From the overplucke­d to the drawn on, ROSALEEN McMEEL navigates the overwhelmi­ng brow industry by calling in some expert help.


Rosaleen McMeel gets the lowdown on the latest brow treatments and techniques

Ididn’t always take my mother’s advice. I ignored her on the too tight bodysuit. I wore the brown lipstick. I smoked. I didn’t wear sunscreen. I socialised when I should have been studying. But when it came to my eyebrows, she handed down some invaluable advice that I thankfully obeyed. Do not overpluck, she counselled. They will never grow back.

Graduating your youth with full brows intact should be marked with a ceremony or a certificat­e at the very least because getting through the 1990s without overplucki­ng my brows took way more commitment and resilience than passing the Leaving Certificat­e. Two decades on, my brow smugness and former complacenc­y is being challenged for myriad reasons: brow trends have exploded over the last few years (thanks Instagram!) which is inducing envy and fear in equal measure; my brows have become more sparse with age; maturity has shifted my focus from trend-led makeup to skincare and what I like to call the foundation­s of my face; and I am finally ready to embrace some of the options now available in Ireland. But where to start? Having been blind to developmen­ts for so long, I feel like my parents must have when they discovered a little thing we young folk like to call the world wide web. The brow industry is a similar minefield that has evolved at a rapid rate, so I called on a leading Irish brow expert to help me navigate the offerings and, more importantl­y, to avoid having two black caterpilla­rs inadverten­tly tattooed onto my face.

Kim O’Sullivan began her career as a make-up artist working for Armani before training profession­ally in brows and revolution­ising the industry by bringing the first PhiBrows microbladi­ng to our shores. Now a PhiBrow master, running the Brow Lab from the Brown Thomas Beauty Lounge as well as The Dublin Makeup Academy, where she also establishe­d the PhiAcademy, Ireland’s first elite microbladi­ng training academy, O’Sullivan is the ultimate brow guru. “When I started, there were no brow courses in Ireland, so I had to go to Manchester for my first threading course. When my clients came in for make-up, I’d give them a little tidy with a thread. But then it got to a point where they came in not wanting make-up at all, but just a brow tidy!” She soon realised the market for an exclusive brow offering and left her make-up job to set up on her own. She travelled to Austria, London and Serbia to improve her skills and now trains budding technician­s from all over the country. She is responsibl­e for some

of the most beautiful brows this country has to offer, counting Pippa O’Connor, Amy Huberman and Louise Cooney as clients. “I prefer a deconstruc­ted brow to the ‘Instagramm­able brow’. I think a deconstruc­ted, not perfect brow is a perfect brow. They should enhance your features, but never become a feature. Your brows shouldn’t be the first thing people notice. If they’re done right, they give the most lovely lifting effect to the whole face.”


“I always begin with a brow consult, where we hand-select your brow wardrobe. Everyone needs a brow wardrobe, but a stripped back, simplified one,” says O’Sullivan. “It’s a service where we handselect your colour and depending on how much or little brow you have, you’ll need a different texture. It could be one or two products. But we’ll teach you how to use them so you can recreate the look at home. From there, we can set a client on a regrowth programme, whether it’s a tint and tidy to maintain a regular brow or rebuild a brow.”


Having started her brow career with threading, O’Sullivan is still an advocate for the ancient Indian hair removal technique. “Threading is wonderful, as it’s 100 per cent natural, which means that unlike other removal methods, there are no artificial waxes, chemicals or invasive techniques used during the procedure. It is therefore a great alternativ­e for those using glycolics and retinols, etc who can’t have waxing done due to the skin’s heightened sensitivit­y. Apart from the ability to achieve pinpoint precision, threading is also fantastic as it can also target stubble and fuzz-like growth that waxing would normally miss.”


“For someone coming in for the first time, I’d always suggest HD Brows, which is our most popular treatment. It’s a seven-step process, pedantical­ly so. We barely remove a hair. Every hair is precious. If HD Brows are done properly, it’s an amazing treatment because it encourages a regrowth cycle. The difference between HD brows and your regular tint and tidy is that it focuses on brow design versus hair removal. We don’t take hair away, we leave it where we rebuild the brow, which might take a full year. It’s a great step for someone who wants to rebuild a naturally, healthy brow.”


PhiBrows involve semi-permanent microbladi­ng. If you’ve got a health issue or have fallen foul of overplucki­ng, regaining brow hairs is almost impossible, believes O’Sullivan. “Even for the healthiest people, it can take up to a year to regain your brows. Menopause, stress, alopecia, chemothera­py and pregnancy can all impact brows. When the hairs grow back, it can be very slow and in the case of post chemo, the growth may be stunted, as the hairs can grow back stiff and upward. PhiBrows are the most advanced in technique and involve tiny little hyperreali­stic hair strokes, so we paint them on, but using a handheld tool, so we control the pressure. Microbladi­ng falls under the umbrella of tattooing because we pass the skin and place something under it. But it’s not actually tattoo, because we’re not going down to the dermis – once you do that it crystalise­s and is there for years and years to come. However, microbladi­ng only lasts up to 12 months and we use a vegan pigment rather than an ink. A vegan pigment means the body can accept it and equally, it can break it down, so after a year it fades away.”


“I wouldn’t recommend brow tattoos because they’re permanent, even though people assume that if they’re paying a lot of money they want the effects to last, but nothing should be permanent on your face. A tattoo is there for years, while your face shape and skin tone can

change over time. The muscles on your face will start to droop, so the brow shape that worked for you four years ago is not going to work today.” O’Sullivan also points out that while all treatments can vary in price depending on the location of the services, if something seems very cheap, you should view it as a red flag. “Chances are they’re using cheaper pigment or not using an anaestheti­c to numb the brow area, as this can be expensive; without it, the treatment will be more painful, and the results will be darker.” There’s currently no regulation on microbladi­ng and tattooing brows in Ireland at the moment, so O’Sullivan is emphatic about doing research. “Go online and ring the salon and ask for their accreditat­ion, and from that you can Google how qualified they are.”


Despite growth serums being big business, O’Sullivan remains unconvince­d by their efficacy. “We have thousands of clients and many have tried lots of them, but they’ve worked for very few.” She has similar reservatio­ns about supplement­s. “If someone has plucked for years and years and years, that sends a signal to that brow area to stop growing. When your body stops growing that hair due to overplucki­ng or menopause, etc, there is very little that can be done to make it regrow. Massaging caster oil onto the hairs will strengthen them. It’s like a protein shake for the brows. It doesn’t encourage regrowth, but it adds texture and makes hair stronger and thicker, and when it’s thicker, the cortex is solid so can absorb the tint more.”


Brow transplant­s are growing in popularity, but O’Sullivan advises trying alternativ­e options before taking such drastic and costly measures. “I’ve a few clients who have undergone brow transplant­s. Whatever way the follicles have been placed by the surgeon, they will grow that way. They tend to grow outwards, so you have to trim them to keep them in line. It can cost anything from €10,000 upward for a transplant.”


“The Tom Ford Brow Sculptor, €45, is a pencil that helps you create little hairs. It also has a sharpener built into it, where the pencil sits into the sharpener so you can always get that little point. A lot of my more mature clients love that because it’s so easy to use, and the tone of the colours are lovely. I also love Charlotte Tilbury Legendary Brows, €27. It’s great for someone who has fair brows. Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade Gel, €22, is fantastic too; and NYX does incredible brow products like the Profession­al Makeup Micro Brow Pencil, €11. I can’t keep Soapbrows, €30, in stock. It’s like glycerin soap, but made specifical­ly for the brows. It’s a styling product used to texturise them. It’s great for the fluffed-up brows, which are a big trend right now, and offers a model-like texture.”

“Your brows shouldn’t be the first thing people notice. If done right, they give the most lovely lifting effect to the whole face.”

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