A $10 versus a $100 brow job: Which is actually better?

Oct 26, 2015 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Image: Lisa Fogarty/Sheknows

Eyebrows can make or break your appearance — so doesn't it make sense to spend more money and have them nurtured by an expert?

I've always thought of my brows as capable of good or pure evil. There is no in between with them — they grow like weeds and are very dark, nearly black in photos, so any time even one is out of place it looks like a spider has been squashed on my pale skin. It took everything in me to suppress my brow OCD, hide my tweezers and allow my eyebrows to grow for five weeks in between what had been a horrific brow experience and what would prove to be my favorite, by far, consultation and grooming session with Elke Von Freudenberg, one of New York City's top celebrity brow gurus.

I've been hip to the notion that brows are a critical component to your overall appearance for some time now, but a few weeks ago, I had a last-minute event to attend and didn't have time to trek out to Manhattan from Queens to visit a salon I like. So, I succumbed to a quick fix in the form of a $10 threading session by a perfectly lovely woman who makes my friend's brows look pretty awesome. Unfortunately, she tried to "even out" my eyebrows by taking far too much off both and then covering the whole thing up with black henna. The result? Sort-of shapeless caterpillars that were a little too skinny for my liking and as dark as a bad toupee. Here are the brows at page 1 of Cosmos:

Lisa Fogarty brows 1
Image: Lisa Fogarty

I decided enough was enough. It was time to figure out, once and for all, what in the hell my brows are supposed to look like because I fear something has been lost in translation over many years of visiting what always seem to be "one size fits all" eyebrow salons. Von Freudenberg has years of experience in Hollywood and NYC, has sculpted the brows of beauties like Kate Moss, Anjelica Huston, James Franco (yep, men need brow help, too) and is called in countless times to groom actresses on film sets and models shooting magazine editorials. In other words: She knows her stuff.

She's also much pricier than any of the salons I've visited in the past. I booked "The Model Brow," a 30-minute service that includes a consultation with new clients, brow shaping and tinting, if necessary. The total cost was $111. Believe me, I hesitated. My finger hovered over a key for, like, five full minutes. Then, to hell with it, I clicked. I'll just borrow from my "new rain boots" budget, I thought, which, up until that second, hadn't actually existed.

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Elke's studio is located on the 9th floor of a regular office building in Manhattan — there isn't a fancy sign, lights or crystal chandeliers lighting your path. The second I met her I felt at ease. She was personable, but professional, and we got right down to business. In my other brow experiences, technicians simply took a quick look at my brows, brushed them up and quickly got to work applying wax. With Elke, she sat me down in a chair and asked me to briefly explain what I thought was the situation with my brows. After lamenting about my impromptu threading session a few weeks back, she asked me to sit up in the chair and look straight on into the mirror. She explained that she would continue to view my brows from two angles — with me sitting up and then lying down in the chair so she could examine them with magnifying glasses.

She pointed out what I always suspected: my brows aren't perfectly symmetrical, but I'm not alone, she explained. Few people are born with matching eyebrows. The good news was that I could grow back enough hair to fake symmetry and there was a major explanation for why they looked off: Past pros had been taking far too much hair from one eyebrow. Or maybe one pro did it once and the others have been following suit ever since. Thanks a heap, mystery brow pro, whoever you are.

Next, Elke asked me to tilt my head back and she proceeded to tweeze brows I don't need, while keeping the ones that will make a big difference. She explained that I have "Snow White brows," which is a very lovely way of saying they're such a stark contrast from my skin tone that removing even one wrong brow hair can make me look like an extraterrestrial being.

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As she worked, I didn't feel a tinge of pain — a far cry from past experiences. She was quick and focused, but such a pro who caters to each individual that, during our half hour together, she taught me (and kept me entertained) with facts about the brow-growing cycle and why she felt it crucial to keep certain little hairs in place — as well as why allowing my brows to grow downward at the ends might work on some people, but would only make my face look crestfallen (not a good look).

Elke has an almost scientific explanation for every single hair she removes and preserves. When she was finished, I sat up again and was blown away — not by the drama, because she didn't give me an extreme arch that doesn't already come naturally to my brows or work on my face, but because the shape was softer and more symmetrical than anyone had ever managed to make them. She knew how to get my long hairs to lay flat without immediately taking a scissor to them the way everyone else has done in the past (not that I blame them: I have no clue what to do with them either).

Here's the result — brows at page 115 of Cosmos:

Lisa Fogarty eyebrows
Image: Lisa Fogarty

And, at a distance — dramatic, but natural:

Image: Lisa Fogarty

I was already convinced I had found my personal brow guru for life — even if it meant seeing her every three months instead of every five weeks. But this really cemented it: I asked whether she was going to tint my brows, since I'm now used to a technician applying a heavy coat of black-brown ink and leaving it on for 10 minutes. She explained that, instead of throwing dye over every hair, which can make brows and eyes look heavier, she prefers to "spot tint" in order to enhance sections of the brow that need it (kind of like the brow version of contouring and highlighting). After examining my brows and applying a little mascara as a test run, she declared we should wait for more hair to grow in because dye wouldn't help enhance them and she didn't want me to waste my money.

Need I say more? I know it's an expensive experience, but good brows really do make a difference, as does finding a professional who truly understands her craft. If I have the choice to go without some other pleasure in life, I'll gladly own fewer shoes for the sake of better brows.

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