"Grandma Brows" Is the Weird Makeup Trend That Has Low-Key Transformed My Face

Here's why you should consider using gray eyebrow products.

Updated 10/02/19
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 Amanda Montell

On a Friday afternoon in West Hollywood, whilst visiting Benefit Cosmetics’s “Brow Suite” at the Andaz Hotel, I experienced a revelation on par with the discoveries that you can use hair conditioner as shaving cream and that shaking a Polaroid picture is actually a really bad idea. My epiphany? That I should be using gray eyebrow pencil. No, I haven’t gone gray from age or stress (at least not yet). Still, brows the color of my grandma’s are my latest beauty obsession. Let me explain...

I have dark brown hair naturally, though I’ve had it colored a bright blonde for the past five years (shoutout Matt Rez at Meche Salon!). The beauty community is abuzz with all sorts of advice (some valid… some whack) about what color your brows should be; but, until recently, I had settled that mine should be somewhere in between my chocolate brown base color and my blonde highlights. Benefit’s ultra-fine Precisely, My Brow Eyebrow Pencil, which comes in a whopping 12 shades, had been in my heavy rotation of products for years. I used shade #3, a warm light brown, which seemed to suit my skin’s yellow undertones and reflected both my natural hair color and my highlights. Typically, I’d top off the pencil with a heavy coat of fiber brow gel (my current fave is by Beautycounter) to achieve a bushy, feathered look. 

Gray brow pencil is secretly a universal shade. 

But there in that West Hollywood suite, Benefit’s Global Brow Expert Jared Bailey took one look at me and suggested we take my eyebrows in a wildly different direction: gray. Though my brows are not naturally gray, he predicted that a very subtle application of dark, cool-toned pencil—just to fill in the sparse areas of my brows—would look more flattering than the warm brown I’d been using. That’s because both the brunette base and artificial blonde that comprise my hair color are cooler in tone. That is to say, there isn’t a lot of red happening (think espresso brown, rather than auburn or mahogany, and ash blonde rather than golden). Blonde brow pencils, which are usually less red and more taupe, would work for those with lighter base colors, but not me, because my natural brows are so freakin’ dark. The solution? Gray. 

Brunettes-turned-cool-blondes aren’t the only candidates for gray brows, however. “Cool grey is a flexible brow shade that can work for a variety of different hair colors,” says Bailey. It’s an amazing fit for those with platinum, pastel, black hair, gray hair, or brows that have a few grays coming in that need camouflaging. You can also use it in combination with other shades, like browns and blondes, to create texture and contrast. Says Bailey: “Cool gray is a one-shade-fits-all powerhouse!”

Gray pencils are different than black.

I’d played around with true black eyebrow products in the past—the fascination started after I discovered this very intense professional brow pencil from England, which has a jet-black point that you sharpen yourself with a blade like something out of the Middle Ages. But blonde hair with black brows was definitely a *look,* and it got old quickly. Grays and gray browns (like charcoal and ash) help create that cool, bold look without seeming too harsh. 

Even if your hair is black (or almost black), gray can afford you a softer look. Try applying gry to the inner brow and soft black to the tail. 

Use a light hand when applying gray brows.

Of course, going too heavy-handed with gray pencil—even if some or all of your brow hairs are naturally that color,—can darken and cool down your whole face. This might make your skin look dull and pale. So you want to skip the thick, waxy pencils and pomades and go for a fine pencil or powder and use really light strokes (and lots of blending) when applying.

For me, using a sparing amount of ashy gray pencil on my whole brow—as opposed to a light or medium brown with tons of gel on top—looked completely natural, like it was just an extension of my dark brown brows.

And these are my favorite gray brow products:

Benefit Cosmetics
Benefit Cosmetics Precisely My Brow Pencil in Cool Grey $24
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My introduction to gray brows, Benefit’s super fine-tipped pencil allows me to create realistic hair-like strokes in a perfect medium-gray shade, which complements my hair color shockingly well.

cle de peau Eyebrow Pencil in Grey Brown
Clé de Peau Eyebrow Pencil in Grey Brown $25
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This aptly named half-gray, half-brown shade is like a gateway to the world of gray brows. The pencil’s angled tip and easy-glide formula make creating fine strokes and shading in your brows effortless. Also, kudos to the gorge packaging.

clinique brow shaper
Clinique Brow Shaper in Charcoaled $19
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Clinique also makes shade that strikes a lovely balance between gray and brown, but this time in powder form. This fine pressed formula makes it super easy to fill in sparse areas of your brows without going overboard. (The product comes with an included brush, which isn’t bad, though I recommend using an angled brow brush like this one by Sigma.)

bobbi brown Perfect Defined Long-Wear Brow Pencil in Grey
Bobbi Brown Perfect Defined Long-Wear Brow Pencil in Grey $45
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Another true gray shade comes from Bobbi Brown. The pencil’s waterproof formula comes with a precision tip for easily creating those individual hair-like strokes and a flat edge for shading.  

joey healy
Joey Healy Luxe Brow Powder $28
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This deeper gray would best suit those with darker brunette or black hair. The product’s soft texture is easy to blend and is shockingly long-lasting. 

Next up: I’m obsessed with colorful eyeshadow, and these are the products that earn me the most compliments.

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