Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Maintaining Youthful Eyebrows

Eyebrows are a thing of beauty. Usually.


Our eyebrows are perfectly designed to protect our eyeballs from dust and debris and frame our face, though for some, a face without visible eyebrows is "A Look."

At the opposite end of invisible brows is the very dark eyebrow, which can also be a signature look (or in the case below, perhaps a red-carpet mistake).


For those of us just trying to look natural, the importance of a well-groomed, full brow cannot be overlooked. Subtly-defined brows can shave years off our appearance without having to resort to other aids, like a surgical brow lift. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

This article addresses brow makeup, but there is no shortage of information on brow shaping and grooming, much of which can be done for you in a salon. Style and beauty bloggers occasionally discuss it. See, for example, Une Femme's recent article on threading, as well as an article Perilously Pale wrote this past summer on the importance of brows.

Brows are important. But without resorting to using a Sharpie to give shape to our eyebrows, finding the perfect texture and color can be a challenge for some of us, especially as we get older and our brows change.


Eyebrows are not a particularly hot topic. A new brow color rarely reaches the same level of excitement as a new lipstick or palette from the current season's collection. In fact, I'd guess that most of us are not nearly as fickle with brow products as we are with lipstick or eyeshadow. We find something that works and we stick with it because it's easy and doesn't require much thought; it's not like we have to decide each morning between brown or blue, matte or metallic.

But what happens when our tried-and-true product no longer works?

I gave my eyebrows almost zero thought when I was under 40, other than tweezing strays and keeping them neat. I assumed the eyebrows I had at 17 would be the same eyebrows I had at 87. Wrong. Not that I'm 87, I'm barely pushing 85, but still. My brows were the one constant in my mirror, until the day I noticed that my faithful brow powder was starting to look a bit harsh.

Genetics and race determine what our brows look like, but many of us enjoy full, natural brows when hormones are on the rise, well into and past their peak. As hormone levels change or decline, such as during and after pregnancy or when we become perimenopausal, some of us notice that our once-full brows now look sparse; perhaps we can even see skin through them or lighter hairs are growing in. Loss of volume could be the result of chronic overplucking, certain medications, poor nutrition, low iodine levels, hormonal imbalances, skin disorders, or a thyroid condition. But in many cases, volume loss is simply a part of the aging process.

If you notice a marked change in your eyebrows, discuss it with your doctor, who will want to rule out any medical conditions, such as an underactive thyroid. One sign of hypothyroidism is hair loss at the outer third edge of the brow, closest to the temples.

Blackout bar used to protect woman's privacy

Does that hair ever come back? It has not for me.

I have read good things about home remedies using certain oils, such as castor and coconut, which are reported to encourage hair regrowth if applied to the brow area before bed and left on overnight. Apparently, the vitamins penetrate the skin and stop protein loss.

There are also plenty of OTC lash grown serums, some of which can also be used on brows. I tried two different serums over a period of 6 months, but all they did was make the tail end of my brow hairs longer. I could have curled them up like this:



In any case, I saw virtually no change in volume on brows or lashes, but I did notice an increase in super-fine, downy blonde hair under the brows. No thanks.

Makeup to the rescue!
If I can't reverse mother nature's mean tricks, I can certainly fake it. It's amazing what a little well-placed brow makeup can do to improve the appearance and lift the eyes. Look at the woman's eyebrows in the following before-and-after image.


In the "after" image, she looks younger, fresher, and more awake, even more confident and approachable.

My brows are are still well shaped with a defined arch, but they have become so sparse I rarely need to pluck anymore (and plucking stray hairs used to be a task I performed 3-4 times a week). So I thought I'd share my tips that give me my 20 year-old brows, at least until I wash my face:
  1. Choose a brow color that is 1-2 shades lighter than my hair. When I am 100% grey/white, I will switch to a color 1-2 shades darker.
  2. Using a stiff eyebrow brush or clean spoolie, brush the hairs downward and find the arch.
  3. Using a thin angle brush, lightly apply color to the arch with short, feathery strokes.
  4. Brush brow hairs up and out and use the angle brush to fill in sparse areas only. Brow powder (which should be slightly stiff, even waxy) gives my wispy brows definition; it's also a great choice for those seeking a more natural look. Pencil (or gel) provides a more dramatic look or is useful for anyone who is actually missing whole sections of the brow, such as that outer third I mentioned earlier.
  5. Very lightly use what's left on the brush to almost-imperceptibly extend the tail end.
  6. Set in place with a clear mascara.
Once done I can forget about my brows all day, as they require no touchups. And aside from defining the arch, I try to avoid adding much color to the top or bottom of the brows, focusing only on the sparse areas and blending outward.

Because my natural brows appear lighter, thanks to volume loss, my biggest challenge has become finding the right color. I find myself stuck at step #1 in my own process. My beloved Clinique Brow Shaper in Shaping Charcoaled is starting to look a bit dark, although it has been THE perfect cool, ash brown for my pure ash eyebrows for many years.


Too dark? Big deal, buy something new. I tried, and I was completely unprepared for the disappointment. How hard could it be? Well, it would appear that there is no shortage of brow products for warm-toned people, but for those of us with light hair that has an ash base, it is proving to be more challenging than I ever imagined it could be.

Everything I have tried is either too warm (yellow or red), including all of the so-called taupes, or too dark. I don't want to think about the money I have wasted on various cool-looking eyebrow powders and pencils, including the famous Shu Uemura Seal Brown, which looks a bit green on me. Most of them have been the wrong color, and when I managed to find a harmonious match in color, it would be too dark.

So if you have made it this far, I have to disappoint you. There is no new holy grail. I have halfheartedly settled on using up an eyeshadow I was no longer using on my lids: Bobbi Brown Slate. It's not waxy, so it does not last all day, and it is still too warm. So I will keep looking until I find that holy-grail brow product that will carry me into my 87th birthday!


If you have begun to notice thinning brows, what is your favorite brow product? Do you prefer pencil or powder or gel?


Photo credits: (1-8) google images, (9-10) mine

48 comments:

  1. Actually, this is a problem I've been having lately, too. I've only recently started to actually pay attention to my browns, and the powder shadows in my stash are too red or yellow, as well. But! I think your old trusty Clinique may now be passed down to me! I've been looking for a brow color, and now I know where to start looking. I think I also want a gel, because my brows tend to get a bit unruly throughout the day. But shopping for brow products is really quite boring to me, so I haven't quite made it there yet. Sigh. Thanks for the post, Zuzu!

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    1. Larie, if the Clinique Charcoaled doesn't work, and you are more interested in taming unruly brow hairs, take a look at Anastasia brow gel in the color Granite next time you are at Sephora. It's not too dark and it is just cool enough. It's a gel in a mascara tube, so it's pretty easy to apply. I would use that exclusively if I didn't need to fill in my brows, too.

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    2. That first photo gave me a fright ;)
      Great post, my brows are causing me problems, I am trying to grow them but just seem to get lots of little white hairs instead, so not a good look. Brows can eally make a difference to a look but I think if you have so little to work with to begin with its always going to be a struggle. The best colour I have found for my sparce brows is Chantecaille Ash blonde pencil.

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    3. Replica, Chantecaille Ash sounds like a promising color! I wonder if I will consider dying my brows at some future date.

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  2. Bobbi Brown is coming out with a whole set of brow products this spring. There is a kit with powders and a brush and some other stuff. Looks promising!

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    1. I really look forward to seeing this, thanks very much for the ifo. I hope she offers some that aren't warm.

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  3. I think you need to go to Frends Beauty Supply and check out the Brows section.

    http://www.frendsbeautysupplyonline.com/brow.aspx

    I think this is time to go to the pros.

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    1. Look at all the different browns! And a charcoal that doesn't look too dark, too. I could not find a store locator, and LA is a bit far to drive. :^)

      Oh, oops, just noticed the brow stuff is sold online only anyway.

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    2. Are you saying that Olivia hasn't made you into a Frends convert???? They SHIP ANYWHERE.

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    3. She has tried! But I look at those palettes and all I see are the warm colors! Their return policy doesn't include a 100% color guarantee, and even though I can afford more mistakes, I feel foolish and wasteful for continuing to bring so many duds into the house, so I vowed to only buy brows I can see in person and try on. Clinique is still working, but only just barely.

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  4. I use & love the same Clinique Brow Shaper, but my HG is Shu Uemura's Hard Formula H9 pencil in Stone Grey. It only deposits color when in contact w/your brow hairs. Virtually impossible to over do, resulting in a very natural look.

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    1. Hi Anon, I'm familiar with the interesting Shu pencil, but I've been using Seal Brown, which is a bit too warm. I will definitely give Stone Grey a try in my next order, even if it breaks my self-imposed rule of trying brow stuff on in person. It's not like I have a choice anymore, though.

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  5. Hi Zuzu,
    (been loving your blog a while!)

    I have dark brown (almost black hair) and been through quite a few products. For me, the color selection has been hard, but I think I've settled on my brow routine. Everything I've tried previously always leaned too red and unnautral.

    My go-to favorite is the Suqqu liquid brow marker in Moss Green. It's a cool toned brown (with some green tossed in!). It takes work and time because you are literally drawing in fine hairs, but it looks natural. And it lasts a long time on the skin! This and a good brush through is my perfect eyebrow.

    My second favorite is the Shu Uemura hard pencil in Seal Brown. Bit warmer in tone, but still neutral enough for me. I love this thing! It's like scribbing with a crayon pretty much and a brush through and I'm done. The pencil is giantic and I think it will last me years.

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    1. Hi Jane, thank you for the kind comment about my blog. :)

      I am sure I've seen Suqqu Moss Green reviewed somewhere, maybe it was on a Lisa Eldridge video; I also think London Makeup Girl wears it because I definitely remember being surprised by Moss Green! How great that it translates as a cool brown. I fear my eyebrows have become too sparse and it would look green on me, but I am very much intrigued by the felt tip-type brow products that get drawn on as little hairs. It seems a product like that would last all day, even if it got a little wet.

      I have been favorably impressed with the application and finish of Shu's hard pencil, so I will try the grey color next--especially since it seems impossible to overdo.

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  6. I use a number of different products depending upon my mood. I used a Estee Lauder powder eyebrow product for years until I discovered Dior's Diorshow Brow Styler. I got a Chanel makeover a few months ago where the national artist used the darkest color in the Prelude quad to fill in my brows. Sounds odd, but it looked good even though the shadow he used a bit of shimmer! I use Chanel's Kaska Beige quad a lot, so sometimes I fill in with the matte shadow it contains. I picked up Tom Ford's "calligraphy" brow sculptor a few weeks ago and love it. I keep it in my purse for those days when I'm in a hurry and apply at the office. I've sprouted quite a few gray hairs and all of these methods to a tolerable job of covering them. (I once even hit the grays with waterproof mascara, which worked surprisingly well.)

    An elderly, beautifully made up African American woman told me that back in the day when there were fewer products for women of color than there are now, she was taught to use a matte eye shadow the same color as her skin as a concealer. Why not look at matte eye shadows to use for brows?

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    1. Ava, that doesn't sound strange at all! One of the items I tried on my brow was MAC Mystery, which is a cool brown with plummy mauve undertones, and it has a satin finish. Since that area of my skin produces oil, a subtle sheen was actually quite natural.

      I will definitely be looking for something that coats the hairs as my brow hairs start to grey. They aren't greying yet, but new hairs are growing in blonde, which is very disconcerting--especially given the fact that my eyelashes are black, which is also unusual for someone with light brown/dark blonde hair.

      Believe it or not, I have tried (and rejected) many matte eyeshadows, and I am sure the right one exists out there for me; I just haven't tried it yet. I'm using BB Slate now, as a stop-gap measure, but I have also tried BB Grey and Cement; MAC Wedge, Omega, Coquette, Copperplate; Shu Uemura M Beige 835; Dior Flirty Brown; Jane Iredale Slate and Taupe; Alima Bramble, Putty, and Raven; Chanel Slate; and probably others I have forgotten about. Also I have swiped many a mascara on my brow hairs!

      Maybe I am just overly picky, but I haven't found the color that blends in and looks natural. I should be able to gob it on and still have it look like it belongs on me.

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    2. Ava, could you please tell me more about the Tom Ford brow pencil? I cannot find reviews on this and am very interested in it. My current brow pencil is close to its end so I am on the search :-)

      Tammy

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    3. I love, love the Tom Ford brow sculptor. The color, Taupe, is perfect for me. It's lighter than my hair color so doesn't look harsh, but dark enough to define my brows, and has no hint of red. There are two or three other colors. The unique, self-described "calligraphy" tip makes for fast, easy, and varied application. Depending upon how you hold it, you can apply fine lines or broad swathes of color, and it covers any grays you might have. The sharpener screws out of the spoolie/brush end, and acts like a plane to sharpen the tip.

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    4. I love Dior brow styler for minimal single hair fill in effect, but for full youthful and natural brows - Tom Ford gets my money and he's worth every penny. I over plucked as a teenager and they never grew back. Over the years I have resorted to Benefit, Mac Powder, Covergirl, Maybelline, Dior (great for outlining shape or filling in single hairs) and even tattooed them (DON'T!)

      Nothing beats Tom Ford and I set it with Benefit Instant Brows gel.

      http://www.neimanmarcus.com/p/Tom-Ford-Beauty-Brow-Sculptor-Taupe-Eyes/prod142600058_cat40960778_cat40960772_/?isEditorial=false&index=14&cmCat=cat000000cat13030735cat42130739cat000226cat43890732cat11610741cat40960772cat40960778

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    5. @Ava - I am with you 100000000% Tom Ford in Taupe. I am a natural dark blonde with highlights. Color is natural and flawless. Perfection worth every penny. I set mine with Benefit gel wand. Also use Dior brow for extra fine precision fill in (good for evening and more dramatic effect)

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  7. Great post! My tails on my brows ain't what they used to be. I prefer a pencil, and I use MAC Fling as it seems to suit me well.
    But one of my brows has a higher arch than the other and DRIVES ME NUTS. I always look lopsided. I need to get that fixed soon. I feel like one brow looks like Spock's!

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    1. Spock, lol. Are your ears pointy? I have one of those, too (brow, not ear)! I can lift that brow and give my husband that skeptical, disapproving Scully-stares-down-Mulder look, lol. My left and right are are not even; it took me years to figure out why I preferred my left side, but now I know why. I hate my right eyebrow!

      Does MAC Fling come in the auto-"sharp" packaging? I tried several of those and loved the ease of application but found them all too warm. I sound like a broken record, but my eyebrows are so weird by being completely ash. My hair stylist has commented on it a few times.

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  8. My kind of blog post!! After years of over energetic plucking I am left with sad sorry remains of eye brows. I did manage to knock them back into shape by trimming rather than plucking overly long hairs - if I pulled them out when they go too long I would have now brows at all! I am a huge fan on Clinique super fine liner pencils and have used soft brown for years now, it is similar in shade to MAC Fling - I switched so I could dash into Boots and pick up a clinique pencil when mine ran out mid-brow rather than having to mail order! I always keep a spare because it does always run out when you have one brow done and the other not, not a great look! The best piece of advice I was ever given is that brows are sisters and not twins - they aren't supposed to be identical, I now accept them for what they are! xx

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    1. One brow done! The horror! I am fairly pencil challenged. I don't know what my problem is but I never got the hang of eye pencil, lip pencil, or brow pencil. I am more skilled at wielding a brush for all of the above, I guess, with one exception--the Shu Uemura hard brow pencil can be sharpened so needle thin, it makes flicking on those tiny fake hairs a breeze.

      I'd never heard that quote before about brows being sisters and not twins, but it's brilliant!

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  9. Chanel Le Sourcil was hard to work with at first, but then I got used to it and I know nothing as good as this. It's different from other products I've tried in so many ways.

    Illamasqua brow cake is very good and long lasting, but not as unique as the Chanel (best ever!)

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    1. Thanks, Renata. I love the idea of customizing brow color by mixing from three pans (reminds me of cake mascara), but I would definitely want to see this in person, as each of the colors looks very warm on my monitor.

      Of course, as is typical of my experience with palettes, I'd probably end up using one or two of the colors while the other pans go to waste!

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    2. Only one of the colors leans to warm, but because it is the lighter one, even that doesn't look weird when mixed. I know pictures don't show the colors as they are. I know what you mean, I can't wear warm colors on my brows either. If you worry about the shades being too warm, don't.

      Here is a video describing the product in details. Her description is very accurate. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0I0xyjt2PY&feature=plcp&context=C35946abUDOEgsToPDskKeHZwh_C_F8HxK7w2H_rYm

      ;)

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    3. Thank you! I will watch when I get home from work. Can't wait, hee.

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  10. Chanel Le Sourcil was hard to work with at first, but then I got used to it and I know nothing as good as this. It's different from other products I've tried in so many ways.

    Illamasqua brow cake is very good and long lasting, but not as unique as the Chanel (best ever!)

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  11. Excellent post, and timely too (for me). Since I have most of my brow missing I will have to stick with pencil. Chantecaille's ash blonde will be on my list to check out for sure, and so will Tom Ford's new one. Has anyone tried the new Tom Ford eyebrow pencil? The shape intrigues me.

    Tammy

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  12. I forgot to ask if anyone has tried eyebrow stencils with any success?

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  13. your subject timing is eery! not only have i been going on a quest to find the perfect brow products, but i was literally look at A Jolie pictures last night thinking, her beauty is so much more soft than it used to be and i boiled it down to the Billy Bob era when her brows were painted on! i now want to grow out my brows to be more natural instead of trying to create a shape that looks like a stencil on my face. i guess that means just grooming and clear gel instead of filling them in feverishly? i'm scared lol

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    1. Lisa, brow changes can be scary! It's amazing how one area can be so face altering, far more than slapping on a darker-than-normal lipstick or eyeshadow. Growing them out can also be painful, but stick to it, and you will be much happier! Especially if you grow them back in while you still have hair, lol.

      It just occurred to me that I might try experimenting with the Paula Dorf angle brush and Bobbi Brown cream eyeliners in Cement and Slate, see if either one of the cream versions look good. I know that stuff is nigh bulletproof!

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    2. if you've had trouble with finding cool/ash toned products, i would recommend looking at MAC's 'Impeccable' pencil in Taupe. it's lighter than my dark brow shade so it looks imperceptible and i like it because it's waxy and will hold them in place. and it's a traditional pencil size. at $15 i think it's worth it.
      not only are my brows getting sparse, they're so slow to grow in (not the stray hairs of course). i used to be able to change my shape once a month practically, they were so full. now i am stuck with hairs that are growing in different directions. i swear i'd never touch makeup again if i could have my old skin, hair and brows back!! :$

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    3. Yeah, I'd give a lot away to have my 20 year-old skin again. And body, and ...

      ;)

      I have MAC Impeccable in Taupe. Great texture, but the color is slightly off. It goes yellow on my skin.

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  14. At 69, I, too, share your thinning brow problem. The last third is nonexistent on one brow and the other needs "amending". I recently started using Clinique's Super Fine Liner for Brows in Soft Brown along with my old standby Charcoaled, and am finding that the combination permits subtle fine tuning. As a former brunette now turned mostly silver, I can't do dark brows at my age, but still want the definition and "frames" for my eyes.
    What I would like is a very narrow but very stiff wedge-shaped brush, to make it easier to put on less product and to taper the strokes so they appear natural.

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    1. Hi Anon, I use the Paula Dorf angle brush, and although it isn't as stiff as the Smashbox, the edge is very fine and it plays quite nicely with the Clinique brow powder. If you think you might like it, it's sold at dermstore.com which has free shipping (no minimum) and if you add it to your favorites list and then from favorites to cart, you always save 10%. I'm not affiliated--I just love sharing any cost savings when I can.

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    2. Thanks! BTW, that Clinique Super-Fine Liner for Brows is a twist-up very, very fine-line pencil, never needs sharpening, and you can draw individual hair-sized lines with it. The soft brown is just that, muted, so it works well with a variety of brow shades, and you can mix it with the Clinique Charcoaled to achieve a color natural to someone with graying previously-dark hair.

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    3. That does sound good. I have wanted to inspect the new Almost Lipstick colors, so I am adding their brow pencil to my list of items to test.

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  15. My mother (early 50s) has been using Kevyn Aucoin's brow pencil in Brunette, to fill in her brows, whilst keeping the looks soft and natural. I think it looks great on her.

    Myself, I use a range of different products. NARS Bali for darker, defined brows; Shu Uemura H9 Acorn if I'm in a rush; the lighter colours in the Lunasol Brow Styling Compact for an incredibly natural, but still groomed look. My colouring is on the warmer side, and because I colour my hair a reddish-brown, that warms my complexion still further, so I can get away with brow powder that has a hint of red.

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    1. I haven't bumped into KA product in a couple years; I wonder if it's sold online only. You know ... NARS Bali (an excellent cool brown) is one eyeshadow I have not yet tried on my brows. I haven't worn Bali in a while, but I remember it being a little powdery so maybe it would not be a good candidate for that area, but I am going to dig it out this morning and have a look. Thanks!

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  16. Oh gosh. I am obsessed with brows. I had a bit of a klutzy incident two years ago (New Years Eve), which led to an especially sparse right eyebrow tail. My hunt for the perfect brow product is what turned me into a beauty blog fiend.

    My first HG was Urban Decay's Brow Box in "Beige Betty". Sephora doesn't carry that shade, so you'll have to hunt it down. It's got that ashy no-warm-red/brown-allowed quality that I'm always looking for. I use this with Smashbox's Brow Tech Wax.

    For the past few months I've been dabbling in brow pencils for something quicker. I went for Asian products because they usually lean ashy (yay!), are harder and slightly-waxy (which I prefer), and my Aunt went to Asia and was willing to pick up some products for me. :) My favourites are: Lioele's auto-artist brow pencil (convenient triangular tip), Kanebo Kate automatic brow pencil (thin tip, excellent for mimicking brow hairs), and the K-Palette 24hr brow pen (a tad too brown for me, but has tremendous lasting power). I like to create a multi-dimensional brow, so I've been going with either Lioele + Kate or Lioele + K-Palette.

    I too have tried lash growth serum on my brows and also got the long brow hair thing. :( Which ones did you try? I tried RapidLash. If you ever find something that causes regrowth, please let me know! Thanks for mentioning the hypothyroidism bit. I've had a referral for a thyroid function test for a couple months now -- you've convinced me to *make* the time to get it done!

    ps my apologies for the essay.

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    1. Hi, BooBoo! I love your adorable avatar. ♥ Beige Betty sounds exactly like the kind of brow thing I am drawn to. I will have to hunt it down as something to carry in my kit during the day. Meanwhile, a friend recommended Laura Mercier Brow Definer in Warm. Yes, WARM. She said it was a cool ashy brown with no visible yellow or red, but I still had my doubts, so I ordered it half price on eBay to test (even though it's still available on the LM web site) and she was 100% right.

      Brow Definer comes in a tiny pot--about the size of a Stila Smudge Pot GWP sample. It's filled with stiff, waxy charcoal-brown stuff that looks so incredible on my brows. It almost invisibly coats the hairs, so they appear more full, and it fills in the bare spots.

      I am light skinned (NW15/20) with light ash brown hair, and this dark-looking color has quickly become absolutely, without doubt, my new HG brow product. I apply with the Paula Dorf angle brush, which isn't even meant for brows because it's not stiff, but it works! Highly recommended for those of us who have trouble finding a brow product that's cool enough!

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    2. I forgot to answer your question about the lash growth serum. I tried RapidLash and Lashpix after reading this site: http://www.eyelashgrowthcenter.com/eyelashes/reviews/revitalash-review.html

      Lashpix was supposed to be superior on all counts and is said to grow brow hair. I guess it technically does. Just no volume.

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  17. I had the sparse brow issue and started taking an herbal supplement called ashwagandra. They came back in completely, not just the downy underlayer. Now I tint them to deal with the grey....

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    1. Interesting. I've heard of that supplement. I think Biotin and omega 3s are helping improve my lashes and brows.

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  18. i am obsessed with eyebrows as well. A good cheap option that I have found is the maybelline eyeshadow trio in almond satin, I use the brownish greyish shade with a stiff brush to fill in my brows. I have brown hair and had a hard time finding somthing not too dark and not too warm as well.

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    1. I like cheap options, but I now have to be super careful about any product I use on my skin, as it must be gluten free. I especially can't risk having gluten particles falling into my eyes. I've been using Gabriel Cosmetics eyeshadow in Dove (a light-to-medium cool grey tinged with brown), and it's doing a pretty good job. The pigment is a hint dark, but I just brush out any excess with a spoolie. In a pinch, I can also use Alima Bramble eyeshadow or Jane Iredale Slate Brown, all gluten free.

      The makeup world becomes incredibly smaller when you take gluten out of the equation. :(

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