When I was a kid in the ’80s and early ’90s, my naturally bushy and dark eyebrows were in. But as the ’90s marched on into the ’00s, I gave in to peer pressure and tweezed my eyebrows into into Pam Anderson–style super thin brows — perhaps a little too enthusiastically. (As one boyfriend at the time remarked, “You look permanently surprised.”)
In my late 30s, I embraced the 2010s trend of more natural brows, but something shocking had happened: My eyebrows began thinning. I’m sure it happened slowly, but it felt like it happened overnight — one day I had thick, luscious Brooke Shields brows (OK, fine, Eugene Levy brows, but still); the next I had two thin, patchy, threadbare messes hanging over each eyeball.
Don't believe me? Have a look for yourself:
Whenever I told anyone my tale of Eyebrow Woe, I got the same reaction: Oh, that’s from plucking. But was it? Were there other factors at play? And most importantly, was there anything I could do to grow my eyebrows back, so I could apologize to them for how badly I’d treated them (and also attempt to look like Dua Lipa)?
Though according to dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll, “it’s difficult to pinpoint an individual’s exact cause [of eyebrow hair loss] without a thorough history and exam,” here are a few of the major causes — and some solutions.
Your eyebrows are patchy because you overplucked them
OK, turns out your one judgy college roommate who told you “They’re never going to grow back!” while you were waxing them into oblivion was actually right about this one. “Over-plucking eyebrows can damage the hair follicles over time,” says Carroll, “which may result in permanent hair loss in the area.”
Your eyebrows are thinning or patchy because of your estrogen levels
“Lower estrogen levels can lead to hair thinning and hair loss all over the body, including the eyebrows,” says Carroll. That’s because estrogen helps your hair grow and reduces the rate of shedding; with less estrogen in the mix, you end up with thinner, weaker hair follicles. As we go through menopause, our bodies also produce “less androgen-binding protein, which can cause an increase in the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone [DHT], a hormone that can cause hair follicles to shrink and produce weaker hair,” Carroll says.
This change to the eyebrows can occur in perimenopause or menopause, so if your eyebrows have thinned at the same time that other symptoms have shown up, that could be the reason.
Your eyebrows are thinning or patchy because of your thyroid levels
One culprit you may have not considered is your thyroid. “Hormonal imbalances, particularly thyroid function-related ones, can lead to thinning eyebrows,” says Carroll. “Hypothyroidism, for instance, can cause hair loss, including in the eyebrow area. If you experience sudden eyebrow loss, especially the lateral or outside part of the brow, it’s important to have thyroid levels tested.” Considering that one in eight women will have thyroid issues in her lifetime — and that thyroid disorders often start around perimenopause, and their symptoms are often mistaken for menopausal symptoms — if your eyebrows have abruptly gotten very funky-looking, it’s worth getting your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels checked.
Your eyebrows are thinning and patchy because your parents have thin and patchy eyebrows
Some of us, however, may have just drawn a bad number in the eyebrow DNA lottery. “Genetics can also play a role, as some people are simply predisposed to thinning eyebrows as they age,” says Krista Suter, RN and owner of BLUR Aesthetics. Take a look at some photos of your folks when they were your age, and see if you have them to thank for your wispy, thin brows.
What can you do to grow your eyebrows back?
You’re probably thinking, “Fine, fine, that’s great, but WHAT CAN I DO TO GROW THEM BACK?” The good news is that today, our underachieving eyebrows have many options to help them thrive.
If your eyebrows simply don’t grow back once you stop plucking, you can try topical treatments. Some folks have success with OTC serums, but if you’re reading this article, you may need to call in the big guns. “Products containing ingredients like bimatoprost or minoxidil may help stimulate hair growth,” says Carroll.
If you have an underlying thyroid issue, proper medical treatment may help them grow back. “However, the speed and extent of regrowth can vary from person to person,” says Carroll. “It may take several months to notice significant regrowth, and in some cases the eyebrows may not fully return to their previous thickness.”
Biotin supplements probably won’t make a difference if you’re dealing with thinning eyebrows. “While biotin is essential for maintaining healthy hair and nails, most people get enough of it through their regular diet,” says Carroll. “Biotin deficiencies are rare, and taking additional biotin as a supplement does not necessarily lead to improved hair growth in individuals with adequate biotin levels.”
My own brow issues, upon closer inspection, are likely a combination of thyroid issues and overplucking. I plan on booking a TSH test with my GP to get my thyroid levels balanced, and I’m buying a serious serum with minoxidil. Together, they will hopefully help me grow my brows…just in time for skinny brows to come back into fashion. But one of the gifts of midlife is wisdom, and I’m proud to say that part of that wisdom is appreciating my brows for what they are, not what random fashion trends say they should be.
By Gabrielle Moss
Gabrielle Moss is the editor at Stripes. She's the author of Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Slate, GQ, Buzzfeed, Marie Claire and elsewhere.
Photo by Angela Roma/ Pexels