Eyebrow trends are a fickle beast. Their fashion seems to swing, pendulum like, between thin – think 90s “Friends” – and Cara Delevingne/Brooke Shields luxuriance. This makes for a few tricky in-between moments: no sooner have you plucked them into submission than bushy brows are back.
To complicate matters further, each generation seems compelled to ignore the advice of their elders to leave their brows alone and embrace their natural shape.
According to Jamie Long, Lead Brow Stylist for HD Brows, the current trend is for “brushed up, textured brows”, a style which he reassures us is easy to achieve at home. “Start by filling in any sparse areas of your brow using your eyebrow pencil.” He suggests. “Then take a brow gel and brush up the product through your brows in upward strokes to get that fluffy, brushed up position.”
While there are a plethora of brow products on the market, here we concentrate on brow pencils. Vanita Parti MBE, CEO and founder of Blink Brow Bar (BBBLondon) explains: “If you prefer something quick and easy, a pencil is your best option. They’re versatile so, if you have fine or sparse brows, try one with a super fine applicator. If your brows are on the fuller side, try thicker pencils with a slanted end.”
To put these pencils to the test, we wore them over a period of three weeks – at work, on zoom socials, in exercise classes and on walks in all weathers.
We were looking for products across a variety of price points, and from high street to high end. In particular, we were looking out for pencils that had high pigment levels, gave good definition, stayed put for at least five hours and were easy to use.
The best eyebrow pencils for 2021 are:
Best overall – Chantecaille waterproof brow definer: £34, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Best rich pigment – Hourglass arch brow sculpting pencil: £33, Johnlewis.com
Best for luxury – Christian Louboutin beauty eye brow definer: £35, Net-a-porter.com
Best for precision – NARS brow perfector: £19, Johnlewis.com
Best for full brows – Nudestix eyebrow stylus pencil and gel: £20, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Best for oily skin – Anastasia Beverly Hills brow wiz: £23, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Best for anti-ageing – IT Cosmetics brow power universal brow pencil: £21, Boots.com
Best value for money – Nyx eyebrow powder pencil: £5.50, Boots.com
Best for blending – BBB London ultimate arch definer: £22, Bbb-london.com
Best for defined finish – HD Brows pro eyebrow pencil: £18, Hdbrows.com
Best for sparse brows – Benefit Cosmetics precisely my brow eyebrow pencil: £20.25, Feelunique.com
Chantecaille waterproof brow definer
Our tester described this as a “game changer”. A pencil, wax and powder hybrid in a sleek bronze case, it holds a spoolie at one end and a nib at the other. We found the nib shaped in such a way that could easily follow the brow, making achieving a great shape effortless. The spoolie is larger and firmer than you usually get, and so does a good job of brushing out the brows. Overall, we felt this pencil delivers stella coverage, even staying put on the bit of skin at the end of the brow where our natural hair peters out.
Buy now £34.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Hourglass arch brow sculpting pencil
Best: Rich pigment
The classy, brown-gold packaging houses a double-ended pencil and a firm, bushy spoolie to tame brows into place. The twist-up pencil is available in nine shades. It has a triangular tip designed with a flat edge for thicker, defining strokes and a thin point for filling in individual hairs.
Initially it gave good definition with a decent amount of pigment, but after a few uses the tip flattened, making it harder to nail the same detail. However, we loved the rich pigment for the great colour it gives and the ease with which you can build intensity.
Buy now £33.00, Johnlewis.com
Christian Louboutin beauty eye brow definer
Best: For luxury
Resembling a vintage cigarette holder, this weighted pencil with embossed gold ends is a beauty. It would look fabulous out on display on your dressing table, even if its elegant length makes it rather unwieldy for a make-up bag. It comes with a spoolie on one end and a sharpener in the box. Being weighted helps to steady it in your hand for precision application. We liked the smooth, malleable formula which was great for general shaping and shading.
Buy now £35.00, Net-a-porter.com
NARS brow perfector
Best: For precision
This super-fine nib is housed in a super-skinny pencil which makes it easy to manoeuvre, even if you’re dexterously challenged. It is available in a good range of eight warm and cool shades. We found that, compared to a lot of other pencils, the colour transfers easily in one stroke, so you are not left having to go over and over the same area. Thanks to its fineness we loved how easy it made shaping and defining the brows with a good colour pay-off.
Buy now £19.00, Johnlewis.com
Nudestix eyebrow stylus pencil and gel
Best: For full brows
We love this one for its multi-purpose efficiency: a pencil on one end and gel on the other. It is chunkier than most but that makes it quick and easy to draw in the brow shape. This chunkiness is best suited to those with naturally full brows. It delivers good colour and coverage without having to press too hard. You can then fill in individual hairs using the thin point or edge of the pencil. The pencil comes in a reusable tin with a mirror in the lid and also includes easy to follow instructions.
Buy now £20.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Anastasia Beverly Hills brow wiz
Best: For oily skin
With an impressive range of twelve high pigment shades, brow wiz is designed to draw in brows that mimic a natural look rather than colouring brows in a “block.” We found it particularly good on oily skin as it uses waxes chosen for their ability to stay put all day. We rated it for its precision – it enabled us to tailor our brows exactly how we wanted them – its longevity and the way it gives a natural look rather than the harsh effect some brow products produce.
Buy now £23.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk
IT Cosmetics brow power universal brow pencil
Best: For anti-ageing
In four adaptable “universal” shades, you can colour match your brows by changing the pressure you put on the pencil. We were intrigued at the claims that this pencil is anti-ageing: the formula includes biotin – a B vitamin which contributes to healthy hair – saw palmetto, which helps guard against hair loss, and antioxidants.
We found this pencil really easy to use as it delivered satisfying coverage in no time. Brows usually do tend to become more sparse as we age, so we love the concept of an anti-ageing, brow boosting pencil. Although after only a couple of weeks we haven’t tested it for long enough yet to gauge long term results.
Buy now £21.00, Boots.com
Nyx eyebrow powder pencil
Best: Value for money
This is a no-nonsense pencil in the old-fashioned sense. In other words, it looks like a colouring pencil and needs to be sharpened accordingly. Many people prefer sharpening pencils as opposed to twist up mechanicals as they can be easier to control: you get the point exactly how you want it.
We loved this for its powdery finish, which gives a matte look. Also impressive is the nine shade range, much more than many other brands. This pencil is also great for everyday wear as the colour is not too dense, which gives it a flattering, soft finish.
Buy now £5.50, Boots.com
BBB London ultimate arch definer
Best: For blending
Blink Brow Bar is a powerhouse brow brand, growing from a single threading chair in Fenwick department store, Bond Street. This triangular twist-up pencil rejects the usual spoolie and instead has the tiniest, softest kabuki brush to blend colour into the brows.
We loved the soft, gliding texture of the pencil which blends waxes and emollients and, cuteness aside, we really rated the way the brush blends and blurs the product onto the brows. We tested its sweat-proof claim during several workouts and emerged with brows intact.
Buy now £22.00, Bbb-london.com
HD Brows pro eyebrow pencil
Best: For defined finish
This one had us intimidated to begin with. It needs its own special sharpening tool, a razor-sharp scalpel (the Pro Shaper) which looks downright dangerous. However, once we got the hang of carving the point – following the full instructions on the informative website – it was a revelation.
The feathery, realistic looking brows we created made us feel like a pro MUA. The formulation has had a recent upgrade with increased pigmentation and a softer texture for smoother application. We were beyond impressed with this serious bit of kit.
Buy now £18.00, Hdbrows.com
Benefit Cosmetics precisely my brow eyebrow pencil
Best: For sparse brows
With its tongue-in-cheek attitude to beauty, Benefit products are grounded in the idea that make-up should be fun. This sleek pencil carries that through by being no-fuss and super-easy to use. We found that the textured grip steadied our hand, and the super-fine pencil point allows precision application which really helps to fill in sparse brows by imparting fine hair-like strokes into any gaps. The other reason we rate this one is its staying power. It kept brows looking on fleek from morning to night.
Buy now £20.25, Feelunique.com
Top tips for using eyebrow pencils
If you’re going for a neat, symmetrical look, take a pencil and line it horizontally with the edge of your nostril – where it passes your brow is where the inner corner should end (ideally this shouldn’t be too harsh or squared off).
Then, angle the pencil so it runs from your nostril to the centre of your eye – this is where your arch should be. Be careful here, as bringing the brow too far up your face can leave you in a state of permanent surprise.
Finally, line the pencil up with the edge of your eye – this is where the tail of your brow should end. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules about the ideal brow shape, so feel free to experiment and see what works for you.
Another thing to remember – colour is always easier to add than it is to remove, so don’t press too hard during application, and work into the brow with soft strokes to mimic the individual hairs. It’s also generally recommended to go two shades lighter than natural brows, or, if you have lighter hair, a half or a whole shade darker will also work well.
The verdict: Eyebrow pencils
Although on the pricey side, we were swayed by how easy it was to create great brows with Chantecaille waterproof brow definer. We also loved Nudestix eyebrow stylus pencil and gel for combining everything you need in one product and NYX eyebrow powder pencil as an affordable, traditional eyebrow pencil for everyday use.
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For more brow-boosting products, read our review of the best pencils, gels and pomades