The obsession with longer, fuller, darker eyelashes has become a mainstay in our culture – initially with the ever growing options of mascaras and glue on eyelashes, and now with options that are longer lasting, including eyelash extensions (semipermanent eyelashes) and topical eyelash growth enhancers (such as bimatoprost).
Eyelash extensions are not the same as glue-on strip or individual lashes bought at the drug store or makeup counter that last 1-2 days. These are silk, mink, or poly nylon synthetic lashes that typically last for approximately four weeks, with refills often required at 2-4 week intervals as the natural eyelash sheds. They are adhered to the person’s natural eyelash via an adhesive bonding process that can take 1-2 hours for initial application. Generally, a single lash is applied to each natural lash.
When applied properly, neither the extension eyelash nor the glue should touch the eyelid. The bond is designed to last until the lashes naturally fall out, although the extensions may fall out faster if one uses oil-based eye makeup remover or rubs the eyes regularly, as oil weakens the bond between the glue and the lash. Eyelash extensions are waterproof and give the appearance of having mascara on without wearing it. In the United States, eyelash extension services can range from $100 to $500 for the initial application, with decreased cost for refills. Lash extensions are waterproof and popular for special occasions and vacations, and even more so now for every day.
Potential adverse effects of eyelash extensions include ocular hyperemia, keratoconjunctivitis, allergic blepharitis, and allergic contact dermatitis in the patient. Keratoconjunctivitis is thought to be due to formaldehyde contained in some of the glues used for application.1 Eyelash extensions have also been associated with occupational allergic contact dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, and occupational asthma in the practitioner applying the eyelash extensions, particularly with the cyanoacrylate-based glues.2,3
In a national survey of eyelash extensions and their health-related problems in Japan, 10% (205) of the respondents had experience with eyelash extensions. Of those women, 27% (55) experienced problems that included ocular hyperemia, pain, and itchy swollen eyelids.4 Conjunctival erosion from the eyelid fixing tape used during application and subconjunctival hemorrhage from compression during removal of the extensions has been also reported.1 Hair breakage and even traction alopecia may occur, especially in patients who accidentally or intentionally pull the extensions off.
If permanent eyelash damage occurs, eyelash transplantation may be required to replace the eyelash, as eyelash growth medications such as bimatoprost may not be effective if the follicle is missing or severely damaged. Eyelash transplants often grow long enough where they require trimming, especially if donor sites are taken from the scalp.5
Eyelash extensions offer a nice alternative to daily use of mascara, temporary glue-on eyelashes, and daily application of topical eyelash growth products. As this procedure has increased in number, the dermatologist may be consulted for recommendations and treatment of any potential adverse events associated with it.
Dr. Wesley and Dr. Talakoub are co-contributors to this column. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. This month’s column is by Dr. Wesley.