Throughout the tweeze-happy ’90s, I enthusiastically pruned away at my eyebrows. Inspired by Kate Moss’s delicate arches, I obliterated my own—chestnut colored, with a totally acceptable, softly angled natural shape—until they were as slight as my slip dresses. When the Clinton administration ended, so, too, did my follicular assault, but not without lasting damage. It took years for some semblance of regrowth to materialize, thus closing a traumatic chapter in the beauty history of an entire generation. That is, until it was pried open again by TikTok, where a popular thin-eyebrow filter that renders full-to-feral shapes into reedy wisps sent a shiver across my forehead when I first came upon it in early spring.
How did we get here, I brooded to myself, as I flipped through images from fall shows where brows weren’t so much streamlined as completely decimated. At Burberry and Versace, the makeup artist Pat McGrath broke out her bleach pots to create what she describes as a “strong, daring, powerful, and otherworldly” look. The makeup artist Diane Kendal called the bare foreheads she sculpted underneath sharp-edged mullets at Marc Jacobs “gothic and futuristic,” adjectives not typically associated with supermodel Bella Hadid, who blended in with the rest of Jacobs’s dystopian-couture cast.
Hadid herself is certainly part of the minimized-brow comeback, regularly romanticizing all things ’90s—a decade in which she spent just four living years. But the retro revival is as much an homage to the original supermodels as a reflection of our collective emotional state, suggests makeup artist Marcelo Gutierrez. Using brows as a creative canvas—slimming them down, bleaching, shaving or dyeing them, or affixing them with jewels or glitter—provides a welcome shot of fantasy in our triggered times, says Gutierrez, who has worked with Troye Sivan, Dua Lipa, and Euphoria’s Alexa Demie. Existentialism begets escapism, and in moments of uncertainty a skinny brow is decisive. “It’s a very—how do I put this—bitchy-in-the-best-way eyebrow.”
Even bleached brows have effectively migrated off the runway, notes Rihanna-approved makeup artist Raisa Flowers, who has long sported them herself (while many makeup artists use Jolen Creme Bleach on their brows, Flowers prefers Wella Blondor). “They give you more range if you want to experiment with makeup—like, everybody’s been doing those graphic liner looks that cover the whole eye,” says Flowers, who adds that the really young makeup artists on Instagram either don’t have brows, or they’re drawing them on really thin. “We’re approaching brows with an attitude of playfulness and experimentation,” adds New York–based makeup artist Sam Visser, who at 22 is Dior’s youngest-ever U.S. makeup ambassador. Visser likes to fake a slender arch by smoothing brows flat with a spoolie brush and Elmer’s Glue Stick, the kindergarten class staple, which, he notes, is “skin sensitive and comes off with water!” He then powders the area, covers it with Brow Engineer, a spackle-like concealer from performance artist Alexis Stone’s Sensorium line, and sketches a thin shape, slowly building the curvature with an eyebrow pencil, such as Diorshow Brow Styler, which has an ultrafine tip. (For similar precision wielding, the new Major Brow Defining Pencil from Patrick Ta Beauty has a silken glide and impressive staying power.) “It’s a great way to see if you want to tweeze your brows in the long term,” says Visser, adding that tinkering with brow shape also offers the opportunity for a low-cost makeover. “They’re the one thing in beauty that really does transcend your economic status,” Gutierrez agrees. “I see skinny brows on people working the register at CVS, and on the most famous people in the world.”
One place you may not see them, however, is in Paris. “The majority of my customers are not touching their eyebrows,” says Sabrina Eleonore, founder of the chic brow-shaping salon Un Jour Un Regard with locations in the 4th and 16th arrondissements, where natural shapes and light grooming are the only things on the menu. “A fine eyebrow can be very pretty if the line is well worked, but it does not suit everyone and can make the face appear tired,” continues Eleonore; it can also cause trauma to the hair follicles, “which can result in scarring and can affect regrowth,” says New York City dermatologist Doris Day, MD, who notes that prolonged pruning can lead to permanently barren real estate between brow and eye, which anyone who swayed along to Sarah McLachlan at the original Lilith Fair can attest to.
But there’s nothing that can’t be undone: Just ask Kendall Jenner, who memorably showed up to this year’s Met Gala virtually browless, only to enjoy the after-parties with her dark arches fully intact, a bit of trickery from makeup artist Mary Phillips. If you don’t like your newly bleached brows, says Gutierrez, “just go to the drugstore, get some men’s beard touch-up, and you can color them back to normal in two minutes.” There’s hope for the over-tweezed, too, says Day, who recommends Minoxidil 5-percent, applied with a brow brush, to regenerate growth. This month, Augustinus Bader has also applied its patented medical-grade, stem-cell-regenerating TFC-8 ingredient to brows with its new The Eyebrow and Lash Enhancing Serum. The most important thing, Gutierrez emphasizes, is to just have fun. “It’s a look,” he says. “Not the look.”
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