Do Brow Growth Treatments Actually Work? We Looked Into It
It's been long since the days that big, bushy, bold brows came back into style. The pendulum swung far from plucking and waxing to everyone letting their brow hairs grow in natural and wild. (Of course, there was the blip of the "Instagram Brow," that heavily painted-on arch, but I'm going to assume that if you found yourself on this website, you, dear reader, did not subscribe to that trend.) And, as I've said before, I am always one for a less-is-more routine, so I am fully a fan of low-maintenance brows.
But in place of over-plucking and regular waxing appointments, there was another step that seemed to crop up with the bigger brow: growth serums and oils. And like anything that promises hair regrowth, I was skeptical. Hair loss and growth—scalp, brow, or otherwise—is incredibly complicated, and it usually involves multiple factors that can't be treated with a simple cure-all. So I started to look into what's out there, what the experts say, and what actually works.
What causes hair loss?
"Brows can thin over time as we age, but oftentimes brows thin even more as a result of over-plucking or over-tweezing," says board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D. "Plucking, tweezing, threading, and waxing all pull the hair from the root, and there's only so much trauma each root can take. Repeating these insults to our hair root over time increase the likelihood that some hairs will never regrow, as too much damage has been done to the base of the root where the stem cells live."
But that's not all: "Occasionally, thinning brows can be a sign of a larger, systemic issue, such as a thyroid disorder, so it's good to see your primary care doctor if you're noticing a more sudden deterioration of the brows."
Can you regrow it back + what ingredients work?
The first thing to do is to stop plucking or waxing: This will show you where your brows are in their natural state. "Eyebrows take up to 64 days, about two months to grow back fully," says Bowe, noting this is where you might see whether you have permanent damage in any spots.
As for regrowth: if you've permanently damaged the cuticle, it's likely not growing back. ("Some hairs never will," says Bowe.) So you should set expectations knowing that. We should also set expectations noting there's been little research out there about most of these regrowth ingredients. But anecdotally, there are a few oils and actives that seem to at least help the hair follicle as it's in its regrowth phase.
The most popular natural option? Castor oil, which dominates DIY recipes and internet before-and-afters. Why it's so popular is because it's high in the omega-9 fatty acid ricinoleic acid, which can reduce inflammation and improve circulation. (Apothecary Province Full Brow Serum also has caffeine-infused to amp up circulation.) To date there are no studies or research to support the castor-oil hair-regrowth claims, notes Bowe, "but I do have the occasional patient who swears by it."
Cooper-binding peptides are another popular ingredient to look for, but they are synthetic. However, there's been research that suggests1 this can stimulate the hair follicle as well as help existing hair strength—just as well as topical minoxidil (aka Rogaine.)
Another thing to keep in mind: Hair ages with free radical damage2. And since hair thins as it ages, you can potentially keep the strands healthier with antioxidants. Now, you don't need to run out and grab an antioxidant serum just for your brow hairs, but when you're applying your regular vitamin C serum, just make sure you go over your hairs. You might not see regrowth from it, but it can at least be preventive.
Also to note, as with anything, too much can always be a bad thing. If you overload your hair follicle with oils, you might end up clogging the pore, which can actually cause inflammation. So just be wary of how much you are putting on the brow.
If all else fails, fake it.
While I am a fan of a simple makeup routine, one of my three daily products is a brow gel (a concealer and blush being the other two). So I understand the urge to fill in and fluff up: I have naturally fine brow hair and it just makes me feel better to thicken the strand a bit. I just started using W3LL People's new Expressionist Brow Gel and it looks so natural. So, if you've had your go at regrowth and still need a little help, there are makeup tricks to use that don't result in you going full YouTube makeup tutorial.
"Follow your natural shape," says makeup artist Amber Talarico. No, no need to draw intricate angles to see where your arch should fall, nor reshape entirely. Just stick to what you've got. From there, what products you pick should depend on what your needs are, says Talarico. If you just have a few small gaps you need to cover, opt for a powder to fill and add depth. If you want to thicken or darken the strand, like a mascara does for your lashes, opt for a brow gel. If you need to add length, thickness, or even rework the shape, use a pencil and gel combo. "Make sure your pencil is as sharp as possible, so you can create those fine little lines and draw on small flicks in the direction of hair growth. Then seal the strands with a brow gel." And finally, if makeup isn't your thing, try the coconut oil and castor oil cocktail Cocokind Organic Brow Balm, which is naturally tinted with cacao so it doubles as makeup.
As for the shade, if you're having trouble picking one for you, a universal tone is a medium or dark taupe: "The shade taupe actually mimics the shadow of the hair, rather than the hair itself, so it can add some depth there—that's why it can work for anyone."
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.