The now brows - does eyebrow embroidery give fuller eyebrows?
Sick of non-existent eyebrows that were over-plucked in her teens, Vicki Notaro was prepared to go to extremes to get the on-trend Cara Delevingne look. But would eyebrow embroidery - aka semi-permanent tattooing - be the answer?
If there's one trend that's taken the beauty world by storm in recent years, it's definitely fuller eyebrows. Sure, winged-liner, red lips and contouring have all had their moment in the sun, but thicker, bushier brows have been the most coveted facial characteristic - probably in part because they're so damn hard to perfect.
In the 1990s and Noughties, the global trend in eyebrows leaned towards thin, pointy arches. Big brows had gone out of style, so the tendency around the world was to overpluck. The result? Generations of women lamenting their skinny brows and coveting the arches of Cara Delevingne, Keira Knightley and Jennifer Connelly.
I've always had a difficult relationship with my eyebrows. Being part-Italian, as a child I had dark hair and something of a monobrow. When I was a teenager, a friend who could no longer stand the sight of two bushy slug-like things above my eyes held me down and plucked them to almost non-existence. As was the trend, I continued to overpluck, to the point where large portions of my brows simply stopped growing back.
Fast forward a few years, and I started working in the magazine industry where I was introduced to the concept of filling in my now sparse eyebrows. In my role as a beauty editor, I was exposed to countless wondrous products claiming to correct my baldy brows, and many of them did - albeit temporarily.
But give a girl who wants Brooke Shields-esque brows a licence to draw her own on, and you're asking for trouble. I went from brow-less to Brow-my-god! giving Cara a run for her money by day, and then wiping them off by night. The older I get, the more aware I am that having a clean, flattering brow shape is really important to the entire face.
"There is a good reason why fuller, sculpted brows is not just a passing beauty trend," says Weekend beauty columnist Andrea Byrne. "People now realise that the right brow shape can transform a face, adding proportion and symmetry, opening the eye area, flattering the face, and best of all, shaving years off our age. If your brows are right, everything else looks more polished."
The trouble with drawing them on is that they can look different from day to day, and a wonky brow can destroy even the most fabulous make-up look. And there's also the fact that when I went make-up free, people got a fright at the sight of me with no brows. I was mortified even going to the gym without drawing them on. It was time for some professional intervention.
I'd heard a lot about the seven-step HD Brows treatment available in salons all over the country, but was sceptical. Why the need to trim, wax, tweeze and thread the brows when surely one hair removal method would do? To me, it sounded like an expensive tinting treatment - and having it done didn't change my mind.
The final step of the treatment, which costs from €40-65 depending on the salon, was to - wait for it - draw on my eyebrows. When I washed my face that night, the strong arches disappeared and I was left with my own patchy brows dyed a couple of shades darker. I was disgusted.
I'm told that after a year or two of these treatments, brow growth can be stimulated and you'll see lasting results. I wasn't prepared to wait so it was time to try a more drastic measure: eyebrow embroidery.
I'd heard about semi-permanent brow embroidery from friends in the industry, but when I realised that it was essentially eyebrow tattoos, I initially went off the idea. I was terrified of it all going wrong and the idea of it being painful frightened me - plucking is bad enough!
Still, the more I heard about the practice, the more interested I was. Then I met brow guru Kim O'Sullivan, of the Dublin Make-up Academy, and heard all about her prowess in the field, so I went for a consultation.
Eyebrow embroidery is relatively new to Ireland, but practised all over the world. Kim promised to transform my brow shape and density by measuring my facial parameters and drawing a new arch, as well as filling in all my little bald patches. The fact that the entire procedure is done with little blades is daunting, but when I saw her clients' results, I was in.
I'm not going to lie, the treatment - which costs €495 at the Dublin Make-up Academy - hurts like hell at first.
The process involves a scalpel dipped in ink. When this breaks the skin the ink settles in to the stroke, so it's like a semi-permanent tattoo that fades over time. Each brow gets about a dozen strokes without any numbing cream, and you can hear the scratch of every incision. But once the cream goes on, it's far more tolerable.
The first appointment lasts about two hours, where the new brow shape is created. You then go away for about three to four weeks and let the area heal, and scar tissue form. After the first session my brows were swollen - to about the same level as though I'd had them waxed - and it was sore to raise them for about 12 hours. But beneath the swelling I could already see that I had even, defined arches.
The brows fade a lot between sessions, but don't fret - once you return for round two, more strokes are added, the colour is deepened, and it'll last for 12-18 months.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that this treatment has changed my life. I feel like I've had plastic surgery, such is the difference to my face. I don't need to fill my eyebrows in at all, and each little stroke looks like real hair, unlike the powdery, harsh lines I used to draw on myself.
There's no more smudging or sweating off my brows, but the best part is that for the first time since my teens I look absolutely normal without make-up. I can swim, work out or even just go make-up free without looking like I've accidentally shaved off my eyebrows. This treatment has given me the confidence to be seen make-up free.
I will admit that I still fill my brows in a little with a pencil if I'm wearing full going out make-up, because I like them dark - once a brow obsessive, always a brow obsessive.
If that's you too, then I'd recommend eyebrow embroidery. More than Botox, facials or finding the perfect shade of lippie, it will change your face for the better.
Too scared to tattoo? Try these temporary measures instead...
If you don't like the idea of semi-permanent brows, or simply don't need an extreme method of eyebrow thereapy, you won't go far wrong with these buys - the best of the wash-off bunch.
Bobbi Brown Perfectly Defined Eyebrow Pencil, €39
This product is not cheap at all, but it is basically foolproof and comes in a really wide range of colours to suit just about everyone. The soft crayon-like pencil won't let you go too crazy, so the result is nice and natural. The texture means it blends with your natural hairs, and it doesn't wipe off too easily. A winner for those who like their brows more subtle, and want an easy method of application.
Benefit Gimme Brow Eyebrow Gel, €24.50
This gel comes with a mini mascara brush that you simply comb through your existing eyebrows, so it's definitely best for those who have enough hair to begin with. It'll darken your arch and hold it in place, but for women like me, it won't create a new shape.
L'Oreal Paris Brow Artiste Genius Kit, €15.29
Consisting of brow powder and pigmented wax, along with a mini spool brush and tweezers, this kit allows you to brush colour on to your brows and then set them with the tinted gel. A good one for beginners, but little variety in terms of colour.
Inglot AMC Eyebrow Gel, €16
This one is tricky to apply as you need to be a dab hand with a thin brush, and it's also easy to go OTT. However, if you have the technique down, it's the best product on the market for those with sparse brows - it'll create thick ones in an instant, and it's difficult to get it to budge. Sweat away, and these brows won't come off unless you want them to!
If you don't like the idea of semi-permanent brows, or simply don't need an extreme method of eyebrow therapy, you won't go far wrong with these buys - the best of the wash-off bunch.