Thin eyebrows cause functional and aesthetic problems in many people. Overly sparse eyebrows are unable to protect the eyes as they were intended by nature and detract from an individual’s physical attractiveness. Ideal eyebrow aesthetics differ significantly between individuals and societies but have been considered very important in all cultures for many centuries.
This guide reviews the important roles that eyebrows play in communication and beauty, various causes of overly thin eyebrows, the treatments that are available to correct sparse eyebrows, and some natural remedies that might help to restore the growth of eyebrow hair in some people.
Thin Eyebrow Concerns Overview
Although some people go through their entire lives without ever really paying much attention to their eyebrows, most people consider them to be integral to their appearance and overall facial harmony. Eyebrows, eyelids, and eyelashes all contribute to facial attractiveness, which is a primary area of focus in facial aesthetics.
While some people consider thin eyebrows to be the ideal shape, there is a point of diminishing returns where the thinness becomes overdone and it takes away from the attractiveness it was meant to create. This can cause the face to look unnatural, even comical. While overplucking is perhaps the most common cause of overly thin eyebrows, there are various other possible reasons to be aware of.
Regardless of the cause, having eyebrows that are too sparse can lead to low self-image, poor self-esteem, and decreased life quality. As a result, there are various surgical and nonsurgical treatments available that can help to either increase the volume of eyebrow hair or at least to create the appearance of thicker eyebrows.
There are also numerous tips and tricks at hand to enhance the appearance of thin eyebrows with makeup. Temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent eyebrow tattoos are also options that improve the appearance of eyebrows that are too thin.
Eyebrow Anatomy and Function
The eyebrow consists of thick, short hairs that accent the eye’s shape in some mammals including humans. The contours, position, and movements of the eyebrows are important features involved in making recognizable facial expressions.
According to an article in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology (JDD), “Eyebrow hair follicles share the same basic structure as hair follicles elsewhere on the body, but are distinguished by their shorter anagen (growing) phase.”
Hairs in the medial eyebrow are nearly vertical while those nearer to the ends become increasingly horizontal. Men's’ eyebrows are typically thicker and straighter than women’s. The thinner eyebrow arch of a woman will sit higher on the superior orbital rim than a man’s.
The main biological purpose of eyebrows is to shed water, sweat, and other undesired substances away from the eyes to maintain unobstructed vision.
How Eyebrows Affect Psychology
Our eyebrows help us to communicate more effectively with our facial gestures, strengthening dramatic expressions of love, surprise, anger, etc.
The Hair Science Institute states, “Facial hair and eyebrows play a major role in our mimetic expression and interaction. Therefore, facial hair restoration of the eyebrows can improve the appearance and psychological well-being of patients.”
People with overly thin eyebrows can develop low self-image and become less likely to engage in socialization. Like androgenic alopecia and other disorders marked by hair loss, it can cause the individual to isolate themselves, possibly leading to depression or other psychological disorders.
For those with sparse eyebrows, various techniques for thickening are available and can help improve the quality of life.
Reasons and Causes for Thin Eyebrows
Most people retain their brow hair density as they age and do not have to worry about correcting thin eyebrows. For those who do experience thinning, the capacity to enhance the appearance of sparse eyebrows depends a lot on what causes it.
Thinning can occur in one or both eyebrows. Aside from overplucking, some of the most common causes are hormonal imbalances, infection, dermatological conditions, and immune system dysfunction. Other causes include nutritional deficiency, chronic emotional stress, and physical trauma to the brow area.
Overplucking the Eyebrows One leading cause of eyebrow thinning is preventable but not necessarily treatable. Overplucking the eyebrows can cause the hair follicles to sustain damage or die completely. Subsequently, the hair on the brow will fall out and stop growing. Depending on the degree of trauma present, it may not be reversible or treatable.
In some cases, overplucking results from a mental disorder called trichotillomania. It causes recurrent compulsions to pull out the hair on the scalp, eyebrows, and/or body.
Overuse of harsh chemicals that contact the eyebrows is another leading cause of overly sparse eyebrows. There are toxins and hormonal disruptors in common household products like some grooming products and cosmetics. These chemicals can also damage or destroy hair follicles. Some of the most common of these are:
- Hair bleach or dye
- Glycolic acids
Immune System Dysfunction Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that causes scalp hair to fall out in patches. It can also cause eyebrow hair to fall out, making the eyebrows too thin. This disorder occurs when the immune system misidentifies the hair follicles as foreign invaders, and then, attacks them and causes dysfunction or death.
Comparatively, androgenic alopecia is a more generalized hair loss that normally occurs on the scalp. It is commonly called male- and female pattern hair loss, or simply “baldness”. This type of alopecia is not an autoimmune disorder, and although uncommon, it sometimes affects the hair follicles of the eyebrows.
Nutrient Deficiency Iron deficiency and some other nutritional deficiencies are associated with eyebrow hair loss (and hair loss in general). Some of the most important to watch are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
- Vitamin D (cholecalciferol)
- Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
- An amino acid called cysteine
- Omega-3 fatty acids
One good way to avoid nutritional deficiencies is to base your diet on multicolored, water-rich foods like fresh vegetables, herbs, nuts, seeds, sprouts, and fruits. When you eat animal meats, try to find grass-fed varieties that are not contaminated with herbicides, antibiotics, and steroids.
Skin Disorders Certain dermatological conditions can cause thinning eyebrows. These include:
- Seborrheic Dermatitis: Follicular overproduction of sebum
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis): Red, itchy, oozing, irritated, inflamed skin
- Psoriasis: an autoimmune disorder that causes thick, scaly skin patches
- Ringworm: red, itchy, ring-like patches on the skin caused by the Tineas capitis fungus
- Contact Dermatitis: Burning and inflammation of the skin due to contact with a toxin
- Telogen Effluvium: Abnormal hair growth cycle most often due to hormonal imbalance
Thyroid Gland Dysfunction As commanded by the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland is responsible for producing three hormones that modulate metabolism; T3 (triiodothyronine), T4 (thyroxine), and calcitonin. These hormones are vitally important to life and their adequate availability determines many factors of health.
When the thyroid gland is sluggish and is performing slowly, the condition is called hypothyroidism. When the thyroid is overactive, the condition is called hyperthyroidism. Either condition can lead to hair loss, including loss of eyebrow hair.
Again, a healthy diet is very important for supplying the body with what it needs to manufacture thyroid hormones. Iodine and selenium are particularly important for T3 and T4 synthesis.
Chronic Stress Some amount of stress in life is expected and healthy. However, when stress is chronic (long-lasting), it can cause many systems of the body to begin to develop dysfunction or disease.
Stress is considered to be a primary causal factor in most diseases, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, depression, diabetes, and numerous others.
Too much stress for too long can cause the hair follicles to stop functioning properly, or cause autoimmune conditions like alopecia areata that commonly cause scalp or eyebrow hair loss.
Pregnancy Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding a baby all have significant hormonal effects on a new mother. Dramatic fluctuations of T3 and T4 hormones can cause disruptions to the hair growth cycle. Some women experience eyebrow hair thinning during or after pregnancy.
The Aging Process As people age, both women and men commonly develop some degree of androgenic alopecia, the type of hair thinning that is believed to be caused by hormonal changes, especially concerning androgenic sex hormones like testosterone and its derivative dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
After about age 40, most men begin producing less testosterone, and women start producing fewer estrogens. In both cases, scalp and eyebrow hair thinning commonly occur.
Medications There are various prescription medications that are associated with men and women. Some of them include:
- Estrogen replacement therapies like Synthroid®
- Testosterone replacement therapies like Testim® and AndroGel®
- Gout medications like Zyloprim® and Lopurin®
- Weight loss drugs like phentermine
- Antidepressants and mood stabilizers like Prozac® and Paxil®
- ACE inhibitor drugs like Vasotec® and Capoten®
- Beta blockers like Corgard® and Lopressor®
- Anticonvulsant drugs like Tridione® and Depakote®
Statin drugs like Lipitor® and Zocor®
Various chemotherapy drugs can cause body, scalp and eyebrow hair loss, including:
- Doxorubicin (Adriamycin®, Doxil®)
- Cyclophosphamide (Neosar®)
- Carboplatin (Paraplatin®)
- Altretamine (Hexalen®)
- Docetaxel (Taxotere®)
- Epirubicin (Ellence®)
- Fluorouracil (5-FU)
- Cisplatin (Platinol®)
Finding out why your eyebrows are thinning is important for determining the best treatment option. Ask your doctor about blood work or other lab tests necessary to diagnose your cause.
Preventing Eyebrow Hair Loss
Some people can prevent or at least slowdown eyebrow thinning. Some of the best methods for doing this are to:
- Avoid overplucking the eyebrows
- Eat a healthy diet to ensure proper nutrition
- Drink plenty of water to maintain hydration
- Learn effective coping mechanisms for dealing with stress
- Avoid heat treatments and harsh chemicals that contact the eyebrows
Eyebrow Hair Loss Treatments
After working with your doctor to determine what is causing your eyebrow hair loss, you’ll be able to make an intelligent decision about how to slow it down and/or restore hair growth, if possible.
Some of the most popular and effective treatment options for thin eyebrows are:
- Eyebrow Transplant
- FUE (follicular unit extraction)
- Strip Harvesting
Eyebrow Transplant As with scalp hair transplantation, eyebrow transplant is a method for permanent eyebrow hair restoration. Some men and women with sparse eyebrows choose this type of procedure to relocate healthy hair follicles to thinning brow areas by either the FUE or strip harvesting method.
FUE Follicular unit extraction is an eyebrow transplant procedure that extracts individual hair follicles from the scalp, and then, implants them into thinned areas of the eyebrows. For thickening the eyebrows, the transplant surgeon will typically harvest 150-200 separate follicles.
Strip Harvesting Strip harvesting is another hair transplant technique. Instead of harvesting individual hair follicles, this method involves harvesting a strip of follicles, most commonly from the back of the head. The strip is then dissected into smaller pieces, which are then implanted into thinning areas of the eyebrow.
Microblading Commonly called “eyebrow tattooing”, microblading is a type of semi-permanent correction for thin eyebrows that uses tiny needles to scratch the surface of the skin in the brow and deposit a pigmented ink. This creates the appearance of thicker eyebrows without the need for surgical transplantation.
Home Remedies for Eyebrow Regrowth
There is no reliable scientific evidence that supports using any natural remedies for restoring eyebrow hair growth. However, some natural products have been used for this purpose for centuries. Two of the most noted are castor oil and coconut oil.
Castor Oil Daily application of castor oil to thinning eyebrows might help some people to slow hair loss and restore hair growth to develop fuller brows. Castor oil is also used for inducing labor, healing sunburns, fighting infections, treating hemorrhoids, and healing various skin disorders.
Castor oil is about made up of 90% ricinoleic acid, which shows promise for correcting male pattern hair loss by inhibiting a cyclic fatty acid compound called PGD2 (prostaglandin D2).
However, since there isn’t a lot of research about this remedy, it’s difficult to know how long you need to use it before you’ll see results.
Coconut Oil Some people rub a small amount of organic coconut oil onto their eyebrows before bed, and then leave it until morning. This method is purported to increase the thickness and luster of the eyebrows.
However, like castor oil, there has been very little research completed to confirm or refute this claim. Also like castor oil, coconut oil is linked to various purported health benefits besides helping to stop hair loss and regrow hair. It is an affordable and safe product to try at home for regrowing thin eyebrows.
Some other natural medicines used for regrowing eyebrow hair saw palmetto, tea tree oil, gelatin, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt). More research is needed in every case to understand any hair regrowth or hair loss prevention effects.
Using Makeup to Fix, Fill, and Shape Thin Eyebrows
For those who are not ready for an eyebrow transplant or do not wish to try microblading, various cosmetic techniques are available.
Many brow specialists and makeup artists offer advice about filling in skinny brows to make them appear thicker, change their color, or alter their positions on the face. Eyebrow gels add texture to the hairs, making them thicker and fuller. Eye shadow and brow powder can also increase thickness in thin brows and create a more natural look.
Finally, eyebrow tinting is a modification trend that uses a permanent dye, much like hair dye, to darken and thicken the brows.
Celebrity Eyebrow Trends
Brow beauty trends vary with time. For decades, American celebrities have swayed the world’s conception of ideal eyebrow aesthetics.
For instance, in the 1920s, actresses like Clara Gordon Bow and Anna Way Wong made pencil-thin, slightly curved eyebrows popular, and then, in the 1930s, the trend shifted to thicker brows with more slope like those sported by Katherine Hepburn and Vivien Leigh.
In the 1960s, stars with thick eyebrows, like Audrey Hepburn and Mia Farrow, inspired many women to fill in their sparse brows to achieve a similar look. Today, celebrities like Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, Gwen Stefani, and Lily Collins continue the trend toward thick, almost bushy eyebrows.
Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at USC analyzed the ideal female eyebrow characteristics as represented in various western media sources dating between 1945 and 2011. According to the scientists, “This analysis provided objective evidence that the ideal youthful brow peak has migrated laterally over time to lie at the lateral canthus. There has been a nonstatistically significant trend toward lower and flatter brows.”
However, while pencil-thin eyebrows may go in and out of Hollywood style, sparse, unhealthy eyebrows have never been desirable. Of course, most people with overly thin brows wish they could have thicker, fuller ones. Unfortunately, that is not possible for everyone equally.
Eyebrow beauty trends come and go. While many people consider thin eyebrows attractive, overly thin brows detract from the appearance of the face.
Sparse eyebrows can result from various causes, but over plucking and overuse of harsh personal hygiene, chemicals are two major causes.
Regardless of the cause, having eyebrows that are too thin can cause various psychological problems, including stress, anxiety, and depression. Some people with overly thin brows stop going out in public and develop a poor self-image.
In a process very similar to scalp hair transplantation, sparse eyebrows can also be enhanced with follicular grafting. FUE and strip harvesting can provide a permanent solution to eyebrows that have been overplucked and cannot grow back, or eyebrows that are too sparse for other reasons.
Microblading is a semi-permanent solution for thin eyebrows that involves scratching the skin and depositing a pigmented tattoo ink to create the appearance of thicker brows. There are also numerous cosmetic techniques and tips available to improve the appearance of sparse eyebrows without surgery or tattooing.
It is possible for some people to prevent eyebrow hair loss from occurring. This often involves maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding harsh grooming chemicals, and not plucking the brow too much.
As the eyebrows are major contributors to overall facial harmony, they are important to keep healthy. This is especially true for aging persons who are beginning to produce less of the hormones (testosterone and estrogens) that modulate sex traits like hair growth.
There are natural remedies used for preventing eyebrow hair loss and regrowing lost eyebrow hair. Some of the more notable are coconut oil, castor oil, tea tree oil, Epsom salt, and gelatin, However, these products have not been studied enough to know if they are effective for what many people use them for. More research is needed to be sure.
It is always best to discuss the causes and possible treatments for thinning eyebrows with your doctor. Understanding the precise cause of brow hair loss is important for determining the best course of treatment.
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