Are Eyelash Extensions Safe?

By

Sarah Lewis, PharmD

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Closed eye

Cosmetic procedures are on the increase in the United States. And it’s not just cosmetic surgeries. Nearly half of the money Americans spend on cosmetic procedures is for nonsurgical enhancements. Getting longer, fuller eyelashes is one of them. This trend is popular because longer eyelashes emphasize the eyes, creating a more youthful, feminine look. Eyelash extensions and eyelash enhancement are two options for getting this look. For the most part, these are relatively safe procedures, but both have potential risks to consider.

Infections

Eyelash extensions, and even temporary false eyelashes, can attract and trap dirt and bacteria. This can lead to irritation and infection of the eyelid or cornea. Infection of the cornea—keratitis—has the potential to threaten your sight. The symptoms are eye pain, reduced vision, sensitivity to light, tearing, and discharge from the eye. See an ophthalmologist right away if you use eyelash extensions and experience any of these symptoms. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating eye conditions and diseases with medication and surgery.

Allergic Reactions

Eyelash extensions and temporary false eyelashes use adhesives to keep the synthetic eyelashes in place. These adhesives—glues or tapes—can cause allergic reactions. So can the solvents you must use to remove the lashes. An allergic reaction results in itching and swelling of the eyelids, which can be dramatic. This condition is called allergic blepharitis. Again, it’s important to see an ophthalmologist if you have this reaction to eyelash extensions. 

Temporary or Permanent Eyelash Loss

Eyelash extensions put tension on your natural eyelashes. This can lead to a condition called traction alopecia, or losing your natural eyelashes. Temporary false eyelashes can also cause this condition. When you pull them off, your natural eyelashes may come off with them. The result is even sparser eyelashes, which may tempt you to use eyelash extensions again. Repeated episodes may damage the hair follicle and lead to permanent eyelash loss.

Ways to Protect Yourself

Any cosmetic procedure has risks. If you choose to use eyelash extensions, there are some things you can do to lower your risks. Find a reputable salon and make sure your aesthetician has proper certification. Ask about hygiene practices and make sure anyone who touches your eyes washes their hands properly. Also, ask about the ingredients in the adhesive. Formaldehyde-based products seem to cause the most problems. Go to an ophthalmologist if you run into any eye problems after using eyelash extensions.

Eyelash Enhancement: An Alternative to Eyelash Extensions

Eyelash enhancement uses a serum you apply to the base of your eyelashes. There are over-the-counter (OTC) products and one prescription serum. Keep in mind OTC products are technically cosmetics. So they don’t have to show safety and effectiveness the way prescription products do. On the other hand, prescription eyelash enhancement carries risks. Although not common, they include:

  • Darkening of the irises—colored part of the eye
  • Darkening of the skin where you apply the product
  • Dry, red or itchy eyes
  • Hair growth on skin that repeatedly contacts the product

Eyelash extensions and lengthening serums may be an option for some people. They will emphasize your eyes, but there are serious risks and complications to keep in mind. Before deciding on either method, understand the pros and cons so you are comfortable with your decision.

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