Hands up if you bleach your eyebrows. No? Me, neither. Eyebrow bleaching is a beauty trick often used backstage before catwalk shows, too, mostly when designers want the models to look “otherworldly” (read: like aliens). I’ve often gone backstage at fashion weeks to find myself surrounded by models with newly platinum eyebrows.
Celebrities have even used a brow-bleaching session as a way to shock on the red carpet; think Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala in 2016. Now, I am not Lady Gaga, nor do I have a catwalk appearance anytime soon, so I wanted to know whether bleached brows could work for us non-celebs IRL. Would bucking the "big and bold" brow trend make me feel more confident or like a duck out of water?
Read on for more about eyebrow bleach, including how it works, the side effects, and my before and after pics.
Meet the Expert
What Is Eyebrow Bleaching?
Eyebrow bleaching is a chemical process that permanently lightens brows. If you've ever gone into a salon with dark hair and left the salon a beachy, golden blonde, you already have a pretty clear idea of how brow bleaching works.
"Brow bleaching lifts pigment (melanin) and keratin in the hair to lighten the color," Ninh explains; in other words, bleach removes the natural color in your brow. Brow bleaching can take your brows just a few shades lighter or make them snow-white, depending on how long the bleach is allowed to process and how dark your natural color is.
Eyebrow bleaching is often used to match lighter-colored hair on the head and/or create a stark modern look. Bleaching can work for people with any skin tone or brow color, BTW, although those with very dark hair may need additional processing time, so their brows don't skew orange.
"The darker the hair, the trickier the process," Sumstad admits. "It may need to be done more than once to achieve the desired lightness."
As Gafni explains, when bleaching brows at home, you need a cream bleach that's "designed to be more gentle on facial skin." Most products intended for brow bleaching—like Gafni's fave, Jolen Creme Bleach—have a hydrogen peroxide base. Hairstylists and estheticians can also bleach brows using salon-grade products.
In other words—and hopefully, this point is obvious—brow-bleaching is not a Clorox situation.
Benefits of Eyebrow Bleaching
The benefits of eyebrow bleaching are:
- Reducing harsh contrast between dark brows and light hair.
- Softening the look of brows, giving a more youthful look.
- Brightening the look of skin.
- Creating an "intense editorial look," according to Sumstad.
- Affordability; at-home bleaching kits are cheap, and it's a relatively inexpensive service at a hair salon.
- Permanence; bleaching, unlike dye, lightens the hair until it grows out completely.
How to Prepare for Eyebrow Bleaching
If you're thinking about bleaching your brows, your skin should be the picture of health. Bleach is irritating to skin by nature, so bleaching is a no-go on skin with cuts, abrasions, sunburns, or other inflamed skin conditions.
Your brow hair needs to be in good shape, too. "Brow bleaching is ideal for someone who has healthy eyebrow hairs because any type of hair bleaching can be drying," Ninh says.
Bleaching is best for virgin brow hair, i.e., hair that hasn't been processed. "I wouldn’t recommend bleaching your eyebrows if you’ve had them laminated," Sumstad suggests.
Before you go all-in with brow bleach, do a patch test of your chosen product on your skin. Apply it to a small, hidden area like the inside of your arm and wash off after 10 minutes; if you don't have a reaction within 72 hours, you should be good to go. Yes, patch testing can be a little tedious—but it beats having a flaming, itchy case of contact dermatitis over each eye.
Right before your bleaching treatment, wash and dry your face. Washing at your sink is ideal; bleaching brows right after a hot bath or shower, or in a steamy bathroom can make skin too sensitive to the bleach. Then apply a barrier cream to the skin around your eyebrows, Sumstad instructs.
What to Expect During an Eyebrow Bleaching Treatment
For this to work as a good before-and-after test, I knew I had to go light with my brows, but I didn’t want to go white blonde. Even the most gorgeous models struggle to pull off that one.
Following the instructions on the Jolen box, I mixed the accompanying bleach powder and developing cream, then applied it to my brows with a cotton swab. After about 10 minutes, I wiped off the cream with a wet washcloth to find that my brown eyebrows had become buttery blonde, about the same shade as the golden highlights on my head. After washing my face again to keep any leftover bleach from irritating my skin, I was done.
If your brows aren't lightened to your liking after one process—and your brow hair still looks healthy—you can go through the bleaching process once more.
Before and After
So what did my social circle think of my new look?
First, I showed off my brows around the office. "I really love the lighter ones," our assistant editor said. "Your eyebrows were great before, but this makes you look fairer and sun-kissed.”
Another colleague was also a fan, saying my new look was "more modern and summery."
Two more longtime friends handed me rave reviews, too. Even my boyfriend was impressed. “I like it," he said. "I think it lengthens your face and brings out your eyes.” Anything that lengthens my round, moon-shaped face is a winner.
These were not the comments I had been expecting when I pitched this feature. I thought I would get, "You look like an alien,” or “Who do you think you are, Lady Gaga?”
Eyebrow Bleaching vs. Eyebrow Tinting
Is brow bleaching anything like brow tinting? Yes and no. Like bleaching, brow tinting changes your overall brow color; whereas bleaching removes color from the brows, tinting adds color.
Ninh says that most brow tints are semi-permanent dyes or organic pigments like henna, which coat the hair, darkening it for three or more weeks before gradually fading away. "Brow tinting is great for evening out the density of [brows]" and "creating a fuller brow for fine or light-to-medium color brows," Ninh explains.
Brow tinting doesn't work for lightening hair; tints are capable of darkening brows, not making them a paler hue. Only bleach can do that.
At Home vs. By a Professional
Although DIY brow bleaching is pretty easy to do, Sumstad strongly suggests outsourcing the job.
"I wouldn’t recommend at-home eyebrow bleaching because it varies with every person," she says. Timing, type of product, hair texture, and color can all affect your results, she explains. "It may seem like you’re just applying bleach onto your eyebrows, but whenever it comes to using bleach, I’ll always recommend [hiring] a professional!"
When getting your brows bleached at a salon, you and your esthetician or hairstylist will discuss your desired look, Sumstad says. Your bleaching pro should also look at the condition of your brows and skin to ensure you're good to proceed with the service.
Just like the DIY version, you need to remove your makeup and have a barrier cream applied to the skin around your brows. The pro will mix lightener with a developer, apply it to your brows, and wait until the ideal shade is achieved, Sumstad explains.
Potential Side Effects
Brow bleaching tends to be riskier the longer the bleach is in contact with your skin and hair. "The most common mistake is leaving the bleach on too long, which can result in burning the skin or unintended color results," Gafni warns. Set a timer to avoid over-processing and burns; severe burns can lead to permanent hair loss.
Other potential side effects include redness, irritation, hair damage, breakage—this is bleach we're talking about, after all—and temporary lightening of affected skin.
Worst case scenario, you can damage your eyes if the bleaching cream accidentally makes its way into your eyeballs. If that happens, flush your eyes with cold water and call your doctor, stat.
DIY brow bleaching is shockingly affordable; you can expect to pay about $5 to $10 for a cream bleaching kit, which usually packs enough product to last for several treatments.
If you go to a professional for brow bleaching, Sumstad says you can expect to pay about $50, give or take, depending on where you live and the general cost of beauty services.
Once you've achieved a perfectly lightened brow, it's safe to wash your face and go about your day.
If your brows take on a brassy look over time, "use a purple shampoo with a Q-tip to keep that tone nice and white," Sumstad suggests. We like Amika Bust Your Brass Cool Blonde Repair Shampoo, a gentle hydrating shampoo with a yummy, vanilla-citrus scent.
Gafni suggests touching up brow bleach after about three weeks while acknowledging "everyone's hair grows at a different pace."
"As the brows grow, you may develop a 'zebra stripe' look, so you'll want to either touch up the bleach or dye your brows back to your natural color," he explains.
And there's the rub of bleached brows: Just like bleached head hair, as bleached eyebrows grow, you get dark roots—except these dark roots are smack in the middle of your face, not on the top of your head.
"Brow bleaching is hard to maintain due to the nature of how eyebrows grow back," Ninh admits. When you're ready for a touch-up, the entire brow is re-bleached.
This is why it's so important to start with healthy brow hair, Ninh says. "There’s no way to occlude already bleached hair from getting bleached again," she explains, and repeated bleaching can lead to damage over time.
The Final Takeaway
I had booked an emergency brow-tinting appointment, fully expecting my bleached brows to look creepy, so I was pleasantly surprised by all the flattering feedback I got. I'm still a little taken aback when I glimpse these golden arches in the mirror, but maybe this really is the new and improved me. I'm considering postponing my appointment—at least until those dark roots come through.