If there's one feature that's not optional in 2018, it's having great eyebrows.
We need them bold. Thick. Full. Dramatic. Perfect. And those of us — like me — who are not as blessed with naturally fleek-y eyebrows have to draw them on, and fake it 'till we make it. But I'm sick of faking my eyebrows. I want them to be perfect, dammit, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get them there.
Old wives' tales and just about every blogger on the internet suggest that applying castor oil to them for a few weeks will magically make them grow faster. I put that theory to the test myself and learned just how effective it is.
I, like many of us, SERIOUSLY overplucked my eyebrows in high school — and it's left me with lasting brow damage. So what's a girl to do?
According to every single person online, you turn to castor oil.
The internet says that castor oil has the capacity to change your entire life. People swear that it makes your hair thicker and shiner, that it makes your eyelashes grow longer, thicker, and darker, and that it makes your eyebrows grow.
How does it do this? According to people (most of whom are not doctors), it’s because castor oil contains “fatty acids” that moisturize existing hairs, while also “triggering growth” of “dormant follicles.”
Just FYI — if an oil could cause hair growth, the FDA would consider it a drug like Latisse. You’d need a prescription to get it, and it would cost hundreds of dollars.
But! Though I raised one (admittedly sparse) eyebrows at some of the wilder claims, I was intrigued. I decided to try castor oil on my own brows for a week to see what happened.
Here’s what I was working with eyebrow-wise at the outset of this adventure.
My eyebrows are... fine. They not terribly thick or full or dark. They grow slowly — I have to pluck errant hairs maybe once a week. And I have a couple bald patches that just never fill in, no matter what happens.
All of this made me the perfect candidate to test castor oil on my eyebrows. Because if this oil changed my brows in ANY way, it would be clearly and immediately visible.
My logical brain was all "It's not going to do anything! Calm down!"
But my excited brain was all "OMG BUT WHAT IF IT DOES?!?!?!?!"
I'm a logical, rational person. I am still not about a little magical thinking every once in a while.
I set out on my oil-speriment.
I bought SheaMoisture's 100% pure Jamaican black castor oil ($10), as it seemed to be the product mentioned most often in excited eyebrow reviews.
Next, I did a patch test — because even though castor oil is a "natural" product, it still comes with risks!
There is a trend lately that says “natural” products are good and safe, and “chemicals” are bad and dangerous. This is 100% untrue — literally everything, including water, is a chemical, and some “natural” things (like arsenic) can be VERY VERY BAD for you.
It is potentially dangerous to put anything, even something "natural" like castor oil, around your eyes. Anecdotally, people have experienced skin irritation, eye irritation, and even pretty gnarly allergic reactions to castor oil. Definitely something to think about before you even CONSIDER using it on your face.
And as someone with acne-prone skin, I don't put ANYTHING on my face without checking with a doctor first. I was instructed to do a patch test on my face before starting use, to use it for 14 days max, and to stop IMMEDIATELY if I experienced redness, itchiness, swelling, or general topical strangeness.
I did a small patch test with the castor oil on my cheek. I didn’t experience any skin reactions after 10 minutes, so I went ahead with my brow test plan.
I brushed several drops of the oil onto my eyebrows only with a clean spoolie brush morning and night.
I was advised by some of my friends who SWEAR by castor oil to use it only once a day for the first few days, then increase to twice a day. This is mostly to avoid skin irritation, which I was down for.
Although I didn't experience any negative skin or eye side effects from the castor oil, my new brow routine did come with some downsides.
First: Castor oil has a fragrance. If you don't like smells, you may find this tough going at first.
Second: Castor oil is OIL. It doesn’t absorb into your skin or evaporate much throughout the day. It just stays put on your brow hairs, so if you’re applying it in the morning, it means you’re definitely not filling in or darkening your brows with makeup. This was a blow to me, I’m not going to lie.
Finally: Nobody agrees on the “right” way to use castor oil on your eyebrows, so you can't expect anything. That’s part of the problem with DIY beauty — no real best practices. It’s easy to screw up if you cut corners, and it’s also easy to feel out at sea if you don’t know where to start.
I took a photo of my brows every other day for the length of this experiment to track their growth.
On day 3, I started applying the castor oil morning and night.
It was really cold on day 5, and my eyebrows were probably very happy for the extra hydration the oil provided.
On day 7, I cried a lot. I don't think that affected my eyebrows, but hey, why not keep it real.
On day 9, I was ready to bust out a microscope to see if any new brow hairs had sprouted... but alas.
I had planned to use castor oil on my brows for 10 days, but I went for one extra, just to keep my photo schedule making sense.
After 11 days of applying castor oil to my eyebrows twice per day, here are my results. They are... nothing.
My eyebrows are not darker — they’re the same shade of brownish-yellow they were when this started.
They’re also not any thicker — the individual hairs are of the same delicate thinness they were when I started, and my brows on the whole remain unchanged.
In short: Using castor oil did not regrow my eyebrows. It didn't change them at all, one way or the other.
There is some new hair growth, but it’s consistent with what I’d see after 10 days of not plucking my brows. There’s no new growth in my most noticeable (to me) bald patch. My brows simply aren’t any different — which was a little disappointing to me. I wanted to be that person who has the thickest, most luxurious eyebrows every after using castor oil!
Alas, I believed the hype. I let my excited brain win, and I fell for some magical thinking.
Here's the thing: Even as I wrote this, I felt the psychological need to keep looking for ways to consider this experiment a success. I zoomed in 300x on all of my day 11 photos, HOPING I could somehow see some new brow sprouts.
I couldn't, of course. But that need I was feeling to make something out of nothing worried me.
I had gotten emotionally invested in the results of my eyebrow experiment, and I was looking for ways to validate all the time and effort I'd put into it. I was engaging in confirmation bias, because a part of me didn't want to think this had all been for nothing. I *wanted* castor oil to have regrown my eyebrows by magic, so I looked for evidence to indicate that it had.
I think that's why there are so many stories of people's oil-induced hair growth results. I think, not as a scientist but as a human with an imperfect human brain, that we all want to believe in miracles, especially when it comes to how we look.
But the evidence doesn't hold up. Castor oil didn't have any results on my eyebrows after 11 days, as this handy before and after shows.
That said, it wasn't all bad.
My oil-speriment coincided with a very cold snap here in New York, and when it gets cold, I'm prone to rubbing at my eyebrows and my lashes. This isn't great if you're trying to rehab your face-hairs! The oil stopped me from doing that, and probably stopped me from accidentally pulling out as many brows as I normally do in winter. So that's a win.
And, like I said, castor oil is oily! If you suffer dryness-induced brow breakage, it could really help with hydration.
Finally, I dropped and broke my bottle of castor oil after this experiment concluded, and rubbed a lot of the spillage all over my legs to use some of it up. It made my skin look RADIANT. So castor oil might not have worked on my brows, but — and I am NOT the first person to observe this — it's still worth keeping in your beauty arsenal.
While my castor oil eyebrow experiment wasn’t bad, it’s not one I’d repeat — because what’s the point?
Based on my results, I could just skip plucking my eyebrows for a couple of weeks and see the same results.
Sorry, castor oil… I think I’ll try microblading instead. At least I know what I’m getting there.