A defined brow isn’t going anywhere, but do you have to splurge on a prestige product to fill-in your arches or keep them in place? We challenged celebrity makeup artist Jake Bailey—he’s Katy Perry’s go-to artist and has worked with everyone from Naomi Watts to Kristen Stewart to Angelina Jolie—to test a table full of drugstore products to answer just that. Before we uncapped the first pencil, he gave us a few tips.
“In general, pencils are better for dry skin and powder’s better for oily skin, but it’s more important to focus on finding the right shade,” Bailey says. “The biggest mistake I see is people using a colour that’s too warm for them.” Which means you’ll want to ignore the shade name: those suited for blondes are normally too orange-y, and those for brunettes are often too dark. “Pick a colour that’s lighter than your brows and a little ashier than your hair,” Bailey says. “Brow products, especially powders, melt into your skin which makes the colour warm up.”
And once you find the right hue? “Brush your brows down to fill in the top arch, then brush them up and fill in any gaps,” he says. Waxes don’t hold brows in place very well, but a good gel or hairspray will, he says. More on that, and the formulas that made the cut, above.
“I like this shade because it’s nice and ashy,” Bailey says about E.l.f.’s Eyebrow Liner & Filler ($3) in Light. “And I really like the texture—but use it lightly because it doesn’t have as fine a point as most pencils.”
The brand that impressed Bailey the most was Drew Barrymore’s Flower Beauty: all three shades of their Raise Some Brows Pencil ($6) got his stamp of approval. “Generally a brunette would have pretty dark brows to begin with, so you want to go with a shade like this,” he says, referring to the Light Brown pencil. “You want to define your brows without making them darker.” He suggests the other two hues, Blonde and Dark Brown, for strawberry blonde and black hair, respectively.
Bailey found almost every product designed for red hair on our table to have an orange or mustard undertone—not good for anyone—until he got to CoverGirl’s Brow and Eye Makers Pencil ($4) in Soft Blonde. “This would be great for someone with light, strawberry blonde hair!” he says.
Bailey also liked NYX’s full range of hues of their Eyebrow Cake Powder ($6). “They have a shade for everyone, in both warm and ashy tones,” he says. Blondes and light brunettes should try the Blonde shade, redheads pick up the Brunette color, and the Black/Gray shade is good for raven hair.
Palladio’s Brow Powder ($6) in Taupe was another powder to catch Bailey’s attention. “This one is nice!” Bailey says. “It’s perfect if you have dirty blonde, or even light brown hair.” His tips for applying a powder formula? Use an angled brush to fill in gaps, then brush your brows into place with a brow gel, he says.
Bailey’s wild card pick was L’Oreal’s Brow Stylist ($5) in Darker Black Brown. “Honestly, I prefer a natural brow,” he says. “But for the girls that want that glamorous, filled-in look? Use this.”
“I like the texture of this pencil a lot, and it’s nice that it comes with a brush, but it’s still a little too rich for a blonde or brunette,” Bailey says about Maybelline’s Master Shape ($7) in Soft Brown. “It would be perfect for dark red hair!”
After trying a few gels and clear mascaras on his own brows, Bailey declared CoverGirl’s Professional Natural Lash Mascara ($6) in Clear his pick of the bunch. “This gives a nice, light hold,” he says. If your brows are unruly or curly, he suggests splurging on Urban Decay’s Urban Brow Styling Brush and Setting Gel ($18), or breaking out the strong-hold hairspray. “Hairspray will work if you spray it on a clean spooley brush and run it through your brows,” he says.