Hard pluck stories

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I never really thought about eyebrows until my eldest child had to have part of his removed to play young Spock in the last Star Trek movie (2009). Any thrill he might have had over nabbing that stellar role was immediately negated by the horror of having to walk into school with an almost naked forehead – and justly so.

Having come of age in the same era as bushy-browed Brooke Shields, I never once tweezed my eyebrows until I was well into my thirties and, even then, it was nothing dramatic. As I enter middle age, however, I find that most of the areas that once needed regular grooming – legs, underarms, eyebrows – require less attention then they used to. In fact, like many middle-aged women, I have brows that are slowly thinning. And, like my son, I have come to realise this is not a good thing.

Enter the new brow serum. The one I tried, M2 Brows Eyebrow Renewing Serum (£123), promised “expressive, denser and darker eyebrows in just four to six weeks”. Hah! I thought. If they’ve discovered the elixir for hair regrowth, why isn’t every bald man using it on his scalp? Still, I gave it a try. Every morning, I applied the serum with a brush. It was a bit sticky, with the barest of pleasant scents. Did I notice a difference?

I’d be a liar if I said I did but, truth is, I can’t be sure because after four weeks, I was invited, by M2’s competitor, NeuveauBrow (serum, $100, US-only), to attend an event at Saks with “celebrity brow expert” Heidi Evora-Santiago, who plucked and shaped my brows in such a way that they hardly resembled their former selves.

I was intrigued by the idea of meeting a celebrity brow expert, but when I asked Evora-Santiago to name a few of the fancy brows she’d done, she responded, “None”. (I loved her immediately for this honesty.) It turns out that Evora-Santiago’s expertise with the gossip-worthy, such as Eva Longoria and Katherine Heigl, lies in overall make-up artistry, not just brows.

“So, what do you think?” I asked Evora-Santiago, wiggling my eyebrows.

“They need work,” she said. “Definitely.” Evora-Santiago turned on the tiny LED lights at the edge of her glasses and went to town, plucking brow after brow. “Usually we use wax,” she said, “but today we’re not allowed.” Fifteen minutes later, after finishing the job with tiny scissors, she handed me a mirror. “Wow!” I said.

Gone were my slightly unruly caterpillars, replaced by sleek commas, the skin beneath the brow so red that Evora-Santiago felt compelled to paint the area with skin-coloured cover-up. The brows were lovely, if you’re into that style, and maybe my eyes looked a tiny bit wider as a result, but I felt naked. I wanted my eyebrows back. I remembered how, when my son returned to school after shooting Star Trek, I told him he was overreacting about the missing eyebrow thing. I felt like calling him to apologise.

Worse, two weeks later, I awoke with my right eye swollen shut. After calling my doctor when the pain became unbearable, I spent Saturday night in the emergency room of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary with an acute case of cellulitis, an infection caused by an ingrown brow hair that, according to the doctors, is both common and potentially fatal if left untreated.

I went back to Evora-Santiago to ask if this was usual for first-time pluckers like me. She said it was the first time she’d encountered it on brows, but added: “It depends on the person’s hair. Everyone gets ingrowing hairs at some point. I know it happens a lot with waxing the bikini area where the hair is a little coarser. Eyebrow hair is usually straighter.”

As for the cover-up (skin-coloured make-up), this turns out to be standard practice: “When women come in on their lunch break [if there’s inflammation], we would put something on. I apply antiseptic first. Some people are really sensitive so I use a hydrocortisone, then a light, non-comedogenic [non-pore-blocking] foundation on top.”

The only upside to this literal brow-beating was the hour-and-a-half my husband and I had to wait for the pharmacy to produce the antibiotic that we’re hoping, at the time of this writing, will make my eye less disfigured. For just down the street from the hospital lay a humble ramen noodle shop where we had one of the best meals and nicest dates of our married lives. So though I’d lost a lot – a chunk of my eyebrows, my faith in anyone claiming to be a celebrity anything, and 36 scary hours to the misery of cellulitis – in the end, I found something too.


‘Daddy is going to be an anchorman’

About a month before my wedding, I decided to have my teeth whitened. It’s not that they were in terrible shape – they looked OK – but I thought it was worth brightening them up for the occasion, writes Rich Cohen. This was done by my dentist and involved moulds, solution and a not-inconsiderable amount of discomfort. Having taken a picture of my teeth before the treatment, my dentist told me to return after my honeymoon so he could snap an “after” shot and add it to his Big Book of Improved Smiles. But when I came back a month later, after touring Italy, eating a lot of sauces and drinking espresso, port and wine, my dentist looked at my teeth through his camera and recoiled. “Your teeth are stained!” he cried. “I don’t want them in my book.”

Now, if you’re in a dentist’s waiting room on the East Side of Manhattan, you will find, if you look up Rich Cohen in his Big Book of Improved Smiles, only a “before” picture. And now you will understand why I leapt at the chance to sample some of the new dental products that promise to make your teeth as white as snow and yet are sold over-the-counter.

I started with Dentisse toothpaste ($16.99, US-only), which comes in a turquoise tube as gaudy as a lady of the night. They should have called it Dent-tease. It was all promise, no delivery. I never felt it was whitening my smile, nor protecting my teeth. After a few weeks, with my teeth the exact shade of coffee-white they’d always been, I shifted to Crest 3D White toothpaste ($4.39), which according to the label “can remove up to 80 per cent surface stains in 14 days”. Though the use of percentages strikes me as dubious in this context, I’ve trusted the Crest brand since the handle of my toothbrush was shaped like Superman.

I began using the stuff in January. It tasted like any other toothpaste but it had a side effect. An awful one. Five days in, I began to experience a metallic taste in the back of my mouth. I hated it. My wife, Jessica, who had joined me in this orgy of experimentation, complained about it too. When I quit the toothpaste, my teeth seemed the same. Not black, not white, but, like the rest of life, somewhere in between.

Then I switched to Crest 3D mouthwash ($6.99), which promises the same results as the toothpaste and assures the user it’s alcohol-free. Which is a surprise, because it burns like moonshine, and, in the end, left me feeling nauseous. So much that I quit the mouthwash as I’ve quit many other things in my life, from Dentisse to the trumpet.

Still there was one bullet in the chamber. Crest 3D Whitestrips ($39.99). The real deal. Once a day for 20 days. Two strips per mouth, upper and lower. They adhere like Sellotape, foam and meld with your teeth. But no bad taste. And no stomach problems.

I’m halfway through my treatment and even my children have noticed the effects. Daddy is going to be an anchorman. If it works like I think it will, I am going to have my wife take a picture of my choppers, which I am going to send to my dentist with a note: “Take this and stick it in your book!” Not that I hold a grudge.

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