It's not unusual to, every now and then, find a fallen eyelash on your cheek — make a wish, right? But if you're noticing them more frequently or seeing several at a time, you may find yourself wishing for answers as to why your lashes are falling out.
Like the hair on our heads, the little hairs that frame our eyes go through phases of growth, rest, and shedding. But when eyelash shedding becomes more pronounced, it can be very disconcerting, especially if you're not sure why it's happening.
"Missing eyelashes can be a sign of internal or external causes, such as autoimmune disease or trauma," says Heidi Prather, a board-certified dermatologist in Austin, Texas. "Loss of eyelashes should be assessed by a board-certified dermatologist either in-person or by telehealth to rule out any treatable causes."
For treatable causes, there are several options including a prescription. "Latisse is an FDA-approved topical that works by supporting the natural growth cycle of the eyelashes and specifically extends the growth phase of hairs and extends their life before they shed," says Deanne Mraz Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist in Westport, Connecticut. "Because the serum has to work with your natural growth cycle, it can take a few months until you see results. Patience and daily use are important."
Prather will sometimes start patients on a non-prescription option first, like RevitaLash, which features a complex containing biotin, green tea extract, antioxidants, and peptides. "Because Latisse can be irritating for some people and can also result in redness or increased pigment in the areas treated, I will typically start with RevitaLash nightly to the lash line." If this is well-tolerated and the patient wants longer lashes, she'll then add in Latisse.
But before you can proceed with a treatment for eyelash loss, you have to know the cause. We spoke to the experts about the reasons you may be noticing a lack of lashes — and after you read about it, talk to your doctor.
"If you're experiencing something new with your hair or skin, it's always best to have your board-certified dermatologist take a look," Mraz Robinson says. "Sometimes it's related to a moment in time, but sometimes it can be related to an underlying medical issue and that's what we're here to help you with."
1. You may be dealing with stress or trauma
"It's common to see excessive hair shedding when we're experiencing a surge in stress," Mraz Robinson tells Allure, and hair can include eyelashes. She says this type of hair loss is called telogen effluvium, often correlated to a stressful event like an illness, surgery, or emotional stress. "The stress triggers more hairs than usual to enter the telogen or 'resting' phase of the hair growth cycle, which can leave your scalp, brows, and eyelashes looking thinner," she says.
Another way stress could impact hair thinning, Mraz Robinson says, is behavior. "We tend to rub our faces and eyes more when we are stressed or even pick or pull at our lashes," she explains.
2. You may have underlying medical conditions
Although Prather says trauma is the most common cause of eyelash loss, it can sometimes be traced to a medical condition.
"If you notice missing patches of eyelashes, it can be from an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata that can cause inflammation at the hair follicle, resulting in hair or eyelash loss," she tells Allure.
According to Mraz Robinson, hormones can also play a role. "If your thinning isn't correlated to stress or behavior and feels ever-present, you should talk to your doctor about other causes of alopecia, which can be due to hormonal and/or endocrine shifts," she says. The doctor may want to rule out conditions such as lupus or lichen planuspilaris, other autoimmune disorders.
3. You may be dealing with inflammation, infection, or irritation
"Infections on the lash line, such as styes, can often result in significant inflammation that can result in eyelash loss," Prather says, urging anyone with signs of an infection, like tenderness and swelling, to reach out to a doctor ASAP.
That's not the only cause of inflammation. In addition to alopecia areata, inflammation can be the result of products such as eye makeup or cleansers, Mraz Robinson says. "The eye area is extremely sensitive, so even if you aren't prone to reactions elsewhere on your body, this can happen," she notes.
4. You used the wrong lash extensions — or glue
Speaking of irritation, "Adhesives are one the most common causes of contact allergy and irritation on the skin," Prather says. However, the lash extensions themselves may be the more likely culprit.
"When choosing lash extensions, smaller and finer extensions are less traumatic on the lash," she says. Individual, fine lashes allow for a more delicate lash removal, she explains, whereas larger-volume sets use thicker lashes that can weigh down your natural lashes and be more difficult to remove. "I've seen patients come in with short, broken lashes from accidentally pulling off the lash extension and breaking the lash at the glue line."
Mraz Robinson says that a faux lash falling out may cause more panic than is necessary. "Eyelashes follow a growth cycle, so it can be alarming when you see big lashes with extensions attached falling down your cheeks," she says. "However, chances are you were losing that lash anyway, but without an extension attached you wouldn't have noticed the thin little wisp."
5. You're cleansing incorrectly
If you tend to wash your face pretty vigorously, you should consider toning it down around your eyes in order to let your natural lashes live out their longest possible life. "Tugging can prematurely cause hairs that are vulnerable and/or on the verge of shedding to come loose," Mraz Robinson tells Allure.
She recommends blotting eyes — not rubbing — and gently patting the area dry with a towel after washing your face. "Your lashes will thank you, and so will the thin skin in the eye area that is prone to wrinkling."
Prather says it’s important to use oil-based cleansers to remove makeup — especially false lashes. "Coconut oil or baby oil can be used as an easy at-home method to loosen eyelash glue. Start by gently tapping the oil onto the lash line and massaging it in. Use warm compresses to pat the area with water and repeat until you feel the glue loosen up," she says. The combination of oil and gentle heat can break down the adhesive without traumatizing your lashes or eyes.