Pencil, Powder, or Gel? What Brow Tools You Should Actually Be Using

closeup of brunette woman in orange turtleneck sweater

 (Dora Lazarevic / EyeEm)

Science tells us that our brows are the most important part of our face. Beauty experts tell us that they're also the most challenging feature to get right because they're the only makeup you're always wearing. This just got complicated.

The array of taming and perfecting eyebrow products are certainly not lacking, but it can still be difficult to achieve a balanced, symmetrical look. From the arch to the shape and fullness of eyebrows, there are myriad concerns when it comes to grooming them, and let's be honest, deciding between the different kinds of tools—no less figuring out what you're supposed to be using—is extremely overwhelming. There's pencils, markers, powders, gels, tinted gels, pomades, waxes, brushes, combs, scissors, oh my!

So where to begin? We asked experts to lay down the basics around common brow tools so that you know exactly how and when to use them—whether your arches are thick, sparse, light, dark, or anything in between. Ahead, we break down the best eyebrow tools for Insta-worthy brows.

Brow Pencil

Pencil
Dior Diorshow Brow Styler $29
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What It’s For:

You can use all kinds of products to fill your brows with color, but few offer the hair-like precision of a pencil—no matter what kind of arches you naturally have. "I’ve tried every brow product under the sun, and the only type of product that fills them in realistically is a soft, waxy pencil," says Faith Xue, Byrdie's editorial director.

This is why most experts will say that pencils are the most essential brow product to have on hand. "They're great because you can define your brows and increase or decrease your intensity easily," adds makeup artist Kirin Bhatty. She lists the Dior pencil above as "the perfect brow product."

How to Apply

Keep that precision in mind—it's the key to applying the pencil correctly. You want to use very light strokes that mimic your own brow hairs. Be patient and take the time to layer the strokes if you'd like to increase the saturation, as Bhatty says, for the most realistic-looking results.

If the pencil you're using has a brush on one end, comb through the brow after you've applied the pencil to properly distribute the color.

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Brow Powder

Brow Powder
Benefit Cosmetics Foolproof Brow Powder $24
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What It’s For:

"[Brow Powder] creates a shadow underneath the hair of the brows, which makes them appear fuller, more dense, and defined," says makeup artist Michael Anthony

How to Apply

You need both the right color and the right brush, says Bhatty, who likes Smashbox's Brow Brush ($20). "It's firm and dense so it really allows you to deposit product in a concise, targeted way." Simply sweep on a bit of powder over your arches, layering, and refining with the brush until you reach your desired shape and color.

Still, once you have the right products on hand, don't be intimidated. "Powder brow products are the easiest because you can control the amount applied and clean up is much easier if you make a mistake," says celebrity makeup artist Daniel Martin, who has worked with Kate Bosworth and Chloë Sevigny.

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Brow Gel

Gel
Anastasia Clear Brow Gel $22
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What It’s For:

"It’s like hair spray for your eyebrows," says Anthony, who adds that it's a must-have for those with thick brows, as it helps tame and lock hairs into place for a simple, groomed look. "You can give your arches a little oomph without having to pencil them in," adds Bhatty.

Brow gel can also be used as a final touch to lock in other products—and if you go the tinted route, it adds another wash of color and definition to existing hairs.

How to Apply

It's pretty foolproof—you're just combing the existing hairs into the shape of your choice. Our go-to method comes from guru Kristie Streicher, who advises brushing the fronts of the brows up, and the "tails" of the arches up and out for a natural-looking shape. 

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Brow Pomade

Pomade
Glossier Boy Brow $16
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What It’s For:

Pomades are slightly different from gels in that they don't lock hairs in quite as firmly, but instead, emphasize texture and definition and offer some hold. It helps thick, dark brows look striking without the help of other products, but can amp up lighter arches as well. (Tinted formulas, like Glossier's Boy Brow, take it a step further).

How to Apply

The same as the gel. Super simple.

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Brow Marker

Marker
Browlash EX Eyebrow Liquid Pencil $16
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What It’s For:

"Markers add more pigment and precision to create shape and depth," says Martin, who has been using the above Japanese product for years. "They're great for someone who wants a really long-wearing and defined looking shape," adds Anthony. Those with very light or sparse brows might want to try out markers, as they're a quick way to create arches out of thin air. 

How to Apply

Remember that practice makes perfect, so don't worry if you can't get movie star brows on the first try. Choose a formula with a light, almost sheer pigment. Bhatty recommends borrowing the technique of a pencil: Apply in light, hair-like strokes that complement the growth direction of the hair, to make it look natural.

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