Over the past four years or so, microblading has become the semipermanent solution for beefing up overplucked, sparse, and/or nonexistent brows. To get technical, a cosmetic tattooist wields an Exacto knife-like tool to make small hair-like incisions in the skin, and pigment is deposited into each one. Because the ink doesn’t go as deeply into the skin as body art, microblading fades over time.
But that’s not to say the procedure is a one-size-fits-all solution: Not only is it expensive, but it’s also a tad painful — and you’ll need to book retouching sessions with your cosmetic tattooist every one to two years, depending on your skin type. That being said, if you’re looking for a more convenient approach to perfectly coiffed arches, a good brow pen will get you there. They create the same effect as microblading — no incisions or appointments necessary.
Unlike other brow products, brow pens are built for precision. “[They] have a more sheer formula than pomades and pencils, which make them great for creating realistic hair strokes that blend seamlessly with your real hairs,” says Los Angeles makeup artist Amrita Mehta. “The pointed tips provide precise application and allow you to place hairs exactly where needed for that fluffy brow look.”
Sure, their hair-like strokes create the illusion of fuller, defined arches for only about two days, but the pens work in a pinch. They provide a quick touchup for your next Zoom meeting and will hold you over until you can finally make an appointment with your favorite cosmetic tattooist once again. For those who’ve never gotten the procedure done before, consider this a way to satisfy your microblading curiosity, too.
Step one is finding your ideal shade. Mehta says picking the right tone for your brows is key to achieving a more realistic finish: “I always use a pen that is a bit lighter [than the natural brow hairs] to add dimension and fullness without making the brow too dark,” she says.
Once you find your best shade match, London makeup artist Anete Salinieka suggests drawing lines from the inner brow before moving outward and tapering towards the tail. “At first, draw lines in an upward position, but once you reach the arch of the brow, do the opposite and draw the lines going downwards,” she says. Though Salinieka notes that these products are made with the intention of creating slim lines, she still recommends using a light hand.
If you’re after the fluffy brow look, Mehta’s tip is to leave a space between strokes; it will make your arches appear full rather than filled in. You can stop there, but for an expertly-blended finish, Mehta suggests brushing your brows with a spooley. Et voila: beautifully defined eyebrows without a microblading gun.
Now that you’re filled in (pun intended) on technique, it’s time to select the brow pen that’s right for you — and that comes down to applicator preference. Many of the options on our list take a three-pronged approach to master a microblading effect — literally. Milk Makeup and Maybelline New York launched pens with a toothed applicator for quickly etching on lines that look just like naturally-grown brow hairs, while MAC and Urban Decay have options with a single felt or brush tip like your go-to liquid liner.
No matter what applicator you prefer, you’re sure to find a suitable option for your brow-grooming routine on our list of best brow pens, below.