A guide to the popular eyebrow treatment options available now
What to know about powder brows, nanoblading and more — before you go!
Over a decade ago, when one of my relatives got her eyebrows tattooed, the result was pretty severe and anything but natural looking. But over the last few years, since bold, full brows have come back into fashion and microblading has exploded in popularity, a number of new tools and techniques have been introduced to the market offering polished-looking brows on a semi-permanent and short-term basis. From eyebrow tinting to nanoblading and powder ombre, there are now a variety of different ways to get the look of fuller, or more defined brows for every day without having to fuss with eye pencils, gels and powders — you can even go for "combination brows," which incorporate multiple techniques.
For an overview of the different brow services, and find out what not to do (this is a semi-long term commitment, after all), we reached out to estheticians Veronica Tran of Pretty In The City and Brittni Alexandra of B. Beautiful for their insider tips and expertise.
"Microblading is a form of semi-permanent makeup that is used to reshape, enhance or recreate a brow," explains Alexandra. "Microblading is meant for someone who prefers a natural brow look and who doesn't wear makeup all the time, as the technique mimics real hair."
Microblading uses a pen-like hand tool with a blade made up of needles to etch hair strokes into the skin, says Tran. "You draw the outline with a brow pencil, and then you're filling inside the shape with strokes — it won't have any borders." Because of the way the strokes are laid down, Tran explains, you'll need a touch up in one to two years.
Tran doesn't recommend getting just microblading if you have very light or very little brow hair, since the strokes can appear harsh. And the technique won't work as well on those with thin, oily skin, either. "With oily skin, the strokes will blur and they won't heal crisply — the result will almost look like a powder brow, but without the definition," says Tran.
Also known as "machine hair strokes" and "nano strokes," this newer brow technique adds fullness and definition to your brows using a permanent makeup device and pigment. "For the machine hair strokes, we're using one needle and now the needle is very, very thin," says Tran. "It's not as invasive as microblading since the needle creates punctures instead of slicing as with the microblade." The effect should last at least a year, if not longer, before you need to book a touch up appointment.
Note: Nanoblading — which is different than nano brows — creates a similar brow look, but involves a hand-held tool and a very fine needle to create hair-like marks. It's a similar technique to microblading, but offers more specifically-placed strokes and finer details.
Also known as "microshading," this semi-permanent makeup technique creates a powder-like, defined brow look using an electric or manual tool (an ombre effect occurs when some areas are designed to be lighter than others). Tran says the pen-like device used to mist pigment into the skin offers easy control. "It offers a more shaded effect, and you can control the look of it [more] because the colour goes down in sheer layers," says Tran. "If you look really closely, it looks powdery, because it's almost like dots of colour with lots of space in between." It creates a more defined, structured brow than microblading, and, according to Tran, powder brows normally won't require a touch up for two to five years.
Not only are ombre powder brows a great option if you aren't a candidate for microblading, but they can also be used to correct or improve brow work that you don't love. "Powder brows are great if you need to cover up any bad work that you've had done," says Alexandra.
"Eyebrow tinting is the process of applying semi-permanent dye to enhance, shape, and define your brows," says Alexandra, who notes the technique can be used as a "colour correction" too, for those two love the shape of their brows but not the colour. "The process picks up all the light baby hairs you probably didn't even know existed and fills them in to really fill out your brow." Your fuller brows will last from 4-6 weeks.
Similar to brow tinting, henna dye offers a short-term way to colour the hair and skin on your brows to improve fullness and definition. According to Tran, the pigmentation lasts for about a week on skin, and up to six weeks on your brow hairs.
Here are the experts' tips for getting semi-permanent brows you'll love
Know what you want for everyday
"Everyone says they want 'natural' brows, but that can mean so many things," says Tran. During the consultation process, she will often ask for photos of the client's brows with and without makeup, and examples of what they like before offering customized advice on techniques and looks. "I take everything into account: what they want, what they like, how they usually wear their makeup."
Do your research
"Definitely ask yourself what it is you're looking to achieve from the service and the finished look to make sure your artist can do it," says Alexandra. "Ask to see the artist's healed work about a year later… as all their [recent] work will look good when it's fresh." She also recommends seeing a certified professional and getting a consultation before getting any semi-permanent work done.
Look for credentials
Beyond relying on personal referrals, make sure that your brow artist is licensed and has the right training. "Doing this is not just taking a workshop and learning the technique, just learning how to pick up a tool and do it," says Tran. "They should have their fundamental training in cosmetic tattooing or permanent makeup, understand the skin really well, and know colour theory, because the colour in the bottle is not going to be what it looks like when it's healed." Also important is expert knowledge of the different tools, infection control, and contraindications for the procedures, says Tran.
Additionally, the esthetician should be properly licensed according to municipal standards. In Toronto, for example, the business should have a "tattoo, microblading and micropigmentation" license from the city, which requires passing a health inspection and having general liability insurance.
Know how long each service may last
Unlike henna brows and brow tinting, semi-permanent services such as microblading, nanoblading and ombre powder are still (superficial) tattoos. "I want to stress that the word semi-permanent doesn't mean that it's ever going to completely disappear," says Tran, noting that maintenance and touch ups will likely be required once they start fading. "There's always going to be some kind of colour leftover; that's why it's really important to do a shape that's very natural, and not to follow the trends. Follow a shape that is proportionate to your features and your face, and not to go for the big bushy eyebrows just because it's in."
Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.