Keeping track of current fashion trends can be perplexing. One notable example is the current dictate that women’s bodies must be utterly hairless at every point below their lower eyelashes, but that all hair north of that point must be as bushy and hirsute as that of any old-school Soviet ruler.
That’s not always an easy beauty look to pull off, especially if you’re not blessed with the thick eyebrow gene (which hardworking scientists will probably isolate any day now, right?). We talked to experts to make sense of what’s happening when brows get sparse, how to encourage growth and ways to provide credible camouflage in the meantime.
What’s really happening when your eyebrows get thin
There’s a name for everything in medicine, and it turns out that the term for sparse lashes and brows is madarosis ― which can be your word for the day, and you’re welcome. But what causes the problem in the first place? One prime factor, big surprise, is aging. “Losing eyebrow hair is an inevitable part of getting older,” dermatologist Brandon Kirsch told HuffPost. “As we age, our hair, including eyebrows and lashes, lose their fullness, length and color.”
Dermatologist Patricia Wexler told HuffPost, “The hair follicles can stop producing hair as the shafts become finer.”
But aging isn’t necessarily the only cause, Kirsch explained: “Other factors include nutritional deficiencies, thyroid conditions or hormonal changes. Sometimes plucking or waxing eyebrow hair too frequently or aggressively can result in permanent damage to the hair follicle, leading to an inability to regrow hair.”
Dermatologist Uchenna Okereke outlined even more potential root causes to HuffPost: “Other causes can be medical conditions such as alopecia, bacterial, viral or fungal infections, trauma from burns or wounds, medical treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, laser treatments or medications.” Sometimes your genetics can be to blame, and sometimes the cause is a psychological condition such as trichotillomania, in which people pull out their own hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.
With so many potential reasons for thinning eyebrows, Okereke urged those who are concerned about the issue to consult with a board-certified dermatologist. “They can help you discover the cause and from there determine a treatment plan,” she said. “If you notice patches of hair loss on your eyebrows, make sure to look elsewhere for patches of hair loss on the scalp, arms, legs, underarms, and for men, the beard region. These are all important clues for you to share with your dermatologist.”
Dermatologists’ go-to treatments for fuller brows
Your dermatologist will be able to recommend some options. “Some of our favorite products at Kirsch Dermatology are NeuBrow, GrandeBrow and Rapidlash,” Kirsch said. “They contain prostaglandin analogs, the key ingredient in the prescription eyelash treatment Latisse, which can be used off-label on the eyebrows.”
It’s important to know that prostaglandin analogs don’t come without risk. “Rarely, they’ve been found to darken the eyelid skin and the color of the iris in people with light brown or hazel eyes,” Kirsch said. “It’s less of a concern when applying these treatments to the eyebrows as opposed to the eyelashes, though.”
Other dermatologist-available options include injections of platelet-rich plasma (PRP). The first step, Kirsch explained, requires drawing your blood and spinning it in a centrifuge. “The extracted PRP has around five times the number of platelets found in normal circulating blood, with growth factors that can stimulate hair follicle growth,” he said.
The next step in the process involves needles and tunnels. “Tiny tunnels are made with needles that reach the follicles, and the concentrated platelets are placed there, stimulating stunted follicles,” Wexler explained. “It’s been used with great success.”
Finally, consider all of your options before choosing a path. “While treatments like microblading and brow lamination are available, it’s important to be aware of the risk of contact dermatitis from these procedures,” Okereke said. “Careful consideration regarding the cause of hair loss is important to prevent inadvertently worsening the condition in your attempt to improve it.”
Microblading: popular, semi-permanent and kind of pricey
Even with an initial price tag of about $800 to $1,000, microblading ― a purely cosmetic solution ― has many fans. “It’s definitely my favorite and preferred approach for patients who want to improve the cosmetic appearance of thin or absent brows,” dermatologist Rachel Maiman told HuffPost. “The technique uses a special pen to deposit pigment into the superficial layers of the skin. It’s not as deep as a traditional tattoo, so the ink is only semi-permanent and will eventually fade away completely.”
“The microblading artist draws hair-like strokes in the brow area to give the appearance of a fuller eyebrow,” Maiman said. “It’s important to note that microblading does not induce hair growth, but it won’t inhibit it, either. Generally, treatment with microblading requires two initial sessions spaced six weeks apart.”
“I personally have my eyebrows microbladed,” makeup artist Kathy Jeung told HuffPost. “Even though I grew up with thick eyebrows — almost a unibrow situation — I had two eyebrow-threading treatments years ago that, without my consent, went way overboard, and most of my eyebrow hair didn’t grow back. Microblading does take some time to achieve the end result, but at the hands of a talented technician, it’s a wonder.”
“I’ve had microblading done three times myself,” Michelle Wong, who has a chemistry Ph.D. and is the founder of Lab Muffin Beauty Science, told HuffPost. “It’s fantastic for filling in patches, cleaning up your eyebrow shape and generally allowing you to wake up every morning with perfect brows. Even when it wears off after around one or two years, the remnants act as a template for filling in your brows. It can look very natural if the microblader is experienced.”
Still, there are cautions. “There are potential infection and scarring risks if your microblader isn’t reputable,” Wong said. Maiman noted: “It’s typically considered a low-risk procedure, but it does carry the same risk profile as a tattoo, meaning the potential for an allergic reaction, infection or inflammatory reaction.”
And while this option can be a real timesaver for many people, it’s only a good idea if you love it. “Unlike when you’re using an eyebrow pencil, microblading is a semi-permanent tattoo procedure,” Kirsch said. “This carries risks if you are unhappy with the result.”
Less permanent options: laminating and tinting
Brow lamination straightens brow hairs and freezes them into place, almost like a mini-perm for your eyebrows. The process usually lasts about four to six weeks. “It’s a game changer for those with thicker-textured brows,” makeup artist Diane da Silva told HuffPost. “It creates manageability, offering that soap-brow ‘laid’ look with minimal additional product needed. Brows appear unbelievably full and soft with little effort.”
“It’s great for giving a slicked-back look to unruly brow hairs, which can be molded to cover sparse patches,” Wong explained. “Still, lamination is limited by the hair you already have, so if you have a giant sparse patch it might not help much.”
If you’re trying to disguise missing hair or sparseness in the brows, but want something less permanent, you might consider brow tinting. “Like lamination, it’s a great semi-permanent option,” brow artist and founder of Brow Down Studio René de la Garza told HuffPost. “Brow tints accentuate the brows’ natural shape by darkening the area with a ‘stain,’ which usually lasts two to 14 days.”
The best makeup solutions
For a shorter-term solution, there’s a cosmetic option for just about every level of need and skill. Makeup artist Georgi Sandev told HuffPost: “Generally, brow powders are easiest to work with, followed by the pencils and the liquid brow ink products, which require just a little more practice to get used to, but deliver the most realistic results as well.”
“Brow pencils work well to fill in and augment the thinning of eyebrows, and there are new brow pens that are made with fine tips to mimic the fine hairs of the brows,” Wexler said. “It’s important to find a color that matches your natural brow, and not to overdo the brow or the arch, so use a light hand.” Which color should you choose? “My pro tip is to choose a brow pencil shade that’s in between the color of your brow hair and your skin color,” de la Garza said.
Other options to consider
If you’d like to take better care of the brows you already have, de la Garza has some old-fashioned advice: “Castor oil is a great brow conditioner, so I recommend it as part of your nightly routine.”
And don’t forget that what goes inside your body will be reflected on the outside, even on your brows. “For nutritional deficiencies, especially iron, zinc and protein, we give corrective supplements,” Wexler said. “Women who’ve experienced a loss of estrogen and progesterone have found nutritional supplements helpful, including multivitamins, biotin, omega-3 fatty acids, ashwagandha and protein.”
What’s ahead for those seeking fuller brows? “Hopefully we’ll have more treatments soon,” Wexler said. “I think the future is in peptides and growth factors. Red LED treatments should be more easily available for brows, as they have been shown to be effective in hair loss.”
Below are some of the experts’ favorite products to give you fuller brows.
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