If Your Brows & Lashes Suddenly Feel A Lot Finer, You’re Not Alone

Dear Daniela,
Ever since the beginning of lockdown, I’ve noticed that my lashes seem to be much more sparse. I’m not seeing them fall out in clumps, but they feel and look really fine, and I’m concerned it’s starting to spread to my brows, too. They are definitely shedding, and while I think I might have been subconsciously touching or fiddling with them, I don’t wear false lashes or extensions or anything like that. What could be causing this? How do I stop it?

Alicia, 24
While more attention is now (rightly) being given to the prevalence and psychological effects of hair loss in women, brow and lash shedding isn’t something that gets spoken about as often. In reality, I think losing your brows or lashes, or even just suffering a minor episode of shedding, can be just as disquieting and upsetting – especially given how much current beauty standards revolve around defined brows and luscious lashes.

This is not to minimise what’s been happening to you, but before I jump into the expert advice, I just want to gently remind you that lockdown has been doing strange things for a lot of people’s self-image. It’s been well-documented that demand for cosmetic procedures and injectables has boomed, and Save Face, who have a directory of accredited UK practitioners have seen a 40% increase in traffic to their website. Being forced to look at your own reflection all day on video calls is quite simply not healthy and not normal. Oftentimes, we can start to perceive things that quite simply aren’t there. Okay, now I’m done being your mum, I can be your big sister again.

“If the shedding is localised just to your brows and lashes, it could be alopecia areata,” said trichologist Stephanie Sey. “Much like other forms of alopecia, it’s triggered by an immune response wherein the body starts to attack the hair follicles. The only difference is that with alopecia areata, you get the shedding in small, contained areas,” she said. It could be as small as a gap in a single eyebrow, said Sey, who added that the condition was usually a stress response gone wrong: “The main reason that alopecia areata comes to mind now is that during this period, a lot of people have been suffering from stress and anxiety, and one of the precursors to alopecia areata are stressful episodes,” said Sey, also adding that students often get it, or those who’ve been made redundant or are going through a big life change.

You didn’t mention any hair thinning on your head, but if you're someone with thick hair, it’s possible there is some shedding on your head too, but you haven’t noticed it yet. “Quite often, people with thick hair don’t notice that there’s shedding until a hairdresser points it out,” said Sey. This isn’t to scare you! It’s more that if you do decide to see a specialist, it’s better to be armed with all the facts about your case. As Sey explained, the growth cycle of lashes and brows is much shorter than hair on your head – around three months versus up to seven years. Essentially, this means that you’re more likely to see shedding on your brows and lashes than with hair on your head, as the lashes will simply fall out once they’ve reached the end of their growth cycle. 
“With many instances of alopecia like this, by the time you notice the shedding, the issue that caused it has often been resolved, so to speak,” continues Sey. Essentially, by the time you actually see hair loss, the stressful event or sickness that acted as that trigger has been and gone, and the alopecia is a hangover from that. Sey reassured me that cases of alopecia like this are very usually treatable, brief and reversible, but said to go and see either your GP (if you have a good relationship with them and trust them to take your concerns seriously), or a trichologist like herself who can help with tests or even a dermatology referral if you need it. 
If you think your fussing with your lashes and brows might be getting into proper habitual picking behaviour, our beauty editor Jacqueline has written about her own experiences with skin picking that might help you. Trichotillomania is also a common condition, which results in repetitive hair pulling (including brows and lashes) and is exacerbated by stress. Generally reducing your stress levels, through whatever works for you – yoga, meditation, long walks, trash TV – is always a plus, and if you’re doing it reflexively when stressed, a fidget spinner or stress ball could help. Ask your flatmates or family to tell you to stop if they see you doing it – accountability is key here.
While there are a number of so-called growth boosting supplements and treatments on the market, Sey said she doesn’t like to recommend them as most of them lack robust clinical evidence. “If you want to use a serum or something, that’s fine, but do it in combination with seeking medical guidance, so that you don’t lose more time trying something that might not work,” she added. Also, these serums and supplements are usually pretty pricey – but if you want to give it a shot, RapidLash is one of the most popular.

Good luck!

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