By Michele Pendrak
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt the need to create an entire handout for my patients about lash growth serums. This is because everything eyelashes had become so popular. Lash bars were popping up everywhere, eyelash extensions were getting longer and longer, and lash tinting and lifts started taking off as a new trend. However, on the flip side of this, I also found myself treating patients with red irritated eyes from the aftereffects of eyelash treatments from both my own practice as well referrals from other physicians.
Then . . . the world stopped.
“Suddenly, in the last few weeks, I have found myself fielding questions about eyelash growth serums a few times per day.“
During quarantine there was far less emphasis on our physical appearance. The cosmetics world was one of the many industries that took a substantial financial hit. Suddenly I found myself talking about things like “MADE” (Mask Associated Dry Eye – yes, it’s a thing) rather than clean makeup and lash growth serums.
My best guess is that as the world opens back up, after nearly 2 of the longest years ever, we are more excited than ever to get back out there. However, with lingering mask-wearing requirements, the emphasis is on our eyes more than ever.
There are ways to have beautiful-looking lashes without risking your eye health. As with all health and beauty products, it is all about the ingredients. Read on for more tips!
Eyelash Growth Serums with Prostaglandins and Prostaglandin Analogues
Knowing the history behind eyelash serums will help. You’re probably familiar with Latisse, whose active ingredient is bimatoprost. Guess what its original use was? In 2001, bimatoprost was approved as an eye drop for glaucoma! It was and still is a highly effective glaucoma drop. When prescribing it, we noticed several side-effects. Patients’ eyes were becoming red and sunken in, the skin around the eye was darkening, the colored part of the eye was also darkening, but their eyelashes were getting noticeably thicker and darker! I could see a glaucoma patient who was taking a prostaglandin drop coming a mile away. I didn’t even need to ask for the history!
Bimatoprost is a prostaglandin, which is a fatty acid that acts like a hormone in our bodies. When naturally occurring in the body, part of its job is to cause inflammation, pain, and fever. So, it is no surprise that this compound is used in the eye, it makes them red. Yes, Latisse does an excellent job helping you grow thicker darker lashes, but it will also cause your eye to become red and inflamed which leads to irritation and dryness. A classic “prostaglandin eye” is pictured below.
What’s not pictured is the classic burning sensation and the dry eye that comes with it. In fact, a 2016 study found that 96% of patients taking prostaglandin eye drops had evaporative dry eyes from clogged oil (meibomian) glands in their eyelids. In many cases, I can treat this, however, there are other side effects that I cannot such as increased pigmentation and the sunken appearance of the eyes.
“So, it was no surprise that the cosmetic industry eventually figured this out and marketed bimatoprost as an eyelash growth serum.”
Other lash growth serums use prostaglandin analogues which are compounds that mimic prostaglandins and bind to the same receptors in the body. You may see this ingredient listed as Isopropyl Cloprostenate (see the “-prost-” in there as in “prostaglandin”?). As the name suggests, they have the same effects as Latisse/bimatoprost.
This ingredient was made famous due to an April 2018 lawsuit against Rodan + Fields for their Lash Boost Serum, including Isopropyl Cloprostenate. Consumers claimed R + F did not fully disclose all of the adverse events and side effects.
Prostaglandin-Free Lash Serum Alternatives
Realizing that consumers were becoming ingredient savvy and were actively seeking healthier options, the cosmetic industry responded by giving us several prostaglandin-free lash growth serums. This means you will not get red, dark, dry, sunken eyes. Many of these serums work by strengthening your lashes so that they stay at their longest growth phase for an extended period, hence the appearance of longer lashes. Depending on where you are in your lash cycle, it can take up to 4 months to notice a difference. In my experience (yes, I have tried them personally!), your lashes will typically be longer with these, but not necessarily as thick or dark as they would be with a prostaglandin-infused serum.
Anytime you are talking about working on your eyelashes, which are immediately adjacent to the delicate oil glands in our eyelids that secrete the top oil layer of our tear film, you must consider that this will cause some level of ocular irritation and inflammation not to mention the risk of corneal burns and abrasions from the various adhesives that are used. However, I understand that many of my patients will not be ditching their eyelash extensions anytime soon, so, for this reason, I will tell you how you must clean them.
I love The Optometrist’s Eyelash Extension Care Guide to Safer, Healthier and Happier Eyes by Dr. Tanya Gill, the creator behind the We Love Eyes™ product line. As far as cleaning is concerned, she makes an Eyelid Margin Cleansing Brush designed specifically for cleaning the eyelids and base of the eyelashes for patients with eyelash extensions.
“And I haven’t even touched on healthy eye makeup and mascaras! More to come.”
If you don’t clean your lashes properly, you are creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and other microorganisms which can lead to a type of eyelid inflammation called blepharitis. She also makes several effective eyelid cleansing products. I am a huge fan of her oil-based eye makeup removers; however, those with lash extensions should only use the cleansing foams since the oil-based products have to be avoided as they will remove the extensions.
Hopefully, this gives you a better idea of what is and is not “safe” as we all strive for those longer, beautiful lashes.
In the pursuit of longer lashes, I will leave you with this preview of our favorite mascara (on one eye) from “Eyes Are the Story” which is a bio beauty brand uniquely focused on eye health. This mascara has become so popular with my patients, we decided to start selling it in the office…but additional makeup options is a whole other blog post, so stay tuned! In the meantime, please come and visit us to discuss and try some of the new options for longer lashes!