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Feminspire | April 23, 2014

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Makeup Basics Part 1: Natural But Polished Brows

Makeup Basics Part 1: Natural But Polished Brows

| On 05, Aug 2013

Forget everything you’ve ever heard about makeup basics.

OK, maybe not everything. Perhaps an introduction is in order. My name is Jennifer Tanko, and I’m a professional makeup artist. I worked for MAC Cosmetics from 2009-2011 in Towson, Maryland, and have been running my own makeup service business since 2011. I’m currently working on my Master’s degree in elementary education while paying for my outdoors-chick-meets-glam-diva lifestyle with the dough I make preparing bridal parties for their big day.

So for my first column in what I hope will be a long, happy journey with Feminspire, I wanted to drill two things into all potential makeup mavens’ heads: SKIN. BROWS. That’s it!

Too often, just-the-basics posts become a template for a work-appropriate looks that are still rather complicated and require more tools than the makeup novice feels like purchasing after reading your typical blogger-style “Back to Basics” posts. No, no.

This post (and part 2) goes out to my typical clientele:The girl who really does NOT bother with makeup 360 days out of the year, but wants to take the first steps into the world of artificial beauty. Too often are those first steps toward black smoky eyes, dramatic red lips and voluptuous false lashes.

However, it doesn’t matter how on-point the rest of your makeup is—if your skin and brows are sloppy, your look will come off as sloppy. I could emphasize this until the end of time and I still wouldn’t be exaggerating.

This week I’m starting with brows, and next week I’ll move on to skin.

If you are fortunate enough to have nicely shaped brows that just need some occasional threading or tweezing, feel free to skip this. For the rest of us, however, I can assure you that I have become a brow authority. I’ve been to every dark brow place there is.

I was born with horrendous brows. Exhibit A:


I struggled with it for year., I’d even resort to hair gel and even eyelash glue to attempt to flatten them down. They’re Star Trek brows—unruly, they resemble the Klingons, but tamed, they’re more Spock-like.

When I started getting into makeup, it only got worse.

They got too thin:


And then when I started filling them in (OK, drawing them on) it was scary for a while:


When I started pulling my brow act together thanks to some extremely merciful coworkers at MAC (big love to Desi and Kelli), I went the other way, giving myself big, beautiful, high-maintenance brows daily.

However, now I’m more relaxed and just want them to look as natural as possible. Usually when I tell someone that the majority of my brow comes from a pencil, they’re shocked. This is the style that I would absolutely recommend to the novice, and it took me years to find it.


So what to do? Find a great threader in your area (always thread over wax, it’s more precise, doesn’t rip off skin and you can’t be allergic to it). At least once, have them shape your brows so that you can see which areas should be targeted for hair removal in the future. Immediately after getting your new brows, buy a high-end set of tweezers (I like Tweezerman).

Now that your brows are shaped, you’ll be able to pluck those pesky little hairs while they’re still tiny and maintain your perfected brows for months. DON’T get on a regular schedule for shaping— with your fancy new tweezers, you don’t need to make biweekly appointments with your brow girl. Rather, save professional jobs for pre-vacation/pre-birthday type events.

Now, what if you’re like me, and even when your brows are shaped they’re still kind of a mess and don’t frame your face at all? There are two more things you need to get: First, a fantastic brow pencil. I recommend the brow pencils from MAC—the classic ones that come in Spiked, Lingering, Fling, and so forth. They’re super thin and give gorgeous hair-like strokes and make filling in your brows easy-peasy. I usually buy these at least two at a time because I really can’t handle my life without them.

Anastasia Beverly Hills makes a similar product, and the second I find a drug store equivalent, I’ll let you know. I’ve never found a cheap brow pencil that is of acceptable quality, unfortunately, so for now I’m considering that a splurge item.

Finally, if you’re the opposite of me and find yourself with brows that have a mind of their own, brow gel is your new best friend. It smoothes them out, keeps hair in plac,e and even trains them to lay the way you want them to over time. Maybelline makes a great clear one, but pretty much any brow gel will do. Heck, if you’re in a pinch, spray hair spray on a spoolie brush and you’re good to go.

You can get brow gel in clear or tinted shades and can pair it with pencil or shadow to make a serious brow statement.

In my next column, I’ll be giving you a breakdown of how, exactly, to do foundation easily and quickly. No muss, no fuss.

Written by Jennifer Tanko
Follow her on Instagram, or ‘Like” her “Makeup by Jennifer Tanko”

  • Mothr Nght

    HELP! I have the complete opposite problem – I have NO eyebrows. I didn’t even ever pluck them ridiculously thin, they were just never really there. I also have no money so I normally just stick to plucking obvious hairs that shouldn’t be there but I have NO idea what shape I should have them in?

    What are your thoughts on eyebrow stencils? I figured I could print off some stencils, trace around them with a pencil, then pluck/fill in whatever is left. How do you know what shapes would compliment your face shape? I KINDA have a natural shape but it’s barely there and just generally a mess. I went to get them waxed a few months ago and the girl made them WAY too thin and basically waxed off the kinda-arch I have on top leaving them almost completely straight on my face – TRAUMATIZING! So I’m looking to take matters into my own hands.

    • Heather Hancock

      I was told that if you use stencils, it’s best to color your eyebrows in with a really bright or bold color, so you can be sure you like how the shape looks on your face and easily remove just what you decided to if you need to do a bit of edge work. :)

    • Jennifer Tanko

      If they’re thin, I personally wouldn’t get them waxed as you don’t need to! It’s hard to give you useful advice without seeing your brows, but I’d say go to a makeup counter and ask to have your brows filled in (it’s complimentary at every counter I can think of). Go during a ‘slow’ time so the makeup artist can really work with you and show you the shape you should be going for. If you don’t like them, try another counter or go another day, you might have to see a few different methods before finding one that works for you. It took me years to figure my brows out and I still have tricks to learn.

      Once someone shows you a brow routine that is doable and comfortable for you, take pictures from different angles so that you can replicate the look. If the price point on the products they use at the counter is too high, just note what *kinds* of products they are (a thin, brown pencil? a light brown matte shadow?). Then you’ll be able to find similar items at the drug store.

  • Vivid Sammy

    After reading your article all I can think of now are those amazing Spock brows!

  • Miranda Johnson

    This article actually brought tears to my eyes because I have the spock eyebrows too (my brothers called them devil eyebrows), and although after years I think I’ve finally gotten them to look mostly normal, it was beautiful to see useful advice from someone who experiences the same thing as me. Really this made my day, thank you for writing this, it really means a lot to me to know I’m not alone in this.