Thick, voluminous eyelashes can make the eyes appear awake, open, and younger. Eyelashes can become less full for a number of reasons, however most commonly because of age, after pregnancy, or due to eyelash extensions. There are several treatment options available to restore the appearance of lush lashes.
Published: January 27, 2021
Last updated: January 27, 2021
In today’s world, full, luscious lashes are an undeniable trend, and everyone from Hollywood movie stars, to Instagram models, and even our friends and co-workers are suddenly sporting longer, thicker, darker lashes. With so much focus on the eyelashes as a symbol of beauty, it’s hard to imagine that the hair follicles on our eyelids serve any other reason other than to enhance our aesthetic beauty or facilitate certain facial expressions.
Yet, as beautiful as they are, the primary role of the eyelashes is not beauty. Eyelashes serve first and foremost as a natural defense against dust, debris, and other particles that might harm the eyes. Unfortunately, some medical conditions exist that can cause eyelashes to fall out or lose volume. These conditions, which include madarosis, ingrown eyelashes, sties, among others, subject the eye to less protection from harm, while also negatively detracting from a person’s appearance.
If you suffer from sparse or nonexistent eyelashes, you’re likely searching for options to naturally or synthetically increase your lash length. In this guide, we’ll explain some of the reasons why eyelashes fall out and refuse to grow properly, and what you can do to treat the issue—depending on the underlying cause of the condition.
Sparse eyelashes, thinning eyelashes, and short eyelashes are a problem that can affect more than just the way that a person looks. As beautiful as a full set of lustrous lashes can be, thicker eyelashes are more functional for protecting the eye from dust particles and other foreign substances in a way that sparse lashes are not. According to a study by the American Optometric Association, patients affected by madarosis and alopecia—conditions that result in the loss of the eyelashes—also suffer from higher rates of infection of the eye. In fact, many studies suggest that full eyelashes are helpful in preventing viral, bacterial, fungal, and other diseases and allergens into the eye, though these claims have not yet been proven.
The causes for sparse lashes are many, and the condition is often not a medical concern, but simply an inherited genetic trait. Sparse and thinning lashes though can be a sign of a health issue, and a medical evaluation should be performed if symptoms become apparent. A qualified, board-certified physician will be able to examine a patient’s eyelashes to determine whether the symptoms might be signs of an underlying medical issue, and can recommend a proper treatment to achieve desirable results.
What Causes Sparse Eyelashes?
As previously mentioned, sparse lashes can be caused by many factors. For example, the symptom can be a simple genetic trait passed down from family members, parts of an inherited congenital disease like Rothmund-Thomson syndrome, or a sign of another health issue that could be serious or problematic without proper treatment. Additionally, sparse eyelashes can be caused by hormonal changes, trauma to the eyelid, and allergies to makeup products, among other reasons. Some of the most common reasons for eyelash loss or eyelashes that lose volume, thickness, and that become sparse also include the following:
Sparse Lashes + Age: Many studies have shown that eyelashes change with age. Some of these changes include the length, thickness, and pigmentation of the hair follicles of the upper and lower lashes. In general, eyelashes tend to get shorter, thinner, and sparser as a normal part of the aging process for most men and women. The destructive nature of these changes can also be exacerbated further by daily habits, including failure to remove makeup overnight, rough treatment of the eyelashes, and other factors.
Sparse Lashes + Pregnancy: A rare but possible side effect of pregnancy is eyebrow and eyelash loss caused by fluctuations in the function of the thyroid. This is a temporary symptom that should resolve itself once the pregnancy is over, and the hormones responsible for hyperthyroidism (human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG, and estrogen) return to normal levels. Sparse lashes during pregnancy may also be caused by nutritional deficiencies.
Sparse Lashes After Extensions: Eyelash extensions are known to damage the hair follicle, especially when improperly applied or when removed by tugging or pulling. As a result, sparse lashes are quite common in people that have had eyelash extensions, although this outcome can be avoided by finding a reputable aesthetician to perform the treatment and by following the proper protocol for removal.
How to Treat Sparse or No Lashes: Serums, Implants, and Extensions
The treatment of sparse lashes or of milphosis (the term used to describe general eyelash loss) depends heavily on the underlying factors causing the symptoms. For example, lash loss caused by trichotillomania, a psychological disease where the patient pulls his or her own lashes out voluntarily, will have a different treatment plan than a patient whose eyelashes are missing due to alopecia areata, endocrinological disorders, or trauma.
For those that have noticed symptoms of eyelash loss, a serious evaluation and analysis done by a reputable, board-certified doctor are imperative to the health of the patient. A physician will evaluate the patient’s history of symptoms, clues of systemic disorders or diseases, and other important factors to determine a diagnosis for the loss of eyelashes.
When eyelash loss is not a serious health issue and is caused by factors such as aging, hormone fluctuations during or after pregnancy, or rough treatment of the lashes, various treatments are available to improve the growth cycle and growth patterns of sparse or non-existent eyelashes. Here are some of the most popular options on the market today, used by many people with non-threatening cases of sparse or completely absent eyelashes.
Eyelash Extensions: Eyelash extensions are becoming more and more popular each year, due to the advances that have been made in creating natural-looking false lashes that are easy to wear. Today’s false eyelashes are made out of mink, horse hair, or synthetic materials, and can last up to six weeks when properly applied by a trained aesthetician.
Latisse: Latisse is a ground-breaking ointment available by prescription only. The product’s active ingredient is bimatoprost, which safely and effectively works to stimulate the growth cycle of the patient’s own eyelashes—resulting in longer, thicker, fuller, natural eyelashes— with regular, nightly applications.
Eyelash Implants: Eyelash implants are a permanent solution to the problem of sparse or absent eyelashes. In implantation, a cosmetic surgeon uses FUT or FUE extraction techniques to remove the leg, head, or hair from another part of the body. Once removed, the hairs are implanted permanently onto the lash line.
Some people claim to see significant results after using certain household ingredients like castor oil, olive oil, lavender oil, and coconut oil to stimulate hair growth along the lash line. While these claims have yet to be proven as effective for stimulating eyelash growth, most of these treatments are beneficial for moisturizing the hair follicle and limiting the damage caused by makeup, daily lash lifts from a heated or regular eyelash curler, and other factors.
Eyelash loss can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, environmental factors, incorrect eye makeup application (in particular, most damage comes from both waterproof mascara and regular mascara, and from not using makeup remover on a daily basis) and other reasons. If you’ve noticed signs of eyelash loss, including bald patches or increasingly sparse lashes, consult with a board-certified physician to find out what’s causing the hair loss and how to treat it. Not all cases of sparse eyelashes are medical issues. However, eyelash loss can be a symptom of something more serious—which is why it is best to have it evaluated by a medical professional as quickly as possible.
The good news is that for those with sparse eyelashes, whatever the reasons for them, are most likely to be very treatable or manageable with a variety of permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary solutions. Additionally, it is possible to help eyelashes grow stronger and longer with the help of a good skin care routine, and by developing healthy eating habits, taking daily vitamin supplements, and by using hydrating lash products to hydrate the hair follicles. At the very minimum, a good eyelash curler and a regular makeup routine can go a long way to help create the illusion of longer, thicker eyelashes, and even create the effect of a larger eye shape for those with short, thin, sparse eyelashes. In fact, there’s never been a better time than now for those that lust after full, thick, beautiful eyelashes, and finding the right treatment depends on your symptoms, the opinion of your medical professional, and your personal health and beauty goals.
AEDIT uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Bhupendra C. Patel; Michael J. Lopez; Zachary P. Joos. Anatomy, Head and Neck, Eyelash PubMed.gov; 2020-07-27
- MJ Elder Anatomy and Physiology of Eyelash Follicles: Relevance to Lash Ablation Procedures PubMed.gov; 1997-03-01
- American Academy of Dermatology Association Hair Loss: Tips for Managing aad.org
- Mayo Clinic Staff Hair Loss Symptoms and Causes MayoClinic.org
- Paul T Rose Advances in Hair Restoration PubMed.gov; 2018-01-01