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Thinning Eyebrows: Is Surgery The Solution?

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Contrary to popular wisdom, your eyebrows may actually be the first thing to go. Long before the hair on your head turns gray, you may notice that your eyebrows have, well, disappeared. It's a process that starts in your late 30s, and generally by the ripe old age of 42, it may become enough of a problem that you at least consider seeking help, said Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, a pioneer and specialist in eyebrow transplants -- a plastic-surgery trend that's on the uptick.

And while eyebrow loss will eventually catch up to most of the population, it's a problem that's affecting boomers pretty hard. Why? Because boomers over-plucked their eyebrows, Epstein explained. "When they were in their teens, the look in vogue was to have narrow defined eyebrows, and they went a little crazy with the tweezers." About half his patients were just plain tweezer-happy or had their brows lasered off thinking it was a good idea, he says. The other half? Well, there is always genetics to blame.

Additionally, as people age, there are medical reasons that cause eyebrows and eyelashes to thin or "disappear." Having a low thyroid is one common reason you may be looking less like Brooke Shields' eyebrow twin. Eyebrow loss could also be a side effect of drugs you are taking; while everyone knows that chemotherapy drugs often cause hair loss, it's less widely known that drugs like Prozac taken for depression and Atenolol for hypertension can also cause it, according to Epstein. It also could be a fungus infection or even late-stage syphilis, he noted. Finding out the root cause from a doctor is a good first step to determine how to remedy the problem.

Eyebrows may be the feature we most take for granted. They frame your face, convey emotions, and yet you probably didn't pay all that much attention to them until you realized one day they weren't there. You can start humming along with Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" refrain here: "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."

The simplest solution to eyebrow loss is to just pencil them in with a cosmetic pencil. It's a remedy that not all men are comfortable with, said Epstein, and yes, eyebrows-gone-MIA affects men as well as women.

The next step up for consideration is getting tattoos where your eyebrows once resided. "It can look pretty good," says Epstein. It doesn't look like hair, but there is at least a swath of color perched above your eyes.

Some people try the Latisse eyelash growth medicine, but Epstein said it only works about 15 percent to 20 percent of the time, and you have to keep using it.

The last step is an eyebrow transplant, otherwise known as surgical hair restoration. Don't count on your insurance covering it, and depending on how many hair shafts are grafted, the price can range from $4,000 to $8,000. Up to 700 hairs are selected from the back of scalp and relocated. The hair will continue to grow and need to be trimmed every 10 days or so. And yes, it will eventually turn gray.

The procedure takes about three hours and is done under a local anesthetic. Patients report going out in public without sunglasses within just a few days. The eyebrows look great right away, enthused Epstein, although the newly transplanted hair falls out in about three weeks and takes three months to regrow. Epstein personally performs three or four of these procedures a week, according to his website.

Too much for you to consider? There's always glue.

(Check out the video below of Epstein discussing the eyebrow transplant procedure.)

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