The 15 Best Brow Pencils to Fill and Define Arches With Ease

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From skinny to thick, feathered to bold, every brow has an option here.

InStyle / David Hattan
InStyle / David Hattan

Many people think wielding a brow pencil is easy, but it’s actually deceptively tricky—and the trickery begins when you believe all you have to do is draw on a pair of eyebrows. That’s a surefire way to get a blocky look that’s cartoonish rather than, well, highbrow. A brow pencil does its best and most natural work to enhance a brow’s shape, not create one from thin air. “They’re a better choice if you have a hole, gap, a scar, or if you need to really delineate a line, a peak, extend a tail, fill in an obvious gap,” explains celebrity brow stylist Joey Healy.

Out of all the brow products at your disposal to help you create the arch you want, the type of brow pencil you select and the technique you employ are absolutely critical to achieving a natural look; an eyebrow pencil can be both a nightmare and a dream, but with the right formula, even a beginner can whip up the perfect arch.

Best Overall: Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz Pencil

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What We Love: There’s a shade for everyone—and they’re all available in a mini size, too.

What We Don't Love: You get very little product for the price.

This product is what catapulted Anastasia Beverly Hills to icon status in the beauty world and it’s still hard to beat. Beyond the precise tip, which makes for easy filling regardless of how dense your brows are, it boasts a waxy yet workable formula (an ideal combo, says brow expert Robin Evans) that comes in a broad range of shades. Regardless of the color or undertone you need, there’s an option for you (and the brand is always adding more). Even better, while some companies only offer mini versions of their products in their best-selling shades, you can get a small iteration of every single hue, so you can try multiple options before committing to a full-sized pencil.

It’s worth noting that this formula is not waterproof, though we find it lasts all day on our brows, and that there is very little in the automatic component due to the width of the tip (one millimeter, for the record). However, if you’re willing to invest in your brows in the name of natural definition—especially if it’s hard for you to find a brow product or shade that works—it’s totally worthy.

Formula: Micro-tip automatic pencil|Shades: 12|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: No|Size: 0.003 oz

Best Drugstore: Maybelline Express Brow Ultra Slim Brow Pencil

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What We Love: This budget-friendly formula offers plenty of cool-toned browns, which can be harder to find.

What We Don't Love: It may not last long if you have oily skin.

If you’re looking for an affordable and effective take on some of the pricier formulas on this list, you’ll like this pencil from Maybelline, especially if you need a cooler hue. While a lot of drugstore brands’ pencils skew warm, many shades in this range have neutral or ash tones that sIt well on many complexions. The pencil features a 1.5 millimeter tip for more precise strokes that you can leave unblended for a more hair-like look or buff out with the included spoolie for more impact.

This product isn’t longwear or waterproof; it wears just fine on drier skin types but if you have very oily skin, sweat a lot, or live in a humid client, you may need to set this pencil with an additional brow powder or try another formula. If you don’t fall into one of these categories, though, this product is worth testing for yourself.

Formula: Micro-tip automatic pencil|Shades: 8|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: No|Size: 0.003 oz

Best Waterproof: Bobbi Brown Cosmetics Perfectly Defined Long-Wear Brow Pencil

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What We Love: The unique shape of the tip allows for versatile application.

What We Don't Love: The pencil’s bullet can break easily.

Both waterproof and sweat-resistant, this formula features an innovative chiseled, automatic bullet that can be used in a variety of ways to achieve your desired look. For example, you can use the flat side to shade and fill, and then rotate the pencil 90 degrees to get a pointier tip to create more definition or sketch on individual hairs. Once you’ve created your ideal brow, use the spoolie on the end to brush and shape—and after finishing the pencil, you can just pop out the cartridge, which is refillable (a nice touch).

Make sure you don’t wind the pencil tip up too far—the crayon can easily snap off if you’re not careful. Keeping the tip tight to the component will ensure you get the most longevity out of this product.

Formula: Chisel-tip automatic pencil|Shades: 10|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: Yes|Size: 0.01 oz

Best for Gray Hair: E.l.f. Brow Pencil

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What We Love: This pencil actually comes in a grey shade and truly doesn’t budge.

What We Don't Love: The tip doesn’t stay precise for long.

A lot of brands, especially budget-friendly ones, don’t offer a grey shade despite the demand for it—but E.l.f has hooked up this segment of makeup wearers with a flattering grey shade that is seriously waterproof. You have a few seconds to blend out the creamy color with the soft yet effective spoolie, after which the pigment fully sets and your brows will not move until you wash them off.

The tip is a fairly standard automatic pencil; the tip is not super-fine like others on this list, and once you’ve used the product a few times, the end is blunted, which results in a less precise application. For those who want to draw on hair-like strokes, you may struggle a bit with this product, but if you’re just aiming to fill and shade (and spend less than a large cup of coffee to do it), this is a must-try.

Formula: Automatic pencil|Shades: 6|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: Yes|Size: 0.008 oz

Best for Natural Look: Wander Beauty Upgraded Brows Pencil & Gel Duo

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What We Love: This double-ended product makes it easy to achieve a fresh-faced look.

What We Don't Love: It only comes in three shades.

Brow gel is generally regarded as the easiest and subtlest way to achieve naturally tidy-looking brows, but if you need a little bit more coverage to get your ideal arches, this pencil is worth checking out. It features a precise tip that you can use to fill in sparse spots and, on the other end, a clear gel with an ultra-slim spoolie to shape and set. You can use them separately or together, but we think the two-in-one aspect is genius, especially for someone who doesn’t want to buy multiple products to build out their brows or frequent travelers who have limited space in their go-bags.

We do wish the brand would extend the shade range, however. At present, there are only three hues to choose from. That said, they are fairly flexible colors!

Formula: Micro-chisel-tip automatic pencil and gel duo|Shades: 3|Spoolie: Yes, technically|Waterproof: No|Size: Pencil: 0.0017 oz, gel: 0.045 oz

Best for No Eyebrows: Urban Decay Brow Blade Ink Stain + Waterproof Pencil

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What We Love: This product can actually create a real-looking brow on a completely bare canvas.

What We Don't Love: The stain pen can be finicky at times.

If you have very sparse brows or quite literally no brows at all, a single pencil is likely not going to deliver the realistic result you’re looking for. This double-ended pen from Urban Decay, however, features two different formulas that will help you craft a natural-looking and waterproof brow out of thin air. Start by creating your brow shape with the pigmented pencil, then sketch on “hairs” with the ultra-fine felt tip of the pen on the other side. The product’s effect and performance are impressive as is, but the fact that it comes in nine shades is the icing on the cake.

Be aware that you’ll want to swipe the felt tip onto the back of your hand a few times before using it to get it started, even if you’ve applied the product before. We’ve found that it can dry out a little bit and it can need help soaking up the stain between uses.

Formula: Micro-tip automatic pencil and stain pen duo|Shades: 9|Spoolie: No|Waterproof: Yes|Size: 0.1 oz

Best for Beginners: Lawless Shape Up Soft Fill Brow Pencil

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What We Love: The color blends beautifully to create a “powder fill” effect.

What We Don't Love: You can’t achieve precision with the oval tip.

Those that like the soft ombré look of a powder fill microbladed brow (as opposed to traditional hair-like strokes) will find their perfect match in this pencil, which strikes the ideal balance of creamy and waxy for a subtle yet defined brow. It has an oval-shaped and rounded tip that is ideal for creating shape at the base of your brow and filling in sparser areas, while the generously sized spoolie’s stiff (but not scratchy) bristles work well to buff in the color.

If you wanted to sketch out individual hairs with this pencil, you’d have trouble as the tip is just a bit too wide and soft for that. This pencil is really best for someone who already has a decent amount of hair on their brows and wants to enhance their fullness and shape, rather than somebody who needs to fully build out new arches.

Formula: Oval tip automatic pencil|Shades: 5|Spoolie: Yes | Waterproof: No|Size: 0.005 oz

Best for Mature Skin: Jones Road The Brow Pencil

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What We Love: This pencil is creamy, waterproof, and offers excellent coverage.

What We Don't Love: You’ll want to sharpen it very frequently.

Creamy consistencies aren’t always durable ones, but this pencil from Jones Road proves otherwise. The waterproof formula stays put to boost the density of thinning brows with not just color, but tiny fibers, which cling to your existing brow hairs to bulk them up. It’s available in six shades, including a soft, ash-toned light brown designed specifically for those with grey hair—and the pigmentation and texture of the formula is rich enough to cover stray grays, if that’s what you’re after.

Like the face pencils in the Jones Road assortment, this brow pencil is chubby, which makes it easier to hold than a lot of skinny pencils out there. However, because it’s wider than most, you’ll have to sharpen it often if you want to maintain a precise tip, which could feel wasteful.

Formula: Traditional pencil|Shades: 6|Spoolie: No|Waterproof: Yes|Size: 0.06 oz

Best for Dark Skin: Covergirl Clean Fresh Brow Filler Pomade Pencil

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What We Love: The pigmentation of this pencil is the richest we’ve ever seen.

What We Don't Love: The tip of the pencil is thick, which can make application challenging to control.

If weak pigmentation causes brow pencil to disappear into your deep complexion, don’t hesitate to try this waterproof formula from Covergirl, which is comparable in intensity to a pot of pomade (hence the name) but in a convenient pencil format. You’ll get full opacity with one creamy swipe, which is easily buffed out to your liking with the unique “kabuki” spoolie on the end that feels like a super soft, dense makeup brush.

The one caveat here is the shape of the pencil, which covers a lot of surface area easily. This is great for someone who wants and knows how to fill in bigger chunks of their brow in one go. However, if you’re new to brow makeup, prefer creating artificial hairs with pencil, or have very skinny arches, you may need to experiment with your application to get the look you want.

Formula: Wedge-tip automatic pencil|Shades: 6|Spoolie: Yes | Waterproof: Yes|Size: 0.007 oz

Best for Blondes: Charlotte Tilbury Brow Lift Eyebrow Pencil

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What We Love: The shape of the pencil’s tip can create a wide range of looks.

What We Don't Love: The formula doesn’t have potent pigment.

Most brands offer very few suitable brow pencils for blonde hair. Sometimes, there may only be a single shade, like taupe, for our fair-haired friends, but we all know that blonde color is too varied to allow for only one option. This one comes in three shades for those with fairer hair, including a light blonde hue that is perfect for those with practically invisible brows. The waterproof pencil features a narrow wedge tip cut at a steep angle, allowing you to create feathery hairs when held vertically or fill in fullness when applied horizontally.

If you’re looking for intense color payoff, don’t expect that from this product. It’s designed to create a fluffy and natural brow; the translucency of the color creates a more realistic look than a formula that’s fully opaque.

Formula: Wedge-tip automatic pencil|Shades: 8|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: Yes|Size: 0.007 oz

Best for Oily Skin: NYX Professional Makeup Micro Brow Pencil

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What We Love: This formula is incredibly affordable.

What We Don't Love: The names of the colors may steer you wrong when purchasing.

Not only is this drugstore pick available in as many shade options as those offered by luxury brands, but it has the same durability, too, if not better. The pencil has a drier texture, which can make it a challenge to sketch onto dry complexions, but those who are oily will find that it helps the pencil glide, while the stiffer waxes in the formula will help it grip to your skin for lasting wear. The fine tip allows for precise definition, too.

While we’re impressed by the shade range, the names could use some work. We found that the taupe and blonde shades were much redder than anticipated, to the point that they would better suit redheads rather than individuals with grey or blonde hair. A few more shades (and renaming some of the existing ones) would make it easy for more people to find their best match.

Formula: Micro-tip automatic pencil|Shades: 12|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: No|Size: 0.003 oz

Best for Sparse Eyebrows: Benefit Cosmetics Precisely, My Brow Detailer

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What We Love: This pencil has the finest and most precise tip of any we’ve tried.

What We Don't Love: The packaging houses very little product.

If you want to create the illusion of growth in gaps and sparse areas, this pencil is the tool for the job, with a 0.8 millimeter tip that lets you draw on extremely fine, hyper realistic-looking hairs. There’s also a spoolie on the end of the pencil if you prefer to buff in pigment for a softer look. Though there are only six shades right now (which is a smaller range than you’d usually see from a Benefit brow product), the super precise pencil means they flex very well across multiple brow hues.

This is pretty obvious, but because the pencil is so, so slim, you’re receiving less product for the price—but if you want a thicker pencil, the brand offers plenty of other options to choose from.

Formula: Ultra micro-tip automatic pencil|Shades: 6|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: Yes|Size: 0.0007 oz

Best With Brush: Hourglass Arch Brow Sculpting Pencil

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What We Love: This product creates a natural look that lasts all day.

What We Don't Love: The tip is a bit wide for those with very thin brows.

Those that take spoolies seriously will appreciate the one that’s part of this pencil from Hourglass; while some spoolies are an afterthought, this one is very generously sized with a fluffy shape and soft texture that allows for meticulous grooming. The pencil is on the waxier side, with a nice pigment payoff that creates a powder fill effect rather than overly intense arches. We also find that a little goes a long way, and though the product is pricey, we get many months of use out of it.

The wedge tip is on the wider side; if you have very skinny eyebrows, it may be a little bit challenging to see exactly where you’re applying the product as a result. However, if you have arches that are any wider than the wedge tip, this pencil will make it a breeze to sculpt natural-loooking brows.

Formula: Wedge-tip automatic pencil|Shades: 9|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: No|Size: 0.014 oz

Best for Redheads: IT Cosmetics Brow Power Universal Eyebrow Pencil in Universal Taupe

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What We Love: This is a rare “one size fits all” shade that actually does.

What We Don't Love: Some people might want more precision from their brow pencil.

We know, we know—how can a universal shade truly work for everyone? But in the majority of cases, the OG shade of this product, “Universal Taupe,” actually does suit a surprising amount of individuals, including hard-to-match redheads of all hues. A favorite of brow expert Angela Marinescu's, the color of this pencil is almost magically flexible, with a perfect neutral tone that adjusts in intensity simply by changing how much pressure you use when applying it. And if you happen to be in the small minority of redheads that Universal Taupe doesn’t flatter, the shade “Universal Auburn,” will fill that gap. As a bonus, the formula contains biotin and saw palmetto extract to help bolster brows and promote healthier growth.

This pencil has a fairly standard-sized tip, which not everyone is into. That said, the brand offers two other brow pencil options—one with a thick tip and one with a micro-fine tip—to choose from, too, so take your pick.

Formula: Automatic pencil|Shades: 4|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: Yes|Size: 0.0056 oz

Best Luxury: Chanel Crayon Sourcils Sculpting Eyebrow Pencil

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What We Love: This pencil lasts for months, even with daily use.

What We Don't Love: We wish it came with a pencil sharpener.

This product from Chanel is a worthy investment, especially when you consider how much of the formula you’re getting. It features a texture that’s somehow both creamy and powdery, providing impressive pigment payoff that can cover greys and provide light hold while blending beautifully with the included spoolie. And, because it’s a slim, traditional pencil, you’ll not need to sharpen it often to have a defined tip. If you typically burn through an automatic brow pencil in a month or two, you’ll probably find that you’ll only use up half an inch of this one (if that!) in the same amount of time—and you’ll have plenty of product left from there.

This is highly nitpicky, but we’d love to see this product come with a pencil sharpener—not only would that further enhance the luxury experience of shopping for a Chanel product, but make it very convenient for those of us who always lose our sharpeners. That said, most people have one lying around they can use.

Formula: Traditional pencil|Shades: 6|Spoolie: Yes|Waterproof: No|Size: 0.03 oz

What to Keep in Mind

  • Pencil Type: Traditionally, all brow pencils were the same—a simple wooden pencil that you'd sharpen before every use to keep the tip pointed and precise—with only the color pigment varying from pencil to pencil. "These traditional pencils tend to have more pigmentation than a gel or crayon and they last longer," says Evans, although Healy points out that, "it's kind of messy to have to sharpen a pencil regularly.”

    Both Healy and Evans prefer retractable or automatic pencils, which are now available in a variety of thicknesses and tip shapes. “A wider pencil is a little more foolproof and great for filling in the brow and shading,” says Evans, which she says is what makes this type of pencil ideal for beginners.

  • Pencil Thickness: As a pencil gets skinnier, it becomes more precise, which Marinescu believes can make things easy for people. “Using a fine-tip pencil with light upward strokes to resemble natural hair can fill in sparse spots,” she says. Keep in mind that if you’re too aggressive when blending out with your spoolie (more on this below), these fine lines can disappear entirely.

  • Pencil Tip + Precision: Healy’s pencil preference, a "wedge" shaped-tip, is a relatively recent development in the brow world, and it sports a thicker tip that is angeled sharply, making it incredibly versatile. “You can use it on its tip, its edge, or its broad side,” he explains. The tip can be used for hair-like definition, the edge can create the brow shape and structure, and the broad side is great for filling in. As is the case with all makeup, though, what works best for you will be a matter of personal preference. “It is good to try different types of pencil to find the easiest one for you to apply,” says Marinescu.

  • An Easy-Glide Formula: Petrified of using a brow pencil and looking fake? A formula’s texture is often the key to achieving a natural look, and a waxier pencils "are creamier, go on lighter, and look less dense against your brow hairs," says Evans. A stiffer formula, usually found in traditional brow pencils that you'd sharpen, have higher melting points, so they’re less likely to run or bleed over your lids on a hot day, and are harder to accidentally smear or budge if you accidentally touch your face. If you're headed to an outdoor summer wedding or you tend to have oily lids in general, a traditional pencil and sharpener will give you greater peace of mind to enjoy yourself.

  • Waterproof Formulas: If you need your brow pencil to stay put at all costs, Evans recommends a waxier formula. “Wax formulas are great for summer and more water-, sweat-, and humidity-resistant than a creamier formula,” she says. For an extra layer of protection and a supportive boost for longevity, top off your look with a few swipes of clear brow gel to seal and set it place. However, don't use bulletproof-strength brow products if you truly don't need it to be long-wearing (defined as more than a 12-hour stretch), as the formulas are usually drying, hard to remove, and can lead to breakage.

  • A Gentle Eye Makeup Remover: Special occasions, or hot and humid climates—yes, of course, lock those babies in with super strength brow products, but Healy warns, "if your hair is kind of weak or fragile, it can pull out the hair as you're attempting to remove it.” Brow expert Azi Sacks says that the more a brow formula sticks like glue to hair and refuses to budge, it can be both a good and bad thing—unless you have an equally super-charged eye makeup remover. "The more you layer on a brow pencil or product, the more you are pulling the hair follicles," he says, which could lead to hair loss over time. "Ditto for removing brow makeup at the end of the night; you never want to rough up your brow hair or press too firmly."

  • Your Brow Density: Are your brows sparse or bare, needing a complete fill-in technique? Or do you just like to add a bit of volume or color? If you're expecting to fill in your brows completely on a regular basis, a wedge pencil will allow you to cover the brow real estate faster than other options, while a slim pencil with an ultra-pointed tip will give clean, thin lines to anyone who just wants to enhance what they already have.

    Either way, try to keep any perfectionist tendencies to a minimum when it comes to brows. “Eyebrows look much better and much more natural when they are not perfect or absolutely symmetrical,” says Evans, who recommends pausing after every stroke to look at your face holistically. “Stepping away from the mirror is important to give you a better perception of what your brows need."

  • Spoolies vs. Brow Brushes: Many brow pencils are dual-ended, and come with a spoolie opposite the pencil end, which is a super convenient feature, but if yours doesn't, all three of our experts emphasized that you'll need to shell out for a separate spoolie brush to get a natural, soft look. Our trio of experts were also adamant that every good brow begins and ends with a thorough brushing. "Before doing anything to your brows, everyone needs to brush the brow hairs up in front and over towards the tail," says Marinescu. "This will give you your shape before you go in with pencil, using a gentle hand to create wispy, light strokes that resemble natural hairs." and after you've finished your brow look, brush them again to fully disperse the color you've just applied to your brows and ensure the final shape resembles a natural arch."

    After you've shaded and filled in your brows, as your very last step of your makeup application overall, Marinescu says to brush your brows again. "This step will fully disperse the color you've just applied to your brows and soften any harsh markings," she says. "A good brush will also fluff brows and let you shape them into a classic, natural-looking arch."

Your Questions, Answered

How do you fill in sparse eyebrows to look natural?

"Think of adding wispy little brow hair strokes, in the direction of your natural growth,” says Evans, while Marinescu recommends starting at the front of the brow and "lightly add fine strokes from left to right, ending at the tail" and ending your technique with a brush or spoolie. “Going over your brows will create a natural look and spread the pencil with no demarcation lines to be seen,” she explains. But don’t blur too aggressively, as you’ll want some dimension. “If you're faking it too much with a pencil, you're gonna be able to tell,” warns Healy.

How do I find the right shade to fill in my eyebrows?

“There’s no rule—I have some platinum blondes that come in and want black brows, and others that want to go blonde,” says Sacks. “I think exploring is okay.” If you want as natural of a look as possible, Marinescu and Healy recommend going one shade lighter than your hair color, making sure you’re picking a brow pencil with the same undertone. That way, “when blending with your own brow hairs, it will look natural and not too dark,” explains Marinescu. If you’re platinum blonde or naturally very fair blonde, the opposite suggestion applies—go one shade darker.

If you have red, grey, or rainbow hair, you may struggle to pick a brow color, which is totally normal. Marinescu advises seeking out a light brown pencil, applying lightly until you get your desired color. “Never ever any pencil with a brick-color tone, or one that’s too dark brown,” she says. Those with white or grey hair should look for something with a very neutral, ashy tone, says Healy, as can those with rainbow hair colors. Going too dark will end up looking very severe, while going too warm could create visual imbalance.

Should I use an eyebrow pencil first or last in my makeup routine?

“My brows are always the first thing I do in my makeup routine overall, and I use a brush first then pencil," says Evans. "And my brows are also the last thing I do, locking them in place with a clear brow gel."

Why Shop With Us

Emily Orofino is a beauty writer, editor, and consultant with more than a decade of experience in the industry. She considers herself an early adopter of brow pencil and has long been on the hunt for her ideal formula. For this story, she tapped celebrity brow stylists, Azi Sacks, Joey Healy, Angela Marinescu, and Robin Evans.

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