Three years ago, I stopped touching my eyebrows cold turkey. It was a relatively unconscious decision borne mostly out of laziness and my very low-maintenance approach to beauty, but also my reluctance to spend $60 on an aesthetic treatment that never left me totally satisfied in the first place.
I disliked how “groomed” my eyebrows looked after a wax: two perfectly-arched specimens produced by a factory assembly line, so I rebelled in the complete opposite direction and let them run wild — sprouts, stray hairs and all. Unleashed from the constraints of military precision, though, I experienced a “WTH?!” moment when I noticed how patchy my natural eyebrow tails were.
Eager to find a quick-fix solution to my deforestation situation, I invested in a tube of Glossier Boy Brow. A few swipes of the gel successfully made my eyebrows look neater and more filled-in every morning, which was great (and I would heartily recommend this product if that’s all you’re looking for), but it wasn’t the dramatic patch-up tool I desired.
Did such a thing even exist? It was imagining an eyebrow Rogaine of sorts, which seemed too dramatic an approach for something hardly detectable to anyone except me and maybe my dentist, but such is the enthralling potential of great eyebrows; I was convinced they would make my whole face look better.
I considered trying other eyebrow products – maybe a pencil, or a shadow – but I’m firmly in the “I never want to look like I’m wearing any” makeup camp, and I was nervous about the prospect of “coloring in” my eyebrow patches to an obvious degree.
I even considered a more permanent solution like microblading, but the “blade” thing really freaked me out, and the cost was just…no.
At a loss for how to treat my patchy caterpillars, I reached out to celebrity eyebrow guru Joey Healy. I had stumbled across his name multiple times in my search for eyebrow info on the World Wide Web, so I figured he was THE person to ask for advice.
I wasn’t wrong.
You know those birds in Disney movies that help the princesses make their beds and get dressed and generally feel like their very best selves? Add in an encyclopedic knowledge about eyebrows to that description and you’d have a pretty accurate understanding of the magical man that is Joey Healy. After explaining my eyebrow conundrum to him, he kindly agreed to share his expertise so that I, and any Man Repeller readers suffering from eyebrow patchiness (hi!), could learn how best to address it.
A few days later, I found myself sitting in a swivel chair in his NYC salon as he hummed around my face, dispensing eyebrow wisdom at breakneck speed and occasionally pausing to brush one of my eyebrows with a small spoolie.
I seized the opportunity to ask him about eyebrow regrowth serums (i.e. DO THEY WORK?), to which he said, “Yes, if they have peptides. Those help with follicular repair, so you ultimately have a healthier follicle to grow hair from.”
What about something like Latisse? “Latisse is a hormone that tricks your brows and lashes into thinking they’re in a constant state of growth,” he told me. “But the main payoff with that is increased length – you don’t get much in terms of density — and there can be unpleasant side effects, like permanently darkening your eye color or the skin around your eyes.” Freaky!
I knew I was in good hands when he looked at my sprouts (those little hairs closest to my nose that seem to have an identity all their own) and said, “We definitely want to celebrate these.” In terms of at-home brow maintenance, Joey preaches the art of “listening to your brow bone,” which means only plucking stray hairs on the forehead, the temple and the bridge of the nose. “Oh, and always tweeze sober.”
After weeding out the strays, he squeezed three shades of vegetable dye (a dark brown, a light brown and a cool graphite) onto a palette and mixed up a custom tint for my brows. “Be wary of salons that use regular hair dye to tint brows,” Joey cautioned. “Vegetable dye is non-toxic and much safer, which is important for any product you’re putting near your eyeballs.”
He explained that for some people, brow tinting can be radically transformational – especially people with super light hair or discolored brows. For me, it would be slightly less dramatic, but still helpful in terms of making every one of my eyebrow hairs “work hard.”
As the veggie dye set, I asked him what he thought about the microblading trend. “I don’t like it,” he said.
“Oooooooh! Why not?” I asked.
“The reason it’s taken off is because it looks good on Instagram,” he said. “When you see microblading in person, you immediately notice the dark, tattooed lines that you can’t see in a flat, one-dimensional photo. I can spot a microbladed eyebrow from a mile away. To think that microblading can replicate the look of an authentic, real brow is misinformed. I actually have people coming to me asking if I can fix their brows after microblading.”
“Isn’t it only semi-permanent though,” I asked.
“They say it’s semi-permanent, but the reality is that it merely fades, and the color changes slightly, and if you don’t touch it up it’s going to look bad. If you start microblading and then decide to stop, you have to live through that awkward transition. Semi-permanent really means that it needs to be touched up, not that it disappears.”
As a business owner in the eyebrow industry, he acknowledged the temptation to offer the service for lucrative reasons:
“I’d love to offer it. People come in every day asking for it. I have a huge overhead with this salon, and it would be SO profitable – we would be doing your appointment on a yacht somewhere! But it’s just not what I believe in. It goes against the integrity of what I love most about eyebrows. I have to stand for what I believe in. I’m like the Joan of Arc of eyebrows. And don’t get me wrong — I’m not some old, stodgy, stuck-in-my ways esthetician. I love new ideas. Microblading just isn’t a very strong one.”
Tweezing vs. Waxing vs. Threading
Joey is passionately pro-tweezing when it comes to brow care (“once a week at most, in natural daylight”). When I asked him why he doesn’t like waxing, he said, “Waxing is only good for removing large areas of hair indiscriminately – your legs, your underarms – places where it doesn’t really matter so much. Wax will give you speed, but it doesn’t let you shape the hair in a nuanced way, which is critical for eyebrows.”
As for threading? “It treats your brows like they grow in straight rows, which they obviously don’t,” he said. “Like waxing, threading doesn’t leave room for nuanced shaping.”
Powder vs. Pencil vs. Gel
After Joey wiped off the vegetable dye, he moved on to the final phase of my brow transformation: product. As he swirled a makeup brush in a small compact of graphite-colored powder, I asked about the differences between powder, pencil and gel.
“Powder is more enhancing, while pencil is more corrective,” he said. “Despite the patchiness at the ends, your brows have a great shape, so a powder is best for you specifically because it can just kind of connect the dots. If you have a hole, a gap, a scar, or if you need to literally extend a tail, pencil is the way to go. If you want to create the effect of a tint at home, brow gel is great for that. I love Boy Brow or Benefit for a more translucent tint. My brow lacquer offers a more opaque coating.”
When I confessed my concern that, as an amateur, I wouldn’t be able to make a powder or a pencil look natural (my biggest fear is looking like I have “drawn-in” brows — like Maleficent), Joey told me I just need to make sure I have the right equipment: a stiff brush if I’m using powder (so I can control the application) and if I’m using a pencil, make sure it’s one with a natural wax (like beeswax) that’s soft and blendable. “You should never be drawing a new shape and filing it in,” he said. “What you want to do is hit areas that are a little weaker and just blend lightly.”
“Do you recommend at-home trimming?”
“Sure, but you need to be careful not to over-trim, because your brows need some length to create overlap and density within the shape. You also don’t want to trim everything in a straight line or your brows will look too blunt. Some variation is good. It will look more natural.”
After my transformation was complete, I turned to leave the salon, but not before Joey dispensed one last kernel of wisdom: “You also have to let go of the idea that brows should look perfect. They’re perfectly imperfect. Work with what you have. Embrace their small differences.”
With that, I walked out the door and immediately took 1,000 selfies of my perfectly imperfect pair, newly patch-less and subtly darker than before. Even though Joey had technically spent 20 minutes of the appointment removing hair from them, the tint and powder made them look noticeably fuller and more defined.
In the week that’s passed since my appointment, I’ve been practicing my brow powder application technique and I *think* I finally have the hang of it. Who knew caring for eyelid toupées would be such an adventure?
Illustration by @CrayolaMode.