Why do I have a sneezing fit when I take a tweezer to my brows?
There may be a biological explanation for why you’re seemingly allergic to tweezers, but it doesn’t appear to be something people mention to their doctors.
Jessica J. Krant, M.D., MPH, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, says no patients have ever mentioned it to her. Same goes for Melanie Grossman, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University: No one has complained to her about it. And yet this is something that definitely happens to people, either when they first begin plucking as a teen or during an entire lifetime of brow maintenance.
Dr. Grossman says doctors believe that the trigeminal nerve is the culprit. This nerve connects the face to the brain and transmits sensations between them. It has three branches; the one worth talking about here is the ophthalmic branch, which supplies nerves to the cornea and iris, the forehead, parts of the sinus and mucous membranes in the nose, and to the skin of the eyelids, eyebrows, and nose.
Usually, irritation in the nose is what leads the nerve to signal to your brain to sneeze, so it’s possible that the nerve is being stimulated when you’re pulling a hair out. (By the way, if you sneeze in bright light, there’s a similar mechanism at work: When the optic nerve makes your pupils constrict in sunshine, some of that signaling could be sensed by the trigeminal nerve and result in a sneeze.)
Dr. Grossman says that, theoretically, pressing on the eyebrow could block the signal and sneezing reflex, but since she doesn’t experience it, she’s never tested it. So we talked to someone who has a lot of experience with plucking: brow specialist Kristie Streicher of Striiike salon in Los Angeles.
Streicher says she holds the skin very tightly when shaping clients’ eyebrows in order to reduce pain, and it doesn’t have an effect on sneezing at all. “Some people sneeze with almost every hair … I just step away and I give them a second and then I go back in. It takes a lot longer,” she says, laughing.
It’s not everybody, though. Streicher says it affects about 15 to 20 percent of her clients, and typically their left eyebrow is worse than their right. Some get watery eyes and runny noses, too — which sounds a whole lot like allergies. In fact, one of her clients takes allergy medications, and at an appointment after she’d recently gotten an allergy shot, she didn’t sneeze at all.
Tweezing-induced sneezing is probably not a reason to start taking antihistamines, but heads up that there may be a link with allergies. While this whole phenomenon may be annoying, here’s hoping you never sneeze while using an eyelash curler.