For 10 years, I hid my secret shame behind my overgrown bangs: My brows are bald. Not because I over-plucked in the nineties (although that’s always been a great cover), but because whenever I feel stressed or anxious, I’m struck by the uncontrollable impulse to pick my eyebrow hairs out, one by one, until there’s nothing left.
The condition is called trichotillomania, or trich for short, and it’s a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop.” And boy, have I tried to stop. I’ve experimented with everything from meditation to slathering my arches in Vaseline to make them too slippery to pick — but ultimately, I’ve found that one of the biggest benefits of microblading is personal. It helps keep my OCD symptoms in check.
When I first discovered microblading, or semi-permanent brow tattooing, it was as if the good brow gods had smiled upon me. I was spending so much of my time and energy hiding my condition (with unflattering bangs and endless brow pencils and powders), trying to remedy it (via brow growth serums that never seemed to work), or stuck in a shame spiral when I caught a glimpse of my naked brow bones in the mirror (which led to more picking). Having lush, natural-looking arches tattooed on my forehead wouldn’t magically heal the underlying condition, of course… but it seemed to cure the “baggage” that came along with it.
“A big part of healing major anxiety struggles is to understand and remove your triggers,” Amanda Huggins, an anxiety and self-worth coach, tells The Zoe Report. “With trichotillomania, [seeing] the absence of brow hairs — a clear indication that there’s already been trauma — can drop someone further into the anxiety cycle.” She explains that microblading removes the “post-trauma trigger,” and can actually help minimize future trich episodes. “Not only can that keep someone from dipping back into the guilt-shame-anxiety relationship, but it’s a huge confidence booster,” Huggins says.
All of that rings true for me. I first had my brows microbladed about two years ago, and I noticed a sharp decline in my appearance-based anxiety immediately afterwards. While I still had the urge to pick every so often, my trich outbreaks were fewer and farther between — until recently. Microblading lasts for about a year and a half before it’s time for a touch-up, and with bald patches peeking through my faded tattoos, my anxiety and OCD symptoms both ramped up.
Microblading can be pricey — anywhere from $500 - $800 per session — but I didn’t hesitate to book a second appointment. (When the trade-off is nearly two years of relief from hair pulling, it’s worth it.) This time around, I entrusted my eyebrows to beauty guru Courtney Casgraux, the founder of Los Angeles’ GBY Beauty, who’s crafted gorgeous, natural-looking brows for trich sufferers, cancer patients, and those with alopecia. “All of our clients walk out feeling more beautiful than they did walking in — I love that most about my job,” she tells The Zoe Report.
Since she regularly works with clients who have sensitivities around the appearance of their brows, Casgraux is an expert both at making microblading look totally natural and ensuring the pigment lasts as long as possible. During our session, she used two separate blades (“A larger blade for thicker hair strokes, and a smaller blade for thinner hairs," she explains) and three shades of pigment (“So it looks like your real hair,” she notes). She also split the process up into four half-hour sections. “It lets me see how the pigment is taking, which I think helps it last longer,” Casgraux says. “And I don’t want to go over a stroke twice, since that can cause scarring.” This isn’t necessarily the norm — my first microblading session involved one blade and one color in one shot — and the results show. A little less than week later, I’m happier than ever with how my brows look... and I haven’t picked at them once yet.
Of course, what works for me might not work for everyone, and microblading isn’t an acknowledged form of treatment for trich (talk therapy is the only technique medically approved to help minimize episodes). It’s also important to note that while beauty rituals like microblading or indulging in a 10-step skincare routine may help reduce anxiety, they can have a downside: By placing an importance on what’s on the outside, beauty practices could actually create more appearance-based anxiety in the long run.
“Any siloed approach to curing anxiety is dangerous, and it’s something for people to be hyper-conscious of when they’re searching for healing modalities,” Huggins tells TZR. “ Putting on a face mask, while amazing for your skin, isn’t going to solve a deep-rooted internal crisis.” She encourages pairing external self-care practices with internal work, whether that’s through self-study or traditional therapy. For me, that means microblading mixed with daily meditation; but the right regimen will look different for everybody.
Even if you don’t suffer from trich (it’s estimated that only one percent of the adult population does), a consistent morning routine or a mindful beauty ritual might be just the thing to help you ease symptoms of general anxiety and overwhelm. “When we take physical action like jade rolling or dry brushing, we’re making a conscious choice to slow down,” Huggins explains. Not only does this kind of repetitive motion (swooping on eyeliner, massaging your face) give your mind a break, it also “drops you into an almost trance-like or meditative state,” Huggins tells TZR. “When we’re in a meditative state, our brain goes into a theta brainwave state... it’s a place where we can turn more inward for deep relaxation.”
The anxiety coach maintains it’s not really about what you do, but how and why you do it. “The true concept of a ritual is to create a sacred space, and have a clear intention of the purpose behind your actions,” she says. Maybe that’s why microblading has helped me deal with my trich head-on: I placed my faith in it from the beginning; I see it as an act of deep self-care, rather than something superficial. And ultimately, as Huggins says, “the cure has to come from within.”