Many a product claims to enhance your eyelashes and make them look longer. One such eyelash enhancer actually gets results, but is it safe?
By Marie Suszynski
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
It almost sounds too good to be true: Swipe an applicator over your eyelids and you’ll grow enviably thick, longer eyelashes. That’s what eyelash growth enhancers — both over-the-counter and prescription — claim to do.
And if you’ve lost your lashes, growing new ones isn’t just for cosmetic appeal. Your lashes protect your eyes from dust and fibers, says J. Greg Brady, DO, a dermatologist and surgeon at Advanced Dermatology Associates in Allentown, Pa.
Growing new lashes can help people who have lost their eyelashes due to chemotherapy or who have sparse eyelashes due to hypothyroidism or severe infections, says Mohiba Tareen, MD, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology, P.C./Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery and clinical instructor of dermatology at Columbia University, both in New York City.
But are these eyelash enhancers risky to use?
Over-the-Counter Eyelash Enhancers
A few products at the drugstore and online say they promote eyelash growth; they can cost anywhere from a few dollars to more than $100 per tube. One product that used to successfully grow eyelashes is RevitaLash, an eyelash conditioner that you could buy online or in dermatologists’ offices. RevitaLash was an effective eyelash enhancer because it contained a prostaglandin that stimulated eyelash growth, Dr. Tareen says. However, the maker of the prescription formula Latisse (bimatoprost ophthalmic solution) holds the patent for the prostaglandin ingredient, and RevitaLash was forced to take it out of its formula.
· Pros: Over-the-counter eyelash enhancers can be very affordable.
· Cons: According to Tareen, over-the-counter eyelash enhancers lack the essential ingredient that you can only get through a prescription, so they’re not nearly as effective.
Latisse, a Prescription Eyelash Enhancer
You’ve probably noticed times during your life when your hair grows faster and comes in fuller. When women are pregnant, for example, their hair and eyelashes become thicker and fuller, only to go back to normal once pregnancy is over. Latisse works by increasing the growth phase of the hair, allowing it to grow longer and fuller all the time.
Latisse is actually a drug developed to treat glaucoma; doctors noticed that eyelash growth was a side effect of Latisse. The solution has since been repackaged and approved by FDA as a topical eyelash enhancer.
· Pros: It really does work. One of Tareen’s patients had to start trimming her eyelashes after using this product for several weeks because they became so long. And because the medication is used on the eyelid and shouldn’t go into the eye, it has very few side effects, Tareen says.
· Cons: The benefits of Latisse go away once you stop using it. Tareen tells her patients to use it every day for three months, then once every two or three days to continue to see longer eyelashes. Another con of using the drug is irritation or redness in people with sensitive skin, but those problems often go away on their own and can be treated with a topical steroid, Tareen says.
Although the risk is low, there are concerns that if bimatoprost ophthalmic solution gets into your eye it could increase the pigmentation of your iris. “Especially for people with hazel eyes, their eyes could become brower,” Dr. Brady says. While it’s rare, the effect is permanent.
It’s also very important to tell your doctor if you have a history of glaucoma or eye problems because bimatoprost ophthalmic solution could cause a change in your eye pressure or aggravate an existing eye disease.
“Although it’s not required, it’s never bad advice for people to get an eye exam and have their pressure checked before starting any treatment that may affect the eyes,” Brady suggests. Pressure changes in the eye are silent, so you won’t know you have high pressure unless you get it checked.
Perhaps the biggest drawback is financial: Latisse costs about $120 a month. But if you can afford it and you want to thicken your lashes in a safe way, talk to your doctor about starting the treatment.