- The ombré eyebrows, a new technique which uses almost-permanent ink to achieve a subtler look, is growing unbelievably.
- The eyebrows industry has grown and evolved over the years, from tweezing, waxing or using gel strips to pluck the hair in the desired direction
How much would you spend on eyebrows? To many Kenyan women, the cost is no longer a big issue.
Eyebrows have become an obsession of late, tattooed or microbladed, making a statement far beyond the old-fashioned tweezing or drawing bold dark lines daily.
But it is the popularity of the ombré eyebrows, a new technique which uses almost-permanent ink to achieve a subtler look, that is growing unbelievably.
“I work in sales, a job where looks matter. You can imagine the stress of hoping my eyebrows haven’t been wiped off as I go about my day,” says Shalom Njeri, who has invested in hybrid brows that cost her Sh35,000.
Before she did her brows, her routine was rather cumbersome. She could spend five to 10 minutes in front of a mirror drawing her eyebrows using a pencil. The goal was to get a flawless arch and fill for her brows, which she says carry the weight of one’s face. And during the day, Ms Njeri had to keep touching up the eyebrows to ensure that they looked perfect throughout.
But for the past five months, the 23-year-old’s makeup routine has shortened, thanks to the permanent cosmetic eyebrow tattooing.
“I’m no longer worried about rubbed off eyebrows and my confidence has soared,” she says.
“This is a worthwhile investment.”
Cosmetic eyebrow tattooing, a procedure where beauticians etch short strokes of ink into the skin underneath the eyebrows to make them appear naturally fuller and shapelier, is now a big business in Kenya.
The work diary of some of the eyebrow entrepreneurs is so coveted that they have bookings running into many months.
Peninah Wanjiru, a make-up artist in Nairobi’s South B, is one of few whose eyebrow artistry is enviable. Long before the ombré eyebrows became a craze, the 26-year-old had been revamping people’s eyebrows from the comfort of their homes before deciding to make a career out of it in 2018.
She makes almost natural-looking, perfectly arched eyebrows, a skill that has garnered her a following of more than 39,000 people on Instagram.
“I was in a university that was in a hot area. As a result, the sweat would smother my pencilled eyebrows,” Ms Wanjiru recalls.
While seeking a permanent solution devoid of permanent tattooing, she came across an Asian technique where people coloured eyebrows using colours extracted from plants.
“I tried and it worked,” she says.
Soon, people began to notice her unchanging eyebrows. By 2014, microblading had grown in prominence.
“I shipped in a microblading equipment, did my own eyebrows, my friends’ eyebrows, and then their parents. Before long, I had a steady stream of clients.”
Instead of developing plans and mapping designs for land use as her urban planning degree stipulates, Ms Wanjiru now plans and maps out people’s eyebrows through micropigmentation techniques, a venture she started with her savings and a loan from her parents.
She has served more than 2,000 clients since she started. Some make bookings from as far as the US and most of her new customers are through referrals, she says.
The eyebrows industry has grown and evolved over the years, from tweezing, waxing or using gel strips to pluck the hair in the desired direction.
Cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa are teeming with opportunities for beauty entrepreneurs willing to bring into Kenya the latest technologies and products.
The biggest growth has been the non-clinical procedures. In the era of face masks especially, where women have gone slow on lipstick and foundations, the eyebrows and eyes have become even more important in the perception of attractiveness and sex appeal.
The most common cosmetic eyebrow tattooing techniques are microblading, microshading and ombré.
Microblading is creating hair-like structures that mimic an individual’s brow hair. This is done using a handheld tool and is best for dry skin. Microshading is the gradient filling of eyebrows in thin areas. It has a softer finish, uses a machine and is good for all skin types.
“For ombré eyebrows, thousands of tiny dots of pigment ink are inserted into the skin creating a fading look that gets darker towards the edge. This works for those with oily skin, while hybrid or combo brows are a mix of two techniques and is ideal for combination skin types,” the self-taught Ms Wanjiru adds.
The Maseno University graduate adds that the eyebrows can last between 18 months and five years. Her prices range between Sh35,000 to Sh42,000.
These procedures, she says are different from tattooing. After years of skin regeneration and exposure to sunlight, sweat, water, and skin products, the colour applied on the external layer of the skin in the eyebrows, eyelashes, eyelids and lips, fades. But for tattoos, the ink on the dermis is permanent, and it changes colour with time instead of fading out.
The artist says these eyebrows have been attractive to women who want to simplify their make-up routine, those with different types of skin pigmentations for example vitiligo, with thinning or diminishing eyebrows and those born with little to no eyebrow hair.
Sarah Keter, another make-up artist was also seeking a solution for her eyebrows which she turned into a career. She started on her own before settling at The Source Medi Spa located in Nairobi’s 14 Riverside.
Three years later, she has browed up more than 500 people, mostly aged between 20 and 50.
“Most turn to micropigmentation as a result of over-plucking of the eyebrows or because they’re tired of drawing,” Ms Keter says.
One of her clients is Esther Wambui. Three weeks ago, she got her eyebrows done.
“I wanted to hasten my makeup routine,” she says.
Her new eyebrows will last three years.
Christine Karanja got into the industry as a way of expanding her beauty business, Primp and Coddle, in 2019. At the time, microblading services were few and she recognised a gap. According to her, the Internet had enabled women to learn how to apply makeup effectively but for many, mastering the art of having the perfect eyebrow is like trying to grasp oil in your hand.
“Clients often expressed frustration at failing to achieve impeccable eyebrows. For them, it was a pain point,” the makeup artist says.
How it’s done
The eyebrows procedure begins with a consultation, just like seeing an architect. The make-up artist sets her blades, needles, pigments, measuring tools, anaesthesia, and lights imported from the US or South Africa.
Then she sketches and maps the eye-area in different shapes. Once the client is satisfied and chooses one, the make-up artist then begins the two-to-three-hour procedure.
“All eyebrows are customised based on an individual’s desired look, skin type and colour, bone structure and lifestyle,” says Ms Keter, who trained at Brow Boutique in South Africa, paying between Sh150,000 and Sh300,000 for each of the five courses she has attended.
Her artwork will set you back between Sh20,000 and Sh30,000, depending on the technique.
Healing takes 14 days. Aftercare is vital as it breaks or makes the perfect eyebrow.
After four to six weeks, a touch-up is done to correct any anomalies by making some modifications, by adding pigments or strokes.
“This has turned out to be the perfect solution for my client’s makeup woes and my beauty spa,” Ms Karanja who trained locally, at Brow254 and in South Africa’s Brow Boutique says.
Her training tuition cost Sh80,000 and she imports products, tools, and pigments which are organic from the US.
In a day, she sees two to three clients. From the beauty spa located in Nairobi’s Westlands, she does microblading for Sh10,000 and combo brows for Sh20,000, which last for 18 months.
She also does microshading at Sh15,000 which lasts two to three years with proper aftercare.
Social media has played a pivotal role in these businesses. Most of the eyebrow businesses have grown off the strength of the visual posts put on Instagram.
Although a prosperous industry to be in, the eyebrow business has its share of hurdles like fast-changing beauty trends and copycats. These young entrepreneurs have been forced to keep up with the trends by continuously learning, and adding newer cosmetic procedures. They are now tinting the lips to provide more definition.
Investing in a crimson lip
Tattooing the lips with neutral colours for those with dark lips costs Sh35,000. They have also introduced other cosmetic procedures like putting semi-permanent eyeliner and colouring the scalp to create the illusion of shaved hair.
“But copycats are our downside. Some artists steal our work from social media and post it to get clients. It’s hard to stop that,” says Ms Wanjiru.
“To avoid botched works, look at a customer’s brow after they have fully healed, check the make-up artist’s training, social media pages, years of experience, reviews, talk to previous clients and visit their studio to ensure it is hygienic,” adds Ms Keter.
For Ms Karanja, pricing is a challenge. “Clients question prices, not taking into account the cost of training, experience, the quality of the work, products and equipment which we source internationally.”
“Many self-trained artists undercutting us don’t realise there is more they ought to learn from certified trainers, such as hygiene, safety and medical contraindications,” she adds.