I inherited my eyebrows from my father. He has the sort of unruly brows that require a barbershop trim once a month. Left untamed, my dad’s aren’t quite as wild as Andy Rooney’s were—but they come close. Think Robert Pattinson in 40-some years.
On men, bushy eyebrows are charming—sexy, even. On women, not so much. Even if strong, Brooke Shields-like eyebrows have made a comeback, it takes a screen siren like Salma Hayek to make a Frida Kahlo unibrow look even remotely attractive.
When I was younger, I left my eyebrows to their own devices. It wasn’t a great look, but I was a tomboy and couldn’t be bothered with shaving my legs, let alone trimming my brows. In college, I chopped off all my hair and, in addition to making me look like an actual boy, my inch-length pixie crop put my overgrown brows on full display.
I promptly booked an appointment to have my eyebrows waxed—and walked out with emaciated brows that made me look like I was in a constant state of surprise. Pencil-thin, arched eyebrows were actually trendy in the 1990s. Still, like the oversized flannel shirts I have since purged from my wardrobe, it wasn’t a good look, and I let my brows grow back to their natural, wild state.
Future grooming endeavors proved to have equally unfortunate results. On several occasions, I got overeager with a pair of tweezers and scissors and ended up with bald patches and lopsided brows. The resulting look of confusion from the latter lasted for months. And like a Rudolph-like pimple on the tip of your nose, there’s really nothing you can do but wait it out.
Finally, I took myself to Soul Lee, the resident brow guru at Kiehl’s Spa who sculpted my brows into soft, full arches, showed me how to do at-home maintenance, and advised me to use a brow pencil to correct unevenness and give my brows a more polished look.
She also introduced me to brow gel. Akin to hairspray for your brows, the translucent gel comes in a compact tube, with a mascara-like wand that brushes errant hairs into place—and keeps them on the straight and narrow all day.
Like hairspray, not all gels are created equal: Some are too sticky, some are too stiff—and crunchy eyebrows are a definite no. I use Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel, which has essential oils and chamomile extracts that actually condition your brows and prevent hair fallout. It’s strong enough to keep even the curliest of hairs in place without leaving a filmy residue. And it keeps my slightly OCD plucking tendencies in check.
My brows still need near-daily upkeep—if I let them go for a week, I start to look like Groucho Marx—and I rely on an expert shaping every now and then. But my go-to tool in my brow-taming arsenal is brow gel. It’s easy, instant polish for someone who still can’t be bothered to regularly shave her legs.
Geraldine Campbell is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor who has written for Marie Claire, New York, and CondéNast Traveler. Follow Geraldine on Twitter @campbell_g.