Choosing the best eyebrow products for our age
There’s lots online about eyebrow shaping and care but most of it is aimed at younger people. The fashion for thick fluffy brows today means most ‘how to make up your eyebrows’ videos and blog posts propose products and methods that produce very defined large brows which look unnatural, indeed sometimes ridiculous, on women well over 50.
Below I describe the main types of products you will find online and at the local pharmacy. I explain what the product is designed to do so you can decide if that’s what you want. Then at the end of the page I’ve chosen some reliable easy-to-use products I think you might find perfect, especially if you are new to doing your own eyebrows.
Why eyebrows need special care over age 50
I’m writing this article for older women who want to stay up to date but retain a more natural look.
In addition to selecting the right products and methods we also face specific problems as we age.
As we get older and especially after menopause our eyebrows change. Just like our hair, our brows usually get thinner. As well as general thinning our brows often develop an uneven look. Small patches without hair or without as much hair as the rest of the brow often appear and make our brows look unkempt and scruffy.
So why are eyebrows important anyway?
Look at any celebrity or professional model and you will see how well tended their brows are. Because brows help to give definition to our faces. Brows signal mood and emotion. And eyebrows draw attention to our eyes.
To look good in a photo as well as in real life you want all your features to be as neat and well-defined as possible. And eyebrows, as well as lips, can easily be improved.
Skin texture matters
As we age the texture of our skin becomes more uneven. We get lines and then wrinkles. If our face gets fleshier we develop an uneven jaw-line and double chin as our faces seem to droop. If our face gets thinner our cheeks fall in and suddenly those tiny pock marks from childhood illness or teenage acne are much more noticeable.
We may also get freckles, liver spots, spider veins or a more ‘weathered’ look to our cheeks.
Any increase in facial texture makes our brows less clear. Think of it like wearing a fine gold chain hanging over a woolly mohair sweater. It’s much more difficult to see that beautiful chain against mohair than when we are wearing a plain smooth silk top.
Whilst men’s eyebrows seem to get thicker as they age, women’s mainly get thinner. That means that we identify thicker brows with youth, vitality and good health in women. (Just as when we see a man with huge straggly brows we generally think of him as past his physical prime.)
So to make the most of our faces we want to tidy up our eyebrows so they make a more defined shape. And we want to make our brows look as thick as we can without looking artificial.
What is the best brow shape for your face?
A slightly better or neater version of what is natural is always going to look good.
Years ago an artificially curved or pointedly arched thin dark line was considered fashionable.
But these days artificiality is saved for actors and performers. Most of us prefer to look natural unless we’re under forty or Instagram models.
If you have a long face a wide straightish brow will help to give proportion.
If you have an angular face a gentle arch will help to soften your look.
Otherwise there is no perfect match of brow shape and face shape.
Find an ideal eyebrow for your face
A good way to assess your natural brow is to take a pencil and hold it vertically against the side of your nostril. Where it hits the browbone is a classical position for the start of your brow.
Now slant the pencil so that it still starts at the nostril but points in a straight line across the middle of your eye. Where it hits the browbone is a classical position for the start of the arch.
Finally keep the base of the pencil against your nostril and slant it so that it just hits the outside corner of your eye. Where it hits the browbone is a classical position for the end of the eyebrow.
If you find one or both brows are very different from this it may be that you’ve lost more hair on that side or that you’ve overplucked at some point. So think about this when you start shaping your brow today.
Because eyebrows indicate mood and expression, over the years they may develop a shape that recalls an expression you frequently make. My left eyebrow has a slightly higher arch than the right. It is also the only brow that can move up and down independently. So I guess that has made the muscle support the brow higher than on the other side.
You may find your eyes and the muscles surrounding them have allowed your brow to lengthen or droop at the outside corners.
If you use your ‘frown’ muscles often you may find your brows look just a little too close together.
Whilst you can’t undo these things you can shape your brow to help give you a more classical look.
Small improvements in eyebrow shape to consider
If you have a wide nose or the bridge of your nose is wider than you feel looks good, try extending the start of your brows a tiny bit closer together.
I’ve noticed on actors and actresses that the make-up artist seems to do this to narrow the nose but also to make the character look more serious or thoughtful. It’s almost as if the make-up artist is imitating the beginnings of a frown at the top of the nose.
The eyebrow arch can be a shallow rise and fall, a dramatic bow or a more pointed shape. You can emphasize or minimize the arch and its shape depending on how you feel it looks.
You may feel the arch would look better if the eyebrow finished in the classical position. This may mean extending the end of the brow a little. But beware extending too far or this can seem to draw your eye area downwards which may make you look less alert and lively.
But none of these changes are instant. Over several sessions and months just keep refining the shape of your eyebrows little by very little. It is very easy to over-pluck.
Now let’s start working on our brows.
Assemble your tools for eyebrow shaping
- Put a couple of cotton wool pads soaked in cold water in the fridge or freezer.
- Set up a normal mirror and a magnifying mirror on a table.
- Make sure you have lots of light. A ring ‘selfie’ light as used by YouTubers can be ideal. Set it on the table just behind the mirror so that it is shining straight into your face. Otherwise working towards the daylight or a table lamp can be good too.
- On the table in front of the mirrors lay out a pair of slanted tweezers
- Add a spoolie (see below) or eyebrow brush
- Add eyebrow scissors or the sharpest thinnest scissors you have
- Add a pack of make-up remover wipes or a gentle make-up remover lotion and some small cotton wool pads
- Add a couple of Q-tips. I like to use ones with a narrow point (never insert this type into your ears though!)
Assemble your products for eyebrow defining and filling
This is a good time to invest in some new products. They are very inexpensive and a new item makes application so much easier than the stub of a blunt eyebrow pencil that has been drying out for five years.
Products today mainly fall into three types. I’ll tell you how to use them further down the page.
We’ve all used eyebrow pencils during our life. Today you can buy either a normal pencil that needs sharpening after use or a twist-up pencil. Remember to buy the right-sized pencil sharpener if you buy a standard pencil.
Pencils are easy to use. If they have a sharp point they will give thin well-defined hair-like lines when you make light upward strokes on your brow. If they are a softer pencil which easily loses its point then they can be used to fill in gaps in your eyebrow. But beware adding too much color. The model will generally show someone with thick dark brows but you probably want to keep things more subtle.
Pencils are a useful aid to measuring where to stop and start your brow and where the arch should come. But just use tiny dots or the lightest thinnest line you can for these guidelines.
Don’t buy a hard pencil. Sometimes cheap pencils are almost impossible to use because the point is so hard and scratchy that you have to apply pressure to get much of a mark.
Your eye area requires very, very gentle treatment. So a well-sharpened but soft pencil is best.
My preference is to buy a pencil with a spoolie on the other end. Learn how to use this below.
These act rather like thick mascara. They usually come with a spoolie applicator. You lightly run the spoolie across your brow in the direction of hair growth and it makes fine lines that look like eyebrow hair.
Choose a color similar to your natural color or just slightly darker. Too dark and you’ll look too dramatic.
I use a gel sometimes because it is quick and it sets the brow hairs in place.
But I always dab the end of the spoolie with a tissue to remove gel there otherwise I easily end up with a splotch as I start the upward stroke. I often also remove some of the gel from the bristles of the spoolie. Again. I just dab gently with a dry tissue. It’s better to add too little than too much. You can get gels in various shades and also clear – if you just want to define and set your brow shape rather than intensify the color.
Powders and pomades
These are similar to eyeshadows. You use a small brush or foam pad to add a little color to your brows.
These are a good way of thickening up thin eyebrows.
Young women will use these in addition to a gel or very fine pencil or pen so that they can add the impression of hair not just overall color.
I don’t find powder easy to work with. I find it adds too much color – a bit like coloring in a child’s drawing. But they are worth considering if you have quite wide or thick brows.
How to shape your eyebrows
- Start by removing all make-up.
- Using the pencil technique to find the classical start, end and arch of each brow make tiny marks with the eyebrow pencil.
- Use the magnifying mirror to get the next lines just right. Keep the lines feint. Now place the pencil along the top of your eyebrow from the start to the arch and draw a fine line with the eyebrow pencil
- Use the pencil to mark the lower edge of your brow and draw a fine line parallel to the top line with the eyebrow pencil.
- Draw a fine line from the arch to the end of the eyebrow tracing as well as you can the upper line of your natural eyebrow.
- Draw a line for the lower edge of the brow in the same way. These two lines will taper towards each other so they meet at the end, or tail, of your eyebrow.
- Look in the normal mirror so you can see your whole face and neck. Have you got the outline you want? This is the time when you may make small adjustments on where the brow starts and stops, how wide it is and how the arch looks. Be prepared to use the make-up wipes to take off all or part of these initial lines until you get a shape you like.
- Try to make your left and right brows look as balanced as possible.
- Now add a tiny amount of colorless gel, Vaseline or lip salve to smooth your brows down according to the direction they grow in. Try not to efface the guidelines.
- Take your tweezers and work in the magnifying mirror again. You want to isolate and remove any individual hairs which, despite the gel, are growing outside the guidelines.
- Begin with plucking out hairs growing across the top of the nose between the eyes. Then carefully remove any stray hairs that make the start of the brow look less than sharp. You want a sharp neat line from the top to lower edge of the brow as it starts.
- Now work slowly and methodically to remove hairs growing outside the guideline on the lower edge of the brow.
- Do the same for the top edge but be cautious. If in doubt whether to pluck a hair out or not, just leave it!
- Finally work on the very end of your brow. Again don’t thin it out too much or you’ll look unnatural.
- If you think you need it you can use a special mini razor to take all the hair away outside your guidelines. This is most useful for women with very dark hair. But the problem is that the darker your hair the more obvious the regrowth. So be prepared to touch up with the razer every few days.
- Keep taking breaks and give your eyes a rest by looking into the distance. Pop your glasses back on from time to time and check how things are looking in the normal mirror.
- If you find hair that is growing in the right place but extends over the guidelines or, as on one of my brows, is simply growing at the wrong angle, it’s time to use the scissors.
- One hair at a time snip the ends of these unruly or wiry hairs so they lie within the guidelines. Don’t pluck them out. You need every hair within the lines to add thickness. Just trim them to fit nicely in line with their neighbours.
- When you’re satisfied, wipe over your brows to remove your guidelines. Many young women will leave the lines but again, I feel this is too dramatic for our age group.
- Now take a break and pop a cold damp pad over each eyebrow and another over the rest of your eye area. This will soothe the pain of tweezering and reduce any redness and puffiness.
Making your brow look thicker and more defined
If you want to significantly improve the thickness of your brows do this first step. If you just want to make them look more defined then go straight to the second step.
Add clear gel or a tiny bit of clear soap softened with a little water, to a spoolie by dipping it into the gel or rolling it over the soft surface of the soap. The idea is to get something sticky onto the bristles. If I do this I use lip salve! As always less is more.
Now run the spoolie against the direction of the brow hair – so start at the tail. This coats the underside of the hair and gives it body. Then run the spoolie in the direction you want the brow hair to sit – usually upwards at the start and more to the side after that. You can either push the hair down flat with your finger or leave it thicker but brushed in the right direction. You’ll need to practise to get the look you want.
Use a color that is the same or a little darker or cooler (i.e. less red) than your natural brow hair.
Using a gel
If you are using a colored gel with a spoolie applicator dab the excess from the bristles and end and with tiny feather-light strokes move the brush from the bottom of the eyebrow to the top. Two tips: work with your arm and hand above your brow so you are pulling not pushing the spoolie. You’ll get lighter marks. And move the brush quickly up the brow hair and away in one smooth action. If you stop either at the beginning, midway or at the end of the movement across the brow you’ll likely get a heavier mark there.
Whilst the gel is still wet take a cotton bud (Q-tip) to smooth down the brow hair into the right shape under the bottom of the brow and around the top of the brow so that as the gel sets your brows look neat and well-defined.
Always look in the normal mirror before adding the next stroke of the spoolie or adding another coat. You need to see the brow in the context of your face and neck.
Using a pencil
The idea is to add tiny hair-like marks along the length of the brow paying special attention to any areas where the hair is thinner or non-existent. You are just filling the brow not redrawing it. You already have the right shape. If you come to a gap where you need a bit more ‘background color’ then gently apply the side of the pencil point to the area then add a few tiny hair-like marks on top of this more smudgy mark.
You may find this takes a bit of practice. If the color is going on too thickly just wipe it off and start over.
You can also use the pencil to apply a little color to the underside of your brow hair. Instead of using the ‘volumizing’ trick in Step 1, simply brush the hair against its natural direction then use the edge of the pencil point to smudge on a little color. Then brush the brow hair back into place. You’ve got just a smidgeon more depth of color now. Then add the thin marks like strands of hair on top as usual.
Unlike gel the pencil will not ‘set’ your hair.
So as a finishing touch add a spritz of hairspray to the spoolie. Brush the spoolie through the brow in the direction the hairs grow – usually up at the start then increasingly sideways along the length. The spray should help keep your brows neat.
Again just before the hairspray dries run a Q-tip along the upper and lower edge of the brow to neaten up all the hairs.
What is a spoolie and what do you use it for?
A spoolie is a fine circular brush like a mascara wand. Use it to brush eyebrow hair into position when shaping and trimming. Use it to add thickness to your brow by applying gel or lip salve to the underside of the hair. Use it to blend the marks you make with a pencil to give a more natural look. And use it to fix your brow by adding hairspray and gently brushing the top hair on your brow into position.
If you like using a spoolie then buy a few of them – they are very inexpensive. That way you always have a clean one available for a final fix even if you’ve just applied gel or color or used one to blend the pencil marks.
Here are products I think you will find simple to use to get a neat but natural looking brow. I’ve picked out L’Oreal because they work hard to offer ethical and safe cosmetics. If you buy cosmetics online always look for a well-known brand. They will have spent millions testing the safety and efficacy of their products. The links all lead to Walmart online.
Gel-mousse formula in 3 shades plus clear. Choose a shade the same or slightly darker than your natural brow hair. To get a natural look use the angled spoolie to apply light short upward strokes to your brow. Allow to dry before putting other make-up on your face and eye area.
One end is an eyebrow pencil and the other is a spoolie for blending.
Apply the pencil in light upward strokes to make hair-like marks. Then blend with the spoolie, brushing your brows up and to the side as the hair naturally grows.
Start at arch and do the end or tail of your brow first. You may not even need to add pencil to the start of your brow. Just see where the balding and thin patches are noticeable in both the magnifying mirror and the normal mirror before adding too many pencil ‘hairs’.
Includes eyebrow scissors, precision tweezers and several spoolies.
This light has an extendable tripod and sits on the table. It gives out an excellent light. It’s not very pretty though. I couldn’t find a better looking ring light. The upside is you will look great in all those zoom calls from now on – it’s what Youtube make-up models use. I use one too to take close up photos on my phone.
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