Eyebrows can dramatically change the appearance of your face in a way that bright lipstick or a fierce cat-eye can't. It's not just something the beauty industrial complex dreamed up—I know this because, when I tried to transform my thin-ish, slightly patchy arches, I ended up with almost no brows at all.
It started innocently enough. I stopped tweezing cold turkey, but the only new hairs that sprouted were way outside of my natural brow line—not exactly the look I was aiming for. Next, brow serums, but no significant change there either. I finally turned to Google for some DIY beauty advice on how to boost my stubbornly skinny brows.
Everywhere I turned, castor oil was being touted as a hair growth miracle. It was the go-to for lengthening lashes, regrowing over-plucked brows, and even making hair—the kind on your head—longer and thicker. Beauty bloggers posted before-and-after photos showing remarkable transformations, in which sparse, gappy commas became full-on power brows within a few months.
Impressed, I immediately purchased a bottle of pure, cold-pressed castor oil. At under $20, the product was natural and affordable, so even if I didn't get the astounding results as seen on the internet, I felt I had nothing to lose. Or so I thought.
I started applying the oil religiously, until about a month in, when I noticed something very wrong: The skin in my eyebrow area felt extremely rough and dry, almost sandpapery in texture. I promptly discontinued the oil to let the irritation subside, but it was already too late.
The next day, a few hairs fell out, which was a little unsettling, but no big deal. But then, the problem quickly worsened until it became uncontrollable—I was easily losing more than 100 hairs per day. As I woke up each morning to find new hairs dangling loosely from my brow bones, there would be occasions when entire sections went missing, sometimes the tail, other times the arch or the head.
Three years and four dermatologists later, I'm still losing a substantial amount of eyebrow hair—even the slightest contact can cause an alarming number of hairs to fall, so I avoid touching them altogether. And because the skin underneath is damaged and easily inflamed, filling them in or getting them tattooed aren't options. I've resorted to creating my own makeshift brow extensions to cover up bald patches, which involves gathering fallen hairs and carefully replacing them. It's tedious and time-consuming (it can take an extra hour to get ready), and, without being able to use an adhesive, there are downfalls. Windy days can leave me with stray hairs strewn across my forehead.
It's also a total confidence killer. Not only is the constant cycle of slow growth and rapid hair loss emotionally exhausting, but in social situations, I self-consciously turn my head or push my hair in front of my face to hide my severely emaciated brows. I frequently check my reflection to make sure there aren't random hairs floating around.
My experience has shown me a dark side to DIY beauty I never imagined. As far as ingredients go, castor oil seems as innocuous as they come, right? And hadn't so many others found success with it? "Just because something is natural doesn't mean it's without side effects," says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., dermatologist and Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. In fact, grapeseed extract, a potent natural preservative sometimes added to castor oil, is more likely to cause skin irritation than even parabens, Dr. Zeichner says.
As my story demonstrates, you can't believe everything you see on Pinterest. So before you go whipping up a skincare concoction to self-treat your beauty woes, do some research—because a flawed DIY could (literally) scar you for life.