People of Asian descent are stereotypically known for their flawless skin and luscious locks of hair. However, when it comes to eyebrows in people of East/Southeast Asian descent, there tends to be a lack of shape due to the sparse growth. This sparseness gives the appearance of thin and almost-nonexistent brows. To counter this, I used to fill in my brows with brow pomade every morning during my makeup routine; others might use a brow pencil or brow powder. After six years of filling in my brows, I finally decided to book an appointment with a brow artist to get my eyebrows professionally done via powder brows. 

Powder brows, also known as ombre brows, is a cosmetic tattooing technique used to create a light-to-dark effect on a client’s brows. Unlike microblading, which uses a small blade to create hair-like strokes into your skin, powder brows are achieved using a machine quite similar to one a tattoo artist would use. Small, dotted pigment is deposited into the brows using this machine.  

Choosing Between Powder Brows and Microblading
Both techniques have their pros and cons. Choosing between the two will heavily depend on an individual’s natural brows and skin type.

Microblading is perfect for those who rarely fill in their eyebrows. Microbladed brows create a natural look, with each stroke etched into your skin to look like actual hair. If you normally do not fill in your brows but want a more defined look, microblading might fit you best. However, the pigment is deposited in superficial strokes, so those with oily skin may need constant touch- ups. Be warned that multiple touch-ups mean repeated incisions into the skin and intensive trauma. The entire act of microblading is repeated cutting into the skin in order for pigment to deposit. As skin undergoes trauma, moisture is lost at the wound site, which causes stimulation of the cells to work aggressively to rebuild the damaged areas. This can often lead to painful scarring categorized as keloids or hypertrophic scarring. 

Powder brows are great for those who normally fill in their brows. The pigment is deposited deep into the skin through the machine, so those with oily or combination skin won’t have to worry about it fading quickly. This technique is a great way to make your brows look fuller yet soft. Powder brows require only one touch-up after the initial procedure, then one revisit each year for four years. 

Combined brows, a hybrid of microblading and powder brows, is another option if you find yourself falling between the two categories.

How to Prep for Your Powder Brows
1. No caffeine or stimulants

You should not drink or take any caffeine or stimulants that thin your blood at least four days prior to your appointment. If you cannot go a week without a cup of coffee or tea to get you through the day, this procedure may not be for you. The process will involve slight bleeding, and anything that thins the blood should be avoided to prevent excessive bleeding. This also includes alcohol, aspirin, dietary supplements, milk tea, etc. Your brow artist will be able to tell if you have any of these items in your system, and will stop the process immediately to send you home. Excessive bleeding during the procedure causes scarring and presents risks during the healing process.

2. Be prepared to be bushy
No, not from the powder brows. A brow artist will prefer to see your eyebrows grown out so they can see your natural brow shape. You will usually be instructed not to wax or thread your brows at least a week before your appointment. It is essential for your brow artist to see how your brows naturally sit on your face without any grooming. 

3. Skip those skincare products
I didn’t know this before my procedure, but I wish I did. It is recommended that you avoid skincare products that have niacinamide, AHAs/BHAs, or retinol listed in the ingredients at least two weeks before your appointment. That’s because these chemicals tend to make skin difficult to tattoo. In the middle of my powder brow procedure, my brow artist specifically asked if I used retinol because some areas of my brows were struggling to take in pigment. She said my retinol routine was working too effectively and that all the collagen in my skin was working against the powder brow process.

One day after the procedure (brow artist: @scarlett.artistry)

Before You Get Powder Brows
Your brow artist will first start you off with a consultation to discuss what brow shape you are hoping for. Bring pictures of brows you like and may want. Please remember that every face and skeletal structure is different, so what works for one person may not work for you. Your brow artist is there to guide you to the best brow shape for you. 

Once your brow artist has an idea of what you want, they will begin brow mapping on your brows. This involves sketching on your skin with a stencil and a washable colored pencil. Brow mapping is crucial for brow artists to create the best brows customized for a client’s facial structure. If you notice a brow artist skip this step, you may want to reconsider having them do your eyebrows.

Your brow artist will allow you to look at the sketch and give the green light. If you dislike something, they will adjust the shape to your preferences. No brow artist wants a client to leave with brows the client does not approve of. Once you’re happy with the mapping, your brow artist will begin the procedure. 

Getting Powder Brows Done
Your brow artist will first begin with outlining and scratching the surface of your brows with the machine without any numbing cream. This sensation has been described as a light scratching, or 2 out of 10 on the pain scale, and is incredibly bearable. This is done so that when the topical numbing cream is applied, it can seep into the skin better. The numbing cream takes about 6-10 minutes to settle in. Once completely numbed, your brow artist will begin.

If at any point in the procedure you begin to feel pain, let your brow artist know and they will stop to reapply the numbing cream.  

Each brow artist has their own technique on filling in brows. During my experience, my brow artist started on one eyebrow first and allowed me to check in twice: at the halfway point and at the finish. She wanted to ensure I felt safe and comfortable, and to see if the progress was to my liking. When I approved the finishing, she was able to begin tattooing my other eyebrow with more ease as she had a better grasp of the technique that worked for my brows.

After the last brow, I took a look and gave my final approval, and she was able to make her final adjustments and fillings to guarantee the best results.

My procedure took around four hours and I left happy. I was provided a clear set of instructions on how to care for my newly filled brows.

One month after the procedure (brow artist: @scarlett.artistry)

Caring for Your Powder Brows
I was instructed to treat my brows like I would a fresh wound. For the first three days, three times a day, I would clean my eyebrows with castile soap and wash them gently using a Q-tip, careful not to submerge them in water. With a new Q-tip, I would then apply a gel my brow artist provided to keep my skin moisturized and protected. I was warned multiple times not to submerge my brows in water or else my skin would reject the ink. When showering, I would place Saran wrap over my brow area to protect it from water contact. I had to avoid using any products on my forehead/brow area when doing my regular skin care routine.

During the first week, the swelling came down and the tattoo began to shed to reveal the pigment. I was careful not to scratch or peel my brows, as everything had to fall off naturally in order to heal properly. The difference between day one and day seven was quite noticeable. 

Of course, my skin is not perfect, and the pigment did not deposit properly in all areas. During the time in between touch-ups, I avoided my usual niacinamide/retinol serum, as it kept my skin from absorbing the pigment due to the amount of collagen it produced in my brow area. Giving up my skincare is hard, but if it means I no longer have to fill in my brows, I consider this a fair trade.

Cover photo credit: Freestocks//Unsplash

Author

  • April Lim is a Chinese Cambodian American writer from Houston, TX. She has received fellowships from Tin House, The Watering Hole, and Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Blueshift Journal, the Mekong Review, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and elsewhere. She is currently an Emerging Writers Fellow for both Writers in the Schools and Writespace in Houston.