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Full, natural brows are having a moment. Not only are they practical, a barrier protecting our eyes from sweat and foreign particles, but they are also key in communication and expression. Brows work to frame the eyes and face and proper eyebrow grooming has worked its way into being an essential part of our beauty routines. But what happens when your brows (or lack thereof) don't give you much to work with?
Fortunately, there are plenty of options when it comes to brow-filling treatments and techniques. One such treatment that has been getting hype as of late is microblading. Celebrities such as Bella Thorne, Lena Dunham, and Madonna, have all had their arches touched up using this procedure so I thought I'd give it a try. Read on for my honest experience with microblading.
What Is Microblading?
Microblading is a semi-permanent eyebrow treatment that involves using tiny, fine-point needles to scratch the surface of your skin as a means of depositing pigment.
The memory is clear as day. I'm 13 years old and suffering from a crush of the highest degree on a boy at my church. A group of us are sitting around a table when suddenly my biggest nightmare manifests in real life: Inexplicably, said crush looks across the table, makes eye contact, and points directly at me. "Whoa—you have no eyebrows!" he laughs.
Never mind the fact that I've known this kid for years, and he was uttering this as if he'd never seen me before. Never mind the fact that even if he’d never seen me before, this is a wildly mortifying and potentially earth-shattering thing to say to an impressionable young girl. Sure, I eventually tucked this experience away into the folder of my brain marked "EMBARRASSING: DO NOT RUMINATE," but clearly the trauma remains—it was the first thing that sprung to mind as I sat down to write this post.
This is all just to say that I have very minimal eyebrows, and the lack of them is the bane of my existence.
Other than a short-lived period in college when I blithely left my brows bare (I had more important things to focus on, like which frat party to go to), I've regarded my brows—or lack thereof—with a potent mix of anxiety and care. Every morning for the past five years, I would painstakingly fill them in with my trusty The BrowGal Eyebrow Pencil ($23) and cringe anytime anyone came near them, lest they smudge off and leave me looking like this.
When microblading first started getting buzz a year ago, I was intrigued. I immediately set up an appointment with a brow specialist in Los Angeles, but the appointment kept getting canceled. Eventually, after the third reschedule, I gave up (out of exasperation, but also because I was too lazy to call again). It seemed like a sign from the universe: Microblading was not meant for me.
But a few weeks ago, the universe came back around. I got an offer to get my brows microbladed by Piret Aava, or @eyebrowdoctor, as she's known on Instagram. Part of the reason I gave up so easily with my first microblading attempt was that the brow expert didn’t have any photos of her work; I had the nagging fear I would leave her practice with thick, unnatural Sharpie brows. Aava's page, on the other hand, is a gold mine of mind-boggling brow before and afters; I scrolled for a full 10 minutes, marveling at the brow transformations and wondering if I, too, could be a part of the bushy-brow crew.
Meet the Expert
Piret Aava is a renowned eyebrow specialist, makeup artist, and certified esthetician. Her client list includes celebrities like Serena Williams, Malin Ackerman, and Grace Byers, among others.
What Is Microblading?
Microblading is believed to have originated in China in the early aughts but has only recently gained popularity in the West in the past few years. It involves using a tool comprised of superfine needles to deposit custom pigment by scratching the skin's surface. Unlike tattooing, microblading is done by hand, allowing the technician to wield more control and create semi-permanent, natural-looking results.
Benefits of Microblading
According to Aava, "Anyone who benefits from brow pencil could be a candidate for microblading." That would be me, to say the least. I was ready to kiss my sorry looking sparse brows goodbye. So I did it. I booked the appointment, met with Aava, and got my brows microbladed. In just under an hour, I went from having zero brows to having soft, natural-looking arches. I felt reborn, like my brows had been baptized, and they would never again be the same (well, for the next year or two).
Microblading vs. Microfeathering
While microblading has proven to be a viable option for those dreaming of thicker, fuller arches, another similar-sounding technique has also made its way onto the eyebrow scene: microfeathering. While both treatments follow the same procedure wherein an expert strokes the epidermis with small incisions that emit a pigment, the effect differs. With microfeathering, the intent is to fill-in sparse growth rather than cover the entire brow area. Proponents of microfeathering claim that it offers a more natural-looking result than microblading.
How to Prepare for Microblading
About a week before your microblading appointment, hold off on waxing, threading or tweezing your eyebrows. A full day prior, you'll want to steer clear of alcohol and caffeine since they can increase skin's sensitivity. Also, avoid taking ibuprofen, aspirin, fish oil, or vitamin E supplements and other blood thinners. And let's not forget: Try to relax.
What to Expect During a Microblading Appointment
A few follow-up points I want to mention: Microblading is painful. Like, at times, excruciatingly painful. Someone is using a tiny scalpel to carve into your skin and then fill it with ink, after all. Though the expert will (and should) use a numbing cream, I found that it didn't really help with the pain. I'm never doing this again was the thought that raced through my mind as the tiny blade ran across my forehead, trying to block out the pain and also the very disturbing scratching sound the blade made. But then I looked in the mirror and saw my brows. I had an internal "Who is that girl I see?" Mulan moment, and suddenly the pain I had felt just minutes earlier seemed like nothing. Aava explains her philosophy and technique: "I don’t follow brow trends. I do what fits your face. Everyone's face is different and I customize brows that look most flattering on you." I have to give it to her, she knows what she's doing. My brows looked so good. What's a few minutes of mind-numbing pain compared to a full year (or more) of good brows?
Secondly, I want to point out that my brows look much more reddish and stark at the end of the video than they do now. Aava explained that my brows would look much darker right after my appointment, and she was right; a few weeks later, the brow hairs had faded to a much more natural-looking shade and shape.
Side Effects and Aftercare
After my appointment, I did my best to not get my brows wet for the recommended 10 days, and I did notice some mild scabbing for the first week. To combat this, Aava says, "We provide our clients with Eyebrow Doctor ointment so there is no itching nor scabbing." After that, I washed my face and showered as usual, knowing my beautiful new brows wouldn't disappear. I use Benefit's Gimme Brow ($24) on some days to define them, marveling and relishing the fact that I'm now one of those girls who only has to use a tinted brow gel on her arches instead of a full-on brow regimen.
It's also important to note: Many dermatologists do not recommend this service because it can interfere with the structure of a follicle. People with oily skin tend to lose the "brush stroke" look over time because the ink can bleed into the skin. Also, if you're using Accutane, retinols, or prescription acne creams you'll have to stop using them before getting this treatment.
If you do decide to get the treatment, do a follow up six to nine months later, as the ink color can change.
Before and After
Check out some of Piret Aava's amazing eyebrow transformations below.
The Final Takeaway
So was the pain worth it? Yes. Am I glad I finally jumped on the microblading train? A resounding yes. Do I wish I could give my 13-year-old self a hug and tell her it's all going to be okay; that boys would still like me (brows or no brows); that I would soon realize my crush was actually sort of lame and not worth a second of my time; and that my brow worries would be solved in the future by something wonderful called microblading? Yes. But hindsight is 20/20, as they say, so for now, I'm just relishing the fact that I finally, finally have a damn beautiful pair of brows.
Baylor College of Medicine. Microblading provides new option to achieve fuller eyebrows. Updated October 24, 2016.