Waking up early on a chilly morning in Munich, Germany, at the beginning of December, I blindly stumble over to my hotel room's bathroom counter like a toddler who just learned to walk. I go through the motions of my beauty routine as normal, but I pause when it comes to my brows, staring at the selection of new Sephora Collection brow products sitting before me. Do I lean into a thick, bushy brow? Do I lie to myself and say I'll go natural with only a few swipes of brow gel, before eventually saying screw it and spending a whole ass 20 minutes shaping one of them like I always do? The possibilities are endless with so many options.
I opt for the latter (duh) before running to the lobby to load onto a flock of charter buses with the rest of the Sephora team. After a few days in Munich exploring at least three Christmas markets, finishing a liter of beer at Hofbräuhaus like a champion, and drinking enough glühwein for the entire city, we take a two-hour trip to the Schwan Cosmetics factory in Heroldsberg, where a majority of Sephora Collection's brow and pencil products are made — and have been for over 15 years.
Sephora Collection kicked 2020 off with a bang, revamping their collection of brow products to infuse Big Brow Energy in both their existing products and the new innovations they've recently introduced. With access to valuable Sephora consumer statistics and reviews, Sephora Collection ensured the updates to their brow arsenal directly addressed the most frequent consumer concerns and requests. And from those updates came a wealth of products that, IMO, address every single brow preference in the history of forever. OK, maybe not every single one... but, like, most of them.
A staple in Sephora Collection's brow arsenal already, the Waterproof Retractable Brow Pencil ($12, Sephora) — with a brand-new component — allows you to precisely fill in brows using the small pencil end on one side and to soften the lines using the spoolie on the other end. Now with 10 shades, the pencil works for a wide range of hair and brow colors and is perfect if you want a full, sharp, yet natural brow look.
The Waterproof Brow Shaper Pencil ($12, Sephora), on the other hand, allows for quick, overall brow filling in just a few swift motions, thanks to the tool's triangular shape — a feature consumers themselves asked for, the brand tells Elite Daily. The Brow Shaper includes a spoolie on one end to blend out the product and comes in 10 shades.
As a single step for those who only need a little extra tint on lighter brow hairs, or as a last step to tame unruly brow hairs, Sephora Collection's Brow Volumizing Fiber Mascara ($12, Sephora) is a new option for the brand, coming in six tinted shades and one clear gel. Similar to other tinted brow gels in terms of formula, what's different about this product is its applicator. Sephora Collection National Makeup Artist Helen Phillips tells Elite Daily the brow mascara's tapered spoolie ensures globs of product don't stick to the end of the wand and won't give you a goopy brow.
The final new product in Sephora Collection's lineup, and arguably the most exciting one, IMO, is the Microblade Effect Brow Pen ($12, Sephora). Different from other brow pens that promise a microblading effect with teeny comb applicators and lose steam quickly, Sephora Collection's brow pen features a thin, tapered brush applicator that allows you to create single, light, hairlike strokes — the ultimate tool for mimicking individual brow hairs and naturally filling in sparse brows, which the brand tells Elite Daily is one of the most common consumer brow concerns.
The Microblade Effect Brow Pen only comes in two shades at the moment. The brand says this is largely because developing the pigments with this specific formula is difficult. (The colors can get murky pretty quickly.) However, Phillips says, because she typically only uses this product to fill in small, sparse areas, a good amount of people will be able to use the provided shades.
That early morning in Munich, I use the Retractable Brow Pencil, wielding it carefully to reveal a pretty damn good set of precise, thick brows, if I do say so myself. I immediately think, "Oh, wow, I'm gonna need, like, five more of these," and lucky for me, I'll soon receive another one fresh off the line not long after we get to Schwan.
Stepping off the charter bus, I realize we've been transported to a much more open, quaint part of Germany, and I'm hard-pressed not to ditch our tour entirely to run off into the hills of the German countryside. Schwan's facilities are a stark contrast from the picturesque backdrop, with a neon orange staircase here and stunning cosmetics graphics there. It looks like the cool place you'd want your makeup to come out of.
For a factory that looks like it's from the future, I'm surprised to learn that Schwan began as a pencil (yes, the writing utensil) company in the 1800s. It wasn't until 1927 that Schwan introduced the Schwan Eyebrow Pencil, the first of its kind. Soon after, Schwan introduced eye pencils, lip pencils, nail polishes, and a wealth of other cosmetics products, refining their process along the way to extend to pencil powder shadows, liquid eyeliners, and more items rampant in your makeup bag to this day. Now, the powerhouse boasts over 370 different cosmetic textures, over 12,000 colors, and produces an estimate of a million pencils a day.
After suiting up in a white lab coat and a v chic baby blue hairnet, I walk out of the lobby's color-blocked walls and into where the magic happens: the factory itself. A Schwan employee leads our group past rooms stacked high with containers of the ingredients that make up most of the products sitting in your makeup cabinet at this very moment. I see employees poring over swatches and screens, and our tour guide explains that Schwan's color experts will manually match a color swatch to a base example with their own eyes.
It feels like we zip through a maze of long hallways forever before entering what I lovingly call Schwan's ASMR Mecca. Before me lies tons of well-oiled, automated machines with laser-sharp movements working away. I feel like Charlie Bucket stepping into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory for the first time, except I'm not allowed to eat any of the pencils.
Eventually, we land at the machine filling Sephora Collection's Retractable Brow Pencil components — and I can't take my eyes off every automated step. As one arm of the machine inserts the inner plastic cylinder, another inserts a spoolie, another fills the component with the product's formula, and another caps it off before depositing the finished product into a box of the pencils that came out before it. Watching the process — hell, even hearing the consistent humming of the machine — calms my mind more than any ASMR video ever could. (Swipe through the Instagram above for some videos of the process you won't be able to look away from.)
As a special treat, Schwan treats us to some time in their color lab, where other editors and I have the opportunity to create our own eyeliner. Settling on a shimmery light purple, our Schwan color expert helps us choose the pigments our shade will need and mixes those pigments with the necessary ingredients over heat until they're liquid. She then takes the liquid mixture over to three large, cooled cylinders. Through a process called "milling," she pours the formula over the cylinders, which mix the formula until it hardens and spills out in slightly solid form. This process is just as, if not more, exciting than watching the brow product's conception, to the point where I think it cured me of any and all ailments I've ever had.
As I'm handed one of the finished Retractable Brow Pencils and the finished eyeliner, I feel strangely attached to them, as if they were babies I watched develop from conception to birth. Now, when I sit down in the morning to start my day with big brow energy, I pick up my Sephora Collection babies, and, knowing exactly where they came from, I feel that much more satisfied.