Eyelashes are more than just cosmetic fringe. Lashes protect the eye from debris that can obstruct vision or cause infection or injury. Eyelashes grow, fall out and replace themselves in a natural cycle every six to 10 weeks, just like the hair on top of your head.
It’s normal to lose between one and five eyelashes each day. Sometimes, more rapid lash loss (known as madarosis) can be a symptom of an underlying health problem in the eye or in another part of the body.
Common Causes of Eyelash Loss
There are many reasons people can lose more lashes than average. If you’re not also losing hair from the eyebrows or scalp, eyelash loss may signal:
- Irritation from cosmetics. Leaving eye makeup on too long, using and removing lash extensions and using eyelash curlers (heated or non-heated) can all harm lashes and speed up shedding. Eyelash loss can also stem from allergies to mascara and from glue used to apply eyelash extensions.
- Blepharitis. Itchiness or burning accompanied by redness or swelling of the lids may indicate blepharitis. This is a condition that happens when clogged oil glands near the base of the eyelashes cause chronic inflammation and problems in the eyelash follicles.
- Trichotillomania. This is a condition where emotional or psychological distress causes a person to pull out their own eyelashes habitually.
- Skin cancer. More rarely, localized lash loss can be a symptom of a skin cancer on the eyelid. Cancer can interrupt eyelash growth as harmful cells spread.
Other less common causes of lash loss include chronic or recurrent styes and chalazia, ocular rosacea or mite, bacterial or fungal infections in one or both eyes.
When Eyelash Loss Is Accompanied By Other Hair Loss
If hair is falling out from the eyelids as well as the eyebrows and/or the scalp, this may be a sign of a systemic health problem or condition. The most common causes of overall hair loss, including eyelashes, are:
- Alopecia. This auto-immune disease causes the body to attack its own hair follicles, causing full, partial or episodic hair loss on the body, head or face. Long-term alopecia is often hereditary. Acute alopecia — sudden, temporary hair loss — can be triggered by surgery, chronic illness, fever, flu, anemia, child birth or aging.
- Thyroid Disorder. The thyroid is a gland in the neck that controls the body's hormones. Both hyperthyroidism (an overload of hormones) and hypothyroidism (too few hormones) can cause lash and other hair loss. Other common symptoms of a thyroid disorder include changes in weight, heart rate and blood pressure.
Less-common causes for overall hair loss include:
- chronic inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma;
- chronic stress;
- nutritional deficiencies;
- hormone changes such as those introduced by menopause; and
- chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Additionally, numerous medications can have the side effect of hair, brow or lash loss.
When Should You See A Doctor About Lash Loss?
Consult your physician right away if:
- the lash loss is happening on both lids;
- you’re also losing hair on your eyebrows or scalp;
- you also have skin changes like itching, redness or scaling;
- you have a feeling of pressure around your eyes; or
- you have any vision loss.
How To Prevent Eyelash Loss
To keep your lashes healthy, wash your face and eyelids daily with gentle soap and water. Glands in the eyelid naturally lubricate lashes, so lotions and conditioners are not necessary unless lashes feel excessively dry. A healthy diet including proteins, fruits, vegetables and sufficient iron will also help with the health and maintenance of long, full eyelashes.
What About Eyelash Growth Enhancers?
Several products are marketed to promote lash growth.
Latisse is an FDA-approved prescription eyelash growth treatment. It has been clinically studied and has demonstrated consistent eyelash growth. The product does carry risks including ocular and eyelid irritation, pigmentation of the skin and iris (turning a blue eye brownish), and periocular fat atrophy (sunken-appearing eyes) with long-term use.
Over-the-counter lash serums may cause sensitivity or adverse reactions in some people. Consult with your ophthalmologist to determine if these products are appropriate for you.