This week, we’re looking at what happens when beauty trends shift to emphasize different features–and how this affects product sales and brand strategies.
Once described as on point or on fleek, prominent eyebrows were a star facial feature of the mid and late 2010s. Now, they’re in retreat as bold eye makeup makes its way into the spotlight.
According to recent data from trend forecaster Spate, year-over-year online searches for eyebrow-related products are currently completely flat at 0.0% change this year, while searches for eye makeup trends are on their way up. This is a marked difference from the brow-heavy (and heavy-brow) era of the 2010s when celebrities like Cara Delevigne and Kim Kardashian had beauty shoppers flocking to scoop up cult brow products from brands like Glossier and Anastasia Beverly Hills. Now, consumers are opting for a thinner, more groomed look to make way for eye makeup.
“You are seeing people becoming more tailored and thin in the brow department,” said Jared Bailey, global brow expert at Benefit Cosmetics. Although TikTokers have been predicting that the ultra-thin brows of Rihanna and Bella Hadid are ushering in a return to the early-aughts skinny brow era, he said his customers are opting for less extreme looks. “It’s not the same thin brows you see today,” Bailey said.
“It’s definitely tighter,” said Joey Healy, founder of New York-based Joey Healy Eyebrow Studio, of what his customers are requesting. “But I would never go so far as to say it’s a skinny brow.” He discourages people from attempting to copy the ultra-skinny celebrity look. “Bella Hadid is a supermodel and she has unworldly bone structure. Most people don’t look like Bella Hadid,” he said.
These thinner brows may be making space for the explosion of eye makeup trends on social media. Although brow product searches are flat, Spate data shows that eyeliner searches are up 18% year-over-year as creative eye looks have taken over Instagram and TikTok.
“Consumers are showing interest in eyeliner again; that’s been taking off. And they’re getting creative with eyeliner. But before that, it was all about brows,” said Yarden Horwitz, co-founder of Spate.
This is a marked shift from the thick brow era. The brow “became this defined, prominent feature on the face, and people started gravitating toward that” in 2015 and 2016, Bailey said. He noted the prominence of two simultaneous bold brow trends during that era: the Kardashian-led Instagram baddie-style defined brow, as well as the Delevigne-induced “boy brow” craze.
And with the craze came product sales. “Products that were on the market pre-2016 were stock standard,” including pencils in a limited range of shades, said Bailey. “At the time, 10 shades in a brow range didn’t exist,” he said. During the mid 2010s, Benefit dramatically expanded its range of brow products to 45, counting its nine products and different shades of each.
Healey also saw the shift with his Joey Healy Eyebrow Collection. “During that craze for the Cara Delevigne brow, we couldn’t keep [our eyebrow serum] in stock, because people were just wanting as much as possible,” he said. The same went for a pomade in the line that could be used to create the “2015 Instagram brow.” Nowadays, the pomade’s seen a downshift in sales as trends have changed, although the serum is still popular.
Brands that bet on one specific eyebrow aesthetic are also seeing a shift.
Launched in October 2015, Glossier’s Boy Brow emerged as a main cult hero product that people flocked to for achieving Cara Delevigne brows with minimal eye makeup. It helped to create a “boyfriend jean eyebrow,” said Healy.
According to Spate data, Boy Brow is still Glossier’s most-searched product, but searches have declined by 33% year-over-year. Glossier does not release sales data. Overall searches for Glossier products are down 25% year-over-year, but interest in its perfume is still growing.
But people certainly aren’t abandoning their brows altogether. Thick brows are still generating interest. According to Spate, lamination — a perm-like chemical treatment to lift eyebrows — is a top brow trend, seeing a 41% increase in searches since last year.
Benefit Cosmetics, for example, is rolling out brow lamination at its brow bars. It’s currently offering the service in pilot markets of Chicago, Canada and Sydney. It has plans to launch it globally by the end of the year. And according to Bailey, Benefit is still seeing strong growth in brow products. For example, its My Brow Pencil saw double-digit year-over-year growth, while its 24-hour brow setter saw triple-digit growth.
In the current era of eyebrows, many trends are happening simultaneously.
“What’s interesting now is there are way more trends, and it’s definitely because of things like TikTok,” said Healy. “Just like with fashion, the trend cycle is now faster and crazier. It’s not like everyone read the September issue of Vogue and now they have their marching orders.”
Spate data, for example, shows “fluffy brows” is experiencing a 20% growth in searches since last year, while “thin eyebrows” is experiencing 12% growth since last year, with higher search volume than “fluffy.”
Fun eye looks are also making their way to brows. Healy recently did a TikTok Live featuring a tutorial on the TikTok-led, “Euphoria”-esque “disco brow” trend of bedazzled eyebrows. “People are coming out onto the social scene. They’re enjoying life in a way that’s bigger and bolder than before. It’s a party brow,” he said.
Bailey distinguished between long-term and “little flash trends” such as the dragon brows, spiky brows and squiggle brows that had their moments on social media in recent years. During product development, he said, “We try to identify ones that are going to transcend that trend moment to become something bigger and more of an actual brow phenomenon.”
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