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

woman getting makeup applied


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. 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's 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.

The best brow products are included in this stellar round-up below.


Dior Diorshow Brow Styler $29

What to use it for: Filling and refining. 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 managing editor.

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 Kirin Bhatty, who works with actress Jessica Paré. She lists the Dior pencil above as "the perfect brow product."

The method: 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.

More expert-approved products: 

Anastasia Perfect Brow Pencil ($23)

Alima Pure Natural Definition Brow Pencil ($18)

MAC Veluxe Brow Liner ($22)

Brow Powder
Benefit Cosmetics Foolproof Brow Powder $24

What to use it for: Filling in sparse or light brows. "[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. 

The method: 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 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 Daniel Martin, who's worked with Kate Bosworth and Chloë Sevigny.

More expert-approved products:

It Cosmetics Brow Power Powder ($24)

Nyx Cosmetics Eyebrow Cake Powder ($6)


Anastasia Clear Brow Gel $22

What to use it for: Holding and defining hairs. "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.

The method: 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. 

More expert-approved products:

Lime Crime Bushy Brow Gel ($18)

Dior Diorshow Pump 'n' Brow ($27)


Glossier Boy Brow $16

What to use it for: Flexible hold and more definition. 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.)

The method: The same as the gel. Super simple.

More expert-approved products:

Surratt Beauty Expressioniste Brow Pomade ($30)

Anastasia Dipbrow Pomade ($21)


Browlash EX Eyebrow Liquid Pencil $17

What to use it for: Major definition and saturated color. "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. 

The method: 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 a Stila's marker, and borrow the technique of a pencil: Apply in light, hair-like strokes that complement the growth direction of the hair, to make it look natural.

More expert-approved products:

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