grey haired model, mrs robinson
Photo: Marian at Mrs Robinson Management

Silly pluckers like me regret those years of over-tweezing. But that doesn’t mean we’re brow-beaten, says Vicci Bentley.

So once again, eyebrows are having a major fashion moment. And that’s yet another challenge for those of us with fallen arches. Well, I say fallen – mine have all but vanished and ironically, fashion’s to blame. As a dedicated Biba babe, I’d already plucked my brows to a pencil-thin, Sarah Moon crescent. Then, in my Ziggy Stardust phase, they got in the way of the makeup and had to go. By the time the Hemingway sisters’ (Margaux and Mariel) beetle browed their way into Vogue, repeat plucking had killed off my roots.


I’m not the only silly plucker, either. Makeup artists can always tell a 70s swinger by her brows: those half-hearted ‘ticks’ and shiny bald browbones are a dead age giveaway. The perfect arch, however can take years off. ‘Eyebrows lift like a good bra,’ my makeup artist friend Sara Raeburn reminds me. She brushes powders or gels through brows that are patchy, grey or faded and trims – not plucks – wiry ‘Dennis Healey’ stragglers that look mad and spoil the shape.

She’s also a stickler for the right brow colour – as I found when I went grey and had to lighten up. ‘Avoid very dark and reddy browns and go for a cooler taupe or dark blonde instead,’ she advised me. But I’m sticking to the technique I’ve perfected over the years. Use two pencils: lighter to sketch the basic shape and darker draw quick, light hair-fine strokes that mimic the real thing. Then brush through with a spoolie to soften and blend. Sounds fiddly, but this 2-D approach looks strong, but surprisingly natural and not at all Kardashian-like.

Laura Mercier eyebrow pencil, available HERE

So products. There’s a veritable slew of them out there, but to be honest, most are best for grooming younger, bushier brows. For reconstructing over-plucked or chemo brows, you need a pencil that’s hard enough to sharpen to a needle point and Laura Mercier’s Eye Brow Pencll, £18 is still the only one I’ve found. (They softened the formula a couple of years back and there was almost a riot. Thankfully the hard version’s back by popular demand). Otherwise, Benefit cream-gel Ka Brow! £18.50 looks good brushed through Alyson’s fair but bushy 1980s brows (although she says it takes some practise); and the very highbrow Tom Ford Brow Sculptor, £35 is wedge-shaped and makes sketching easy. I’ve also persevered with Fabulous Brow Shape, £19 from Look Fabulous Forever, a range formulated for 50+ faces. The fine, flexy brush paints long-lasting, waterproof ‘hairs’ that are convincing if you get them right and like a brow tattoo gone wrong if you don’t. But at least you can wipe them off and start again – unlike the semi-permanent inking I had done five years ago now and has now faded to pale, red scars which show no sign of leaving.

Iris Apfel-1-copy-copy-683x1024
Iris Apfel photo: Advanced Style

I should of course, get them ‘refreshed’ but frankly, I resent the idea: like Botox, tattoo’d brows are painfully high maintenance. And let’s face it, won’t those selfie starlets with their brutalist brows feel daft when they’re our age and scarred for life? Better to go for a shape and tint at one of Benefit’s nationwide Brow Bars or Shavata’s Brow Studios in selected M&S stores. Don’t be a silly plucker – leave tweezing to the experts and sharpen those pencils.


47 thoughts on “Arch Envy: what to do about thinning eyebrows

  1. I never went down the excess plucking route and my advice to grown up women fighting the greys is: get them tinted at the beauty salon! And get them threaded at the same time – as well as any other “excess facial hair!” lol! I have white hair but like to keep my quite bushy eyebrows dark. Very simple. Would also recommend eyelash tinting and an eyelash serum before mascara to restore lashes to something approaching their former glory. None of us want to make things any more elaborate than they need to be. Too much living to do!

    1. Neither did I, Jill and I get mine tinted every three weeks (My hair is silver with a teeny bit of black still) dark brown and my lashes black black. I smooth moisturiser on my lashes before bed, with vitamin e and it keeps them soft and I think lengthens them again.

  2. This is a subject close to my heart. Started playing with my brows in the punk years and have continued to this day. It’s the first thing I notice on someone! I always liken no brows to a picture that needs a frame.
    My long standing favourite is Shu Uemura hard 9. A new addition is Anastasia Beverly Hills,a great range of brow products unfortunately not available in the Uk (that I know of).

  3. My brows resurrected a little by applying castor oil to them every night. However, still get the rogue Dennis Healey thick, long ones poking through at odd angles! I get them threaded lightly (I can’t see to do them myself anyway!) and touch them up with – as you say – a Very Sharp pencil. WHY didn’t we leave them alone!?

  4. I get mine threaded every couple of months but I’ve always been scared of overdoing the ol’ brow pencil. My recommendations are Eyeko Brow Gel (though any inexpensive clear mascara would do the job) and my favourite eye product to date, the Suqqu Brow Pen, which is like a very pale watery felt tipped pen, with which even I can manage to make my eyebrows look natural but polished with a few feathery strokes.

  5. Laura Mercier Dark Blonde pencil is a godsend! As a just over 50 redhead with sandy, greyish and for want of a better word, thinnish eyebrows it is a winner.

  6. My product tips are: Rimmel Waterproof Eye Definer, which works like a propelling pencil so you don’t have to sharpen it youself (I always break the end that way).
    My other fave is a little compact which has a comb and a mascara type wand that fold into a tiny rectangular case. Can’t find the brand name but it came from either Boots or Duperdrug.

  7. I had semi-permanent tattooing done on my eyebrows earlier this year and it’s been the best thing I’ve done since my eyebrows disappeared five years ago. My own skill at drawing in my eyebrows was wonky at best, and one brow usually ended up noticeably thicker than the other. The upkeep for my new brows requires returning for a touch-up one to two times a year, and this yearly cost is much less than what I was spending every month having my brows tinted. I’m really happy with how my brows look now, thanks to the skilled (and highly recommended) woman who did them. I find that I now have a “face” when I get up in the morning, and need much less eye make up with my new brows.

  8. I am quite fair, and was also an avid over-plucker in the 90’s. Pencils work ok, but often go a bit orangey or wear off by the end of the day on my somewhat oily skin. I’m a huge fan of semi-permanent tattooing, but you HAVE to go to someone who is an expert. I had a botched job by someone at a Medi Spa once, so I’ll always return to my pricier expert lady now!

    The right shape is absolutely crucial, and (with a heavy dose of age-bias) I would not let anyone in their twenties or thirties do my brows, because they don’t understand that an older face needs a softer look; they’re too used to seeing BOLD BROWS on celebs and younger faces.

  9. One more thing to add, having to accommodate eyeglasses. Having them threaded so you can see a little skin showing between the frames and my eyebrow help avoid a Groucho Marx bushy look.

  10. I was an enthusiastic plucker in the 70s and, between this and age, have virtually no brows ar all. I used to use the Laura Mercier pencil but even the coolest shade was a bit warm for me. A friend recommended the Suqqu eyebrow PENCIL, not the pen mentioned above, in Grey. I’ll never use anything else ever again. It’s a bit pricey initially as you have to buy the holder and lead separately but the lead lasts me about six months. As I have to buy it in London, I always have a spare in the drawer.

  11. Started having my brows threaded instead of plucked. Oh my gosh! My brows have come back thicker than when I was in my thirties. To give them density my make up person recommended using dark eye make up powder. It definitely gives a thicker look in a natural way. Thanks for letting me share. I always enjoy reading everyone’s ideas.

  12. I never become bored reading about brows. (I’ve written about them in my blog a few times). When I look at my daughter, Oona, I see the brows that I used to have–but I’m glad she received the great brow genes and I’m constantly telling her that if thin brows every come back into fashion, do NOT follow the trend. Her brows receive compliments.
    That being said, my brows, although thinned quite a bit, are still relatively easy to fill in. My Holy Grail is Mally 24/7 Brow Express. I use the color “sable” because it is a cool taupe that doesn’t oxodize into orange. It stays true to color. At one end is a pencil and at the other is a small fluffy tip containing a brow powder. I fill in with the pencil then dust lightly with the powder, finish off with a spoolie and apply clear brow gel over it.
    One thing to remember though. Brows are not identical twins. They are fraternal. Don’t try to duplicate one brow to the other. Follow the natural pattern for both brows.
    I’m off to do my brows now.

  13. Has anyone here tried microblading? Living in a hot, currently very humid, climate eyebrow dyeing just doesn’t work because it fades after a week. Some pencils stay on for a bit but I’m always worried about accidentally wiping them off! Your thoughts please?!

  14. I too NEVER TOUCHED the BUSH over THE EYE……… they are slowing fading away at 56.
    I have NO IDEA what to do about that as I had never zeroed in on it!
    Thanks for the advise…………..
    PS.I met a woman the other DAY who knows IRIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Low thyroid contributes to thinning brows as well, and they don’t bounce back, even when you’re on treatment. I’m loving the Anastasia pencils (they have a nice taupe in a wedge-shaped “pencil lead” delivery system) that’s available at Sephora here in the States – have no idea whether it’s available in the UK, but I swear by it.

  16. The best piece of advice that I received about ten years ago was go get my brows waxed and tinted. I go to the same lady as she knows exactly what I want. Not too dark! Now I always have my game face on.

  17. I had micro blading about 2 weeks ago and am thrilled with the result. My brows have gone grey and are invisible. The micro blading has brought my face back to life and looks so natural. The lady who did mine is 50, very professional and took time to listen to what I wanted and give me exactly what I asked for. I am very happy with the result.

    1. Thank you Lesley – I am considering having microblading done so it’s interesting to read about your experience (which does seem very positive).

  18. A little shadow powder in a soft tone of lighter than brown is enough to fill tiny irregularities and give a slightly more fashionable look. Then brow brush. Pinterest is covered in the contemporary thicker brow fashion but powder is the best method of adding a subtle shading that I’ve seen.

  19. I had a big blunt fringe back then so never touched my brows. Ive had then threaded a few times over the last year or two and probably wont do it again, I prefer them just the way there are. I will say though that since starting biotin about 6 months ago they have become even fuller. My eyelashes too. So to anyone wanting a little more ooomph Id give biotin a shot!

  20. I get a Benefit Brow Bar wax now and again as I cant see my eyebrows to pluck them. Threading was great until an over zealous eyebrow threader left me with purple marks for three days. I liked Benefits Gimme Brow but my eyebrows are going lighter now so I use Revlon’s version which is lighter.

  21. Carol Prescott and anyone else who is taking thyroxine (Synthroid) but still without brows: check your t3 blood test results. My brows didn’t come back until I was on a bit of liothyronine (Cytomel) with my thyroxine (and my head hair thickened up again as well).

    I still shape them with grey Tarte brow and hair powder (and use a little on my temples when I pull my hair back) because it was literally the only colour that is ash enough to deal with my light skin and dark hair, but not so dark that I end up with the dreaded Scouse Brow. Many many brow colours are just too warm, either red or yellow, and even when they go on a good colour they often oxidise warm (frustrating).

    And a good pocket magnifying mirror with a light is key! It reveals all my hair-raising facial flaws but it’s worth it. 🙂

  22. Another over pluck here – and can anyone please explain why this hair never really grows back even though I’d love it to do so and yet new hairs sprout daily no matter how much I pluck everywhere else!
    So – its a soft pencil, followed by eyebrow powder to fill in and a brush of clear mascara to soften and set it.

  23. I tint my own brows using Just for Men beard dye. Read about it on a blog and it does work. I use a dark ash blond (hair is whit/grey but brows are dark) so I don’t look like Groucho. You only need a little so a box lasts quite a while.

    1. I dye my eyebrows with beard dye too Cathi. I used to have brown hair and light eyebrows, but with my white hair now I like dark brows, and as a bonus every day they remind me of my grandfather!

  24. Inspired by your earlier posts on brows, I went in search of something subtle. I discovered that L’Oreal make a great, inexpensive tool that has a brush, a medium-density pencil and a wax pencil all in one. The wax pencil seals the colour pencil and tames stray hairs, while giving a slight lustre. It is terrific, and much more precise than a mascara wand.

  25. I am all thumbs when it comes to eye make-up. Rather than using powders and pencils I’ve been using Rogaine 5% foam for women for six weeks and I am now actually seeing new growth in the right places. My left brow had a bald spot in the middle giving me three brows. Not a good look. The bald spot is now gone and the almost existent tails are filling in. I posted my first set of before and after results on my site.

  26. The eyebrow expert at the Bobbi Brown counter in John Lewis Westfield Stratford (London) is a genius and has transformed many of my friends’ brows. I love the B.B. eyebrow pencil in grey as my very dark brows now have the occasional white intruder which I colour in. It needs to be blended with a ‘spoolie’ brush but is subtle and gives a natural effect.

  27. In high school in the late fifties, a friend who had such subtle, beautifully shaped eyebrows, told me they were drawn in with a No. 2 pencil. The grey tone was so good with her blond hair and pale coloring, she was a “Summer” I recall. I liked the effect but needed a darker color. Your two pencil approach sounds very useful. Thanks. Still trying new things.

  28. I had good eyebrows but after my heart attack 18 months ago I developed stress fibrosing alopecia and have lost a lot of scalp hair (very thin now) and all body hair including eyebrows. I wanted to get them tattooed but due to heart meds and taking aspirin every day, the tattooist wouldn’t do it in case of excessive bleeding. I try to draw them on every day but it’s a hit or miss if they remotely match, so I sometimes leave them off and get funny looks, but I don’t know what else to do. I would kill for a set of brows like Dita von Teese..!!! Lol

  29. Some brow serums are very effective. If I keep up with daily use of Rapidbrow I see growth especially in the skimpy outer third, if I slope off it thins out. I couple this with home tinting and it makes a huge difference, form no brow alien to brows that just need a little filling in.

    1. Microbrading tattoos eyebrow hairs in very fine lines. It costs about $800 and the success depends on the skill of the operator. It lasts 3-5 years.

      1. Mine cost £300 just a month ago (in Plymouth hence maybe a bit cheaper). I agree that success depends on the operator and you need to see lots of examples of previous work & testimonials to make a judgement. But I really would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want the daily faff.

  30. I chuckle a bit when older women (like me) say that they over plucked when young, and that’s why they’re brow bald.
    My dear cohorts, check your underarm hair and pubes.
    What puzzles me is that I have very little brow hair, and my husband is sprouting what we call (no offense) British Peer brows: scary eyebrows with a hideous life of their own.

  31. Ha ha – you are so right, Sweet Sue! AT LAST my leg hair is fading away fast and I hardly ever have to attend to my armpits. Although my ‘moustache’ is doing nicely still! However, husband has sprouting ear, nose and eyebrows that need the lawnmower. Reader – I married him!!!!!

  32. I don’t think I read any mention of a product like GrandeBrow. I use, and three co-workers use, this particular product or a similar product. It is a clear serum that I apply to my eyebrows and they grow. I purchase it from the salon that tints and waxes my brows. You have to use it on a semi regular basis or your brows start to thin out. I ran out of product mid-June and the past few weeks I noticed how thin my brows were again. One of my coworkers experienced a little redness and she puts it on in the evening. The ages of the four of us at work are 18-60. Try it.

  33. I’ve just discovered Kat Von D Tattoo Precision Eyebrow an eyeliner with a fine can draw fine hairlike strokes and even here in red hot southern Spain it lasts all brows were just fading away and I’m not sure at all about permanent brow tattoos..what happens if you end up with indelible,inverted pot hooks in some unnatural,garish shade like my poor friend ??

  34. Like Madeline I’ve used cosmeceuticals for my brows: Latisse (on script) and RapidLash (from Boots). Both worked spectacularly well on both lashes and brows but can cause some irritation, but after the hair fills out (pretty quickly for me) you can reduce use to a couple of times per week.

  35. Maybe I missed it in earlier comments but I’ve had great success with Latisse for thickening and darkening my eyelashes. Lots of women balk at the cost but, using my method, the tiny little bottle lasts 3 to 5 months so it averages out to about $30 or less per month. If you follow Allergan’s directions, you’ll only get about one month out of the bottle. Here’s what I do (and have been doing for at least 4-5 years): toss those nasty, scratchy brushes that come with the Latisse kit (or give them to your grandchildren for craft projects) and get yourself a small, fine eyeliner brush (like the kind you use for liquid eyeliner); put ONE drop of Latisse in a small container (I use a contact lens case but even a shot glass would work); dip the brush into the liquid and paint one eyelid (at the base of your lashes as you would with eyeliner), re-dip and do the other eye. Be patient. It will be about 6 weeks before you start to see results but if you continue to apply faithfully each night, you will end up with amazing long eyelashes. I’m also a fan of (generic) Rograine, 5% for men on my eyebrows. Again, you need to apply faithfully and, if you stop, your eyebrows will thin again … but it really does work.

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