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In the weeks since the reveal of Rihanna’s September British VOGUE cover, the return of the ultra-thin eyebrow has been spreading across the internet beauty-sphere like wildfire. And while a delicate arch *does* feel like a refreshing antidote to the chiselled Insta-brows that have been dominating feeds, the fear of the return to the “tadpole brow” has even the most trend-obsessed a little wary. “It’ll be the 1990s all over again!” people hiss, remembering an era of caked-on shimmery blue eye shadow and heavy contrast lip liner.
But the look is actually a throwback to a much earlier time. Like, much earlier: The skinny brow’s place in fashion can be traced back to the 1300s, when royalty and wealthy Europeans tweezed their brows into a thin arched line. (Extra points to any influencer who matches this look with the tweezed and shaved hairlines that were also popular during this era!) A few hundred years later, in the 1920s, the skinny trend reached fever pitch, with brows reduced to a thin, high line, penciled in for definition and then extended in a downward slope past the outer corner of the eye. Unlike more recent block-brows, these were meant to act more like a bracket than an exclamation point on the face.
When the look resurfaced again in the 1970s and 1990s, it was considerably less dramatic, more of a thinner take on one’s normal brow shape. Unfortunately, this also spawned the aforementioned tadpole look, with its bulbous inner corner and thin tail. This is, indeed, a trend we definitely don’t want to bring back, but its predecessor—the look Rihanna’s Vogue shoot references—is delicate, glamourous and actually pretty easy to achieve.
If you’re looking to reduce your brow real estate, here are a few tips and tricks that can help you start your journey toward That Skinny Brow Life.
Option One: Cover It Up
If you’re reluctant to commit to a 24/7 thin brow, one alternative is to hide your natural brow under a layer of adhesive and makeup—a popular technique in the drag community. Toronto-based performer Minhi Wang suggests that a washable glue stick, like Elmer’s, is an easy way to flatten down hairs. “Or some queens use a medical-grade adhesive called Prozaid, which is good if you have bushier, harder eyebrow hairs.” Using small circles, work the glue into the hair directly from the tube, he advises. Then comb hairs down using a spoolie, and repeat until they’re totally tamed. If you get glue on the skin around your brows, clean up the areas around with makeup wipes.
Once the glue is mostly dry, set it with a loose powder. (If you’re feeling fancy, try Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Powder. If you want something more basic, try Ben Nye Neutral Set Translucent Powder). Next, paint overtop with a heavy foundation or concealer (such as Kryolan TV Paint Stick, which is the gold-standard of heavy duty foundations, designed for TV and stage).
If you can’t hide every hair, don’t stress. “Even with the best queens, up close you will see some remnants of brow, although usually they’re covered up in a ton of eye shadow,” says Wang.
Option Two: Clean Slate
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Rihanna, styled by @edward_enninful and shot by @nick_knight for the @britishvogue September cover story wears an @alexandermcqueen tuxedo jacket with lace gloves by @cornelia_james and tights by @jonathanastonlondon. Hair by @yusefhairnyc, make-up by @isamayaffrench using @fentybeauty, floral artistry by @azumamakoto, nails by @jennynails and set design by @tomotattle. The September issue of @britishvogue hits newsstands on Friday August 3.
For Cory Escuyos, an artist and makeup enthusiast, there’s also the more dramatic option: “Shaving off your brows is super easy and gives you so much versatility. You can have any kind of brow whenever you want, but the downside is that unless you’re also OK with an alien vibe, you’ll have to draw in a whole new brow every single day.”
Run-of-the-mill shaving cream and razors will do the trick, but if you want a precise shave an eyebrow razor is an amazing tool (and also great to have around in general, especially if you ever need to quickly clean up random bits of facial hair). Start by washing your face with warm water, and while it’s still damp apply a small amount of shaving cream (or even moisturizer) over the brow. Then, gently shave with the grain to remove the hair. If you have particularly thick or long eyebrow hairs, use a small pair of scissors to trim the hair first. Clean up any small, remaining hairs with tweezers.
Once your brows have been removed, it’s open season product-wise. If you’re going for a natural look, a thin liner like Dolly Wink Liquid Liner or even something like M.A.C Shape + Shade Brow Tint can be used to gently sketch an arch, first filling in the area along the brow ridge in powder and then drawing in hair-like strokes over top. There are plenty of eyebrow stencil kits out there if you want a guide, but the best method is a lot of trial and error to see what looks best on your face, how thin you want to make your brow and how high or low you want to place it.
Once you’re happy with your look, set your brows with a translucent powder and then finish with a setting spray, such as Make Up For Ever’s Mist & Fix or BG Brows Sealer.
Option Three: Long Live the Tweezers
If you’re not willing to shave off or glue down your brows, all you really need to get the Bad Gal look is a pair tweezers. (Try Tweezerman’s Ultra Precision Point Tweezers for getting at the really fine hairs.) When shaping your arches, aim to keep the thickness uniform throughout: Follow the natural line of your brow, and don’t try to force an unnatural shape. Pluck from the bottom of the brow, rather than the top.
If you’ve got bald spots, products like Anastasia’s Brow Wiz or NYX’s Micro Brow pencil can be used to fill in small gaps. These have a harder and finer tip than a regular pencil, and can be used to make hair-like strokes that look more realistic.
Unlike the Insta-brow, this isn’t a look that needs to be heavily sculpted and highlighted, so don’t go overboard with accentuating your natural shape. Simply let your skinny brow rest across your lower forehead, soft and delicate, like a silk scarf.