I am obsessed with maintaining my brows. That means I never wax or tweeze them (for fear they won't grow back), I love my brow pens and powders more than most things, and I wear brow gel even without any other makeup. For the most part, this behavior is rewarded with compliments and confidence. But there has been one issue plaguing my eyebrow-specific infatuation: breakouts. I started noticing small bumps and inflammations around the outline of my brows. I'm not usually prone to breakouts, so I was surprised and alarmed.
We spoke to the experts about the products that could be causing them and how to prevent it from happening.
Meet the Expert
- Jessica Weiser, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder and medical director of Weiser Skin MD. She specializes in cosmetic and procedural dermatology.
- Dendy Engelman, MD, is a New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist and a member of Byrdie's Review Board.
Keep reading to learn more about what causes eyebrow pimples and how to treat them.
What Causes Eyebrow Pimples
Similar to other forms of acne, eyebrow pimples are caused when a pore or hair follicle becomes clogged with debris such as excess sebum (oil), dirt, makeup, and bacteria. "The medical term for eyebrow pimples is 'folliculitis,' because they occur in an area with hair," says Engelman. "Folliculitis may be caused by the use of dirty brushes and beauty tools, or brow gels or other makeup that clogs pores."
"Breakouts on the brow line can be the result of multiple factors," adds Weiser. "Mostly, they're caused by tweezing, waxing, and threading—but products like brow gel could be the culprit. Gels have occlusive properties that clog and block pores, leading to blackheads and inflamed breakouts."
I asked what ingredients, in particular, could be irritating (while sadly staring at my tubs of brow gel). Weiser explains, "A variety of ingredients in these gels can contribute to acne including petroleum, silicones such as dimethicone and trimethicone, and VA/VP copolymer." Sure enough, silicones were in my beloved product. But there had to be others that didn't stock those same ingredients.
Though there are eyebrow gels that are better for your skin than others, it's true that the pimples may be caused by an overload of product. Weiser suggests, “Try using a pencil or powder-based brow products, which can help contour and highlight without the occlusive ingredients found in gel formulations.”
She continues, "For people not prone to breakouts, brow gel may be readily tolerable. It is important to test products in a small area before applying to the entire brow region. Any gel containing the causative ingredients has a potential to trigger breakouts."
How to Prevent Eyebrow Pimples
Washing your face before you go to bed and avoiding occlusive skincare and makeup products are important steps for keeping your pores clear of any gunk that might get trapped and ultimately cause a pimple. "If you are shaping your brows, be sure to prep your skin appropriately first by washing the area in warm water and exfoliating to remove dead skin cells and loosen the hair follicle (unless you’re waxing, in which case you should not irritate the skin further by exfoliating beforehand)," says Engelman.
It's also a good idea to take note of the cleanliness of your brow tools and brushes. Make sure they receive a good wash every few weeks to help avoid further contamination of old makeup and debris affecting the already acne-prone area.
If you’re experiencing a breakout, it is a good idea to let your skin breathe as much as possible. "If you can’t forego your foundation and brow makeup, opt for clean, non-occlusive, and non-comedogenic formulas that won’t suffocate your skin and worsen your breakout," says Engelman.
How to Treat Eyebrow Pimples
"I recommend first cleansing and toning the face to help clarify the skin; I love Humphrey’s Witch Hazel Clarify Toner, which harnesses the amazing clarifying benefits of organic, wild-grown, pure witch hazel," says Engelman. "Then, use a spot treatment, which delivers a concentrated dose of active ingredients designed to get rid of blemishes fast." When you're not actively applying spot treatment, incorporate gentle chemical exfoliants into your routine and keep skin hydrated to prevent more pimples from forming.
Engelman recommends Humphrey's Witch Hazel as it is "amazing for toning and clarifying the skin to fade pimples and help prevent future breakouts." The brand prides itself on products that are free of dyes, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and gluten.
A great spot treatment can be super helpful in banishing blemishes quickly. Engelman's pick is a clear acne gel made with benzoyl peroxide that gets deep into skin's pores. Antioxidant-rich botanicals soothe any redness while neutralizing free radicals that damage skin. She also recommends Peace Out Acne Dots ($19) for on-the-go emergencies that help blemishes disappear fast.
Although this product isn't officially a breakout treatment, Engelman recommends this serum to patients who need products that won’t irritate or suffocate their skin. "This serum helps unclog pores with 1 percent bakuchiol, while soothing, brightening, and hydrating skin with squalane and peptides," she says.
When to See a Doctor
According to Engelman, it could take about two weeks after starting at-home treatment for your acne to disappear, but if you continue to take good care of your skin, it should remain mostly clear. "If you notice that your breakouts are persistent or recurring even after caring for your skin by properly cleansing it, spot treating it, and avoiding occlusive products, it may be time to see your dermatologist and explore alternative solutions," she says, as this could indicate that your acne is caused by other factors, such as hormones, diet, etc.
The Final Takeaway
As much as we love a bold brow, sometimes they need a break, free of pencils, pomades, and gels. A makeup moratorium for your brows is sometimes necessary to avoid the dreaded eyebrow pimple that no one wants to face.