04/29/2011 12:19 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2011

The Brow Paradox

The Concept

Based on what is known about the effect of gravity on the aging process in our skin, it would be logical to assume that eyebrows also droop over time. Hence, surgery that lifts brows should make one appear younger, and since youth is synonymous with beauty, also more attractive. This concept is the rationale for browlifts, a plastic surgical procedure that elevates the brows.

However, there is much evidence that contradicts the idea that brows descend over time.

The Paradox

Young women have low brows.
As part of his life's work, the medical anthropologist, Leslie Farkas, measured the facial features on thousands of individuals. On average, young women had low brows when compared with the published results of many brow lift procedures.


Fashion models have low brows
Just look at any fashion magazine!


Brows ascend with age
Researchers have found that brow shape does change with age -- however, brows begin to move up, not down. Younger women usually have a middle brow that is low and curves out to the sides. By contrast, older women usually have a higher middle brow with a flat shape.



Brow lifts can be aesthetically displeasing
Several reports in the literature suggest that brow-lift procedures create brows with unnatural shape and position. Brows were lifted too high, particularly the middle portion.

Reversing brow lifts can be aesthetically pleasing

After brow-lift

After reversing a brow-lift

Explaining the paradox
There are several explanations as to how brows seem to defy gravity.

One is that elevating one's eyebrows is a way to clear one's field of vision if there is difficulty seeing due to excessive upper eyelid skin. We know that after upper eyelid surgery, brows have been shown to drop. Researchers have shown that with age, the upper eyelid drops (due to muscle weakening) and the brow raises. Raising the brow is a reflex to clear the visual field.

On the average, brows tend to ascend with age. Yet there are individual differences we observe in brow shape and position. Not everyone has the need to clear their field of vision by brow elevation as they age.

However, there is now a consensus that brow lifts should be less aggressive.

Farkas L.G., Hreczko T.A. and Katic M.J. Craniofacial norms in North American Caucasians from birth (one year) to adulthood. Appendix A. In L.G. Farkas (Ed.): Anthropometry of the Head and Face, 2nd Ed. New York, Raven Press, 1994. Pp. 241-333.

Matros and associates
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Lambros V. Plast Reconstr Surg 120:1367-1376, 2007.