. "It's really time-consuming and a hassle — I always have to carry emergency makeup on me, in case something smudges."

For someone like Marin, tattoos make total sense. She needed definition rather than density, and wanted her brows to look well-groomed. But, due to the practice's less-than-stellar history, the soon-to-be bride was understandably freaked out. "My only experiences with eyebrow tattoos have been the awful ones I saw growing up that were a solid black-red or green line. The idea of a tattooed eyebrow seemed so weird to me."

Knowing her fears — and wanting to give her a makeup tattoo that wasn't going to make her "have to get bangs and hate looking at myself every day" — we sent her to one of the best spots in the brow biz. Browhaus is a one-stop shop for all things brows, from shaping to threading to tinting. Its flagship procedure is one the brand calls the Brow Resurrection.

According to Wah, Browhaus' brand manager, the specialists don't consider the Brow Resurrection a tattoo. The first generation of brow tattoos back in the '70s, says Wah, was done with a single-needle machine that penetrates deeply into the skin. This type of treatment was permanent and could change color over the years, resulting in that blackish-blue or green hue seen on some among the older generations. The effect was unnatural, creating a large block of color that looked Sharpied.

The current iteration of tattoos can be executed by machine or hand, says Wah, and does not penetrate as deeply as a regular tattoo. But it is still a permanent procedure.

The Brow Resurrection is applied by hand, using a "carving tool" and vegetable dye to create "3-D, realistic-looking" strands — as opposed to the penciled-in effect of other treatments. It is semi-permanent and lasts a minimum of two years, although you're required to come in for a complimentary "tune-up" around the three-month mark.

Marin's treatment started with a consultation with brow specialist Lit Tsui, who used a special brow pencil to draw the hair pattern and create a look and color that Marin was satisfied with. Lit Tsui applied a numbing cream to Marin's eyebrows, and then used the carving tool — which features a series of 14 graduated needles — to scratch the skin at a superficial (read: not deep within the skin) level. She applied more numbing cream, and then used the same tool to deposit the vegetable dye into the skin.

According to Marin, the entire experience was both calming and pain-free. "I barely felt a thing. It really feels like tiny scratches on your skin." The dye part was a little uncomfortable, she admits, because by that point her brows were getting sore. If you are sensitive to sound, Marin recommends wearing headphones during the procedure. "It sounds like Velcro being pulled apart, and that is not what people like to hear while work is being done on their face."

Lit Tsui says Brow Resurrection is not for everyone. "Marin was a good choice because her eyebrow shape (full) and hair texture (fine to medium) are ideal for enhancement," she says. "Sometimes when a client has skinny brows with thick hair and wants fuller eyebrows, the effects aren't as seamless. Marin just had some concentration and density issues that affected the uniformity of her brows."
10 of 11
Photographed by Savanna Ruedy.
This photo of Marin was taken two days after her treatment. Marin says her brows were "achy" after the numbing cream wore off, and that she experienced some flakiness and itchiness as the week wore on. Wah says these are normal reactions, and depending on the skin type, there could also be some scabbing.

Marin was beyond satisfied with her new look. "The first week after I did it, I could not believe what I looked like. It looks so natural, and it's so much better than any tinting or makeup I could have done."

Her one complaint? It started to fade as the weeks ticked by, which Wah explains is why you need to get the touch-up within the first one to three months — when the dye has scabbed off. This allows the specialists to see the results, and fine-tune and maintain them as necessary.

This treatment does not come cheap — it runs anywhere from $725 to $925 — but for Marin the cost was worth it in terms of time and aesthetic. "I am not a morning person — I don't like getting up [early], and I used to have to do all of my makeup, put on my eyebrows, and get out the door," she says. "Now, I barely wear makeup. Before, if I filled in my eyebrows, I also had to put on foundation, and blush, and some eyeliner, because it didn't look natural to have just filled-in eyebrows. Now, I have so much confidence in my natural look."
11 of 11
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!

More from Makeup


R29 Original Series