The noughties were a take-no-prisoners time for our brows; we wielded our tweezers with abandon, and many of us, regrettably, reduced our arches to razor-thin tadpoles.
We know better now, you might think, but with the Y2K redux upon us—#Y2K has now amassed almost 5 billion views on TikTok—the fated cycling of trends, and Bella Hadid leading the skinny power-brow charge, it might be time to revisit your brow shape with a fresh new perspective.
“It seems inevitable that, eventually, the natural brow is going to have to succumb to the tweezer again,” says makeup artist Troy Surratt. Trust that Surratt, a protégé of Kevyn Aucoin, knows a thing or two about pencil-thin brows. After all, Aucoin was the one who helped popularize them in the ’90s as he made up the faces of the most iconic supers of the time—Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista. “There was a time that we decided together that everyone needed to look like Carole Lombard and have really skinny eyebrows,” recalled designer and collaborator Isaac Mizrahi in the Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story. “The next thing I knew, [Aucoin] was plucking everybody’s eyebrows.”
After the millennium, fashionably crafted brows started to get a bit more mathematical. “In the early ’00s, brow-shaping experts were gaining notoriety and creating a sort of diktat that the eyebrow should start straight above the tear duct of the eye, the highest point of the arch should be at the edge of the iris, and the ‘tail’ of the brow should taper off,” explains Surratt, adding that brows were then shaped accordingly to “formulaic perfection,” using a wax, tweezer, threading, or even a combination of all three. The pro? “This thinner, more preened eyebrow look can have an overall eye brightening effect,” says Surratt of the best case scenario, adding that it also creates more real estate for intense eyeshadow or bold liner looks. The con? “Brows that are overly sharp or angled may result in an overall harsh or aggressive effect on the face,” he says.
L.A. brow expert Kristie Streicher, who has observed more than a few Gen Zers keen on “going thin,” believes there is a place for the spirit of Y2K-era beauty, within reason. “I love seeing this on runways and in editorials,” says Streicher, “but…it’s just not practical for everyday life.” She goes on to emphasize that one’s natural brow shape is typically in proportion with their features. “There are people who naturally have more of a defined and smaller brow, which is usually matched with smaller, more defined features,” she explains. “It can look stark and be ‘a lot of face’ when not naturally occurring on someone as well as a lot to maintain!”
Dani Kimiko Vincent, the longtime artist behind Sandra Oh’s arches, is in agreement. “There is a ‘best brow’ for your face structure, and that’s usually the brow you had before making any major modifications,” says Vincent. “I don’t believe in straying too far from one’s natural shape.” While she doesn’t see the intensely skinny brows of the ’90s and Y2K becoming commonplace, Vincent does see natural brow shapes, which include thinner brows, making a comeback “almost as a counter to the full brow aesthetic that has been going strong for some time now,” she says. She also underlines that thin brows have historically been associated with various counter cultures, from the brassy flappers of the ’20s to various punk scenes. “I believe people are feeling freer to embrace their individuality, and with uncertainty about the future, we are perhaps nostalgic for those playful and simpler-seeming times,” she says. Editorial makeup artist Jen Myles, who often works with Hadid, also sees the beauty in the pencil-thin arch comeback. “I think everyone’s ready for a change, a more manicured, ultra-groomed look,” says Myles of switching things up after years of abundantly thick arches. “For anyone who hasn’t microbladed or spent the entire last decade growing back, their brows may be ready to embrace the Y2K look.” As we navigate the changing brow landscape, here are a few pro-approved strategies for exploring the Y2K trend with a 2022 perspective (and plenty of caution).
Go Easy on Your Brows
Old habits die hard, even a decade or two later. If you’re tempted to go dramatically thinner, strongly consider dropping the tweezers and consulting a professional who can offer subtle tweaks. “After helping thousands of women, as well as myself, to grow back their natural brows after the ’90s had ravaged them, and knowing firsthand the damage that over-tweezing and waxing can cause, I would strongly caution against pulling out the hair to experiment,” says Streicher. Instead of removing the hair, she suggests styling brows into a thinner, more defined shape by brushing the hairs down and over or pinching the hairs together into a thin line. If you have very full, thick brows and want to explore, she says to try dermaplaning or shaving the hairs to prevent permanently damaging the hair follicle.
“This new brow trend inspired by the early aughts should be thought of in a kinder, gentler version of its predecessor—more directional and uplifting, less severe or architectural,” agrees Surratt. “It should maintain a subtlety and softness, that is what makes it current.”
Soften Your Fill-In
“A modern interpretation of the Y2K brow aesthetic could include less intense filling with products and narrowing the shape by concentrating the fill well within the core brow,” says Vincent. “Without removing hair, you can play with the intensity and placement of the arch, simply by strategically applying your brow makeup.” The key tool for doing this is a fine pencil that allows you to draw individual hairs and create a full brow that still looks natural. It is also versatile enough to create precise definition if you are experimenting with different looks, like a thin brow, she adds.
Up Your Tame Game
“Whether brows are penciled or bare, I always recommend a clear gel for style and hold, as it can lift and add fullness where hairs may have been drooping or can alternatively be used to create a slimmer brow,” says Vincent. If you want a product that adds a hint of color for increased definition as you set, Myles’s go-to is neat strokes of Glossier’s Boy Brow. “A few swipes and brows are set in place with just the right amount of tinted color.”
Promote (Yes!) Healthy Hair Growth
Thick or skinny, a little TLC goes a long way to preserving the health of your brows. For light brow exfoliation, Streicher recommends using a soft spoolie brush to gently brush hairs in an upward motion, which can remove dead skin cells that tend to accumulate under and around the hair shaft. “This will also stimulate the brow skin area and increase blood flow to strengthen and promote healthy hair growth,” she says. Next, Streicher encourages her clients to massage a nourishing oil, like her Vitamin E–rich Afore Oil, or supercharged serum, into the brow area daily. “It can protect, moisturize, and maintain healthy, strong hair growth.” Your future brows, no matter what shape they take, will thank you.