Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease which causes hair loss. The scalp hair is most commonly affected, but any hair on the body can be affected.
Loss of eyelashes may occur in individuals with alopecia areata, especially those with alopecia universalis. Treatment of eyelash hair loss is challenging because medications that are used for alopecia areata on the scalp can’t always be safely used around the eyes.
Bimatoprost is a topical liquid medication which is used to stimulate eyelash growth. It is commonly sold under the trade name Latisse ® (bimatoprost 0.03 % solution) and requires a prescription. For the past few years, many women in North America have been using bimatoprost to grow longer lashes. The medication was originally designed to treat glaucoma, which is an eye disease that gives increased pressures in the eye. When bimatoprost solution is prescribed by eye doctors to treat glaucoma, a prescription is given for Lumigan® rather than Latisse®. However, both medications contain the ingredient bimatoprost.
What was known in the past about bimatoprost?
In addition to stimulating eyelash growth in individuals who don’t have alopecia areata, evidence keeps accumulating that bimatoprost may also help some individuals with alopecia areata. Several small studies in the past few years showed that bimatoprost solution could help stimulate some degree of eyelash growth in patients with alopecia areata who still have most of the eyelashes. However, it was not clear how effective it is in those with alopecia universalis when all the eyelashes were missing. A very small study in 2009 suggested that bimatoprost probably wouldn’t work well if all the eyelashes were missing.
Does bimatoprost topical solution help individuals with alopecia universalis?
Researchers from Spain set out to conduct a larger study to determine if bimatoprost solution is helpful to patients with alopecia universalis. 41 individuals (16 women and 25 men) applied the solution to the eyelids once daily for one year. 37 individuals ended up finishing the full one year study.
Here were the results of the study:
Complete growth of eyelashes was seen in about 24 % of patents.
Moderate growth in 19 %.
Only slight growth in 27 %.
No benefit in about 30 %.
It took 4-8 months for eyelash growth to be seen.
Conclusions & Perspective
All in all, this study is one of the largest studies to date examining the use of bimatoprost in the treatment of eyelash loss. About 40 % of individuals with alopecia universalis would be expected to have improvement with use of bimatoprost solution. Side effects need to be carefully discussed with the prescribing physician as eye irritation, pigmentation changes around the eyes, and other changes can rarely occur.
Research Study: Vila TO, Camacho Martinez FM. Bimatoprost in the treatment of eyelash universalis alopecia areata. Int J Trichol 2010; 2: 86-88.
Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Vancouver office at 604.283.9299