I know this sounds dramatic, but it's true: My eyebrows have been a problem for most of my life. When I was little, they were as thick as caterpillars-not in a face-framing, '80s-fashionable Brooke Shields way, but in an amorphous, forehead-dominating, does-that-child-have-eyes kind of way. Which is likely why, when I was 13, my mother draped me across her lap on our living room couch, hissing, "I've been wanting to do this for years," and went to town with a pair of tweezers. The ribbon-thin McDonald's arches that resulted from her savage artistry left me looking perpetually surprised, an unlovely situation only compounded by my own overzealous efforts to mimic Gwyneth Paltrow's Brad-era slivers in the late '90s. By the time I decided to try to let those little hairs grow wild and free again, it was too late.
Over the past few years, I've tried virtually every arch-enhancing pencil, marker, gel, and powder known to humankind, but most can endure only a few hours on my oily skin before vanishing (quick shout-out to long-lasting Benefit Goof Proof and Dior Diorshow Brow Styler, without which I would have spent even more time looking like a clown-school dropout). I've also experimented with off-label use of the lash booster Latisse, which coaxed out a few wheezy sprouts but none in the region I actually wished to regrow. For the most part, I threw in the towel, growing my bangs out to hide my brows like a shameful secret, appalled when they'd accidentally pop through in photographs, making me look as if I'd just heard a sudden loud noise.
When I received an invitation to meet with Dominique Bossavy, a blond Frenchwoman in her fifties who specializes in reshaping sparse brows with a tattoolike process she calls "micro color infusion," I was both thrilled and terrified. If she was as good as reputed (Bossavy's ability to revivify arches, disguise stretch marks, and enhance lip contours draws Manhattan socialites, Brazilian supermodels, and Oscar nominees), then my brow woes would be over, but if she was heavy-handed, or somehow gave me a shape that didn't suit my face, I might walk out looking even worse than when I went in. And because this is semipermanent makeup we're talking about, I'd have to live with the results for up to three years.
"You have beautiful eyes," Bossavy says pretty much the second I arrive at Dangene, the chic medi-spa where she sees clients in New York (she also has salons in L.A. and Paris). "But oh, girl, your brows are killing you!" She points to my U-shaped arches. "You've got the horseshoes."
Bossavy begins by sketching in my ideal brow shape with a soft pencil, then shaves away any hairs outside that outline with a tiny razor ("Tweezing irritates the skin," she explains, "and I don't want to start my work with any inflammation"). It's important, she tells me, to preserve some asymmetry. "It makes people look fake when their brows match too perfectly," she says. "You're never the same on both sides. What you want is for them to be sisters but not twins." Nervously, I ask her to err on the side of subtlety: I don't need wow brows, I tell her. I'd just like them to be pretty and innocuous. "Don't worry," she says. "The idea is for no one to be able to tell it's been done." And then she switches on the machine.
Bossavy's procedure involves a customized mixture of mineral-based pigments, which she delivers with a specially designed miniature needle that injects color into the skin without cutting or scraping. She's quick to distinguish her technique from microblading, the Instagram-fueled sensation in which pigment is manually scratched into the skin, a process Bossavy says can cause infection and end up looking "blobby." Her pigments-blended for each client's skin tone, so the brows not only look natural during their life span but also fade without taking on any dreaded apricot or blue tones-aren't implanted as deeply as with a traditional tattoo, meaning there's neither bleeding during application nor redness afterward. And to my surprise, the process doesn't hurt so much as it tickles; I find myself having to stop her repeatedly so I can sneeze.
Over the machine's hum, Bossavy tells me she's making thin, quick strokes, some of which are crosshatched, in order to create a "fluffy" facsimile of hair. "I'm giving you little wisps at the ends," she says. "A real eyebrow never ends with a hard line." After 45 minutes, she's done, and I peer into a mirror to survey the results. My first response is…oh! And then uh-oh. I can't decide how I feel. They're so unfamiliar, so big, so dark. "This is the worst they're going to look," Bossavy says, assuring me that over the next few days they'll fade to a less jarring intensity. I'll need two more sessions before we reach the final result; in the meantime, I'm instructed to keep my brows away from water (tricky) for two weeks and tap on a Vaseline-type salve to address any flaking. Retinol and exfoliants are no-nos; daily sunscreen is a must.
For the rest of the day, I can't stop examining my brows in the mirror. It's like I've fallen asleep and someone has drawn on my face with a Sharpie. The edges seem too precise, giving them the stencil-y Instagram-brow effect I had hoped to avoid. But I do love the shape: They're smooth where once they were hooked, lush where once they were emaciated. They now swoop in a seamless arc from inner to outer eye, and my nose, wide at the bridge thanks to a childhood break, somehow looks slimmer.
When my husband gets home that night, he does a double take. "Oh wow," he says. "You look crazy." And then, while I'm trying to conjure some white lie about having my brows tinted or something else that sounds unscarily temporary, he asks, "Is that microblading?" It's a whole separate story how my straight (I promise), non-YouTube-video-watching better half has any idea what microblading is, but suffice it to say I come clean and warn him that he might be living with these brows for quite some time. "Well," he says helpfully, "you can always start wearing hats."
The next morning, I look like Eddie Munster. Even my dog looks at me funny. But on day three, I catch my reflection in the mirror of a dark restaurant and think, I look good. Are my cheekbones higher? Are the bags under my eyes gone? No, I realize, it's the brows. In the right lighting, they're amazing.
By the time I see Bossavy two weeks later, the color has mellowed considerably. The outlines are softer, the strokes less noticeable. Certain areas have, however, begun to take on a slightly gray hue, which Bossavy tells me is only temporary, an awkward but necessary phase in treating those with fair hair. "If I put just the warm color on first, it will not stay," Bossavy says. "By putting the warm shade on top of an ashy shade, it becomes a neutral blond."
Sure enough, after the-much quicker-second pass, the overall effect is more consistent, more natural. I find I'm no longer tugging my bangs down like a curtain to cover my brows; instead, I'm sweeping them aside. I love them. I love having them "done" without having to do anything. I love that they make me feel like I need less makeup overall and that out of my myriad irrational insecurities, I now have one less thing to think about.
I've become obsessed with people's brows. I study strangers' foreheads on the subway, thinking how an attractive brow can come in a billion different shapes and sizes. The arches I personally find most beautiful are those that appear to be only moderately shaped, that telegraph some kind of individuality. My least favorites remain the supersculpted, highly refined, social-media-star brows. But ironically, I feel like mine look most my own now, after maximum intervention. Had my mother never stepped in, I might have grown up looking half wolf, so I suppose I should thank her. But oh, it's been a long journey to find the brows I should have been born with.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of ELLE.
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