Most of us spend our lives looking for two things: love and how to get longer-looking lashes. Back in the day, the perfect flutter was all about eyelash curler hacks and mascara tips. But now, as eyelash extensions become more widely available — and, dare we say it, affordable — you can wake up every day with the lashes of your dreams. Since extensions exploded on to the scene, there’s been the odd concern about their safety. We checked in to find out what eye doctors think you should know before you book your appointment.
1. Find a trusted technician. Check all the Yelp reviews. Like, all the Yelp reviews. “Find an accredited lash salon with licensed technicians who pay attention to detail,” says Dr. Amy Hong of the Key-Whitman Eye Center in Dallas. “Some do a great job at separating lashes out and using minimal lash adhesive.” You can also scroll back through a prospective technician’s Instagram page to make sure they’re consistently delivering Kardashian-worthy extensions.
2. Beware of suspicious deals. “If you try to cut corners on eyelash extension costs, you could very well end up with an inexperienced, non-licensed technician,” says Dr. Pat Colerick of Key-Whitman Eye Center. Everyone needs to start somewhere, but if your artist hasn’t had proper training, they might not be up to speed on safety protocol. According to Dr. Colerick, these include using the appropriate amount and type of glue, not exceeding one extension per lash, and following the correct sterilization procedures for equipment.
3. Choose the right lashes. Whether you’re going for mermaid eyelashes or something a little more natural, extensions usually come in three categories: mink, silk, and synthetic. Cost and feel vary among the three types. “Synthetic lashes may interfere with the normal growth and shedding of lashes,” says Dr. Monica Nguyen. She explains that eyelash extension products don’t need to be approved by the FDA — “it is up to the manufacturers to ensure the safety of the cosmetic products.”
4. Get to know your glue. You’ll often hear lash extension providers refer to using “medical-grade” glue, but just like with prescriptions, that doesn’t mean one size fits all. “Ask for the glue’s ingredient list and check it for allergens,” says San Diego-based Dr. Kaushal M. Kulkarni. “Confirm the expiration date has not passed. Request a spot test on the inside of your wrist before the glue is applied to your eyes.” Even if your patch test doesn’t elicit a reaction after 2-3 days, you could have a reaction when the glue is applied near your eyes. If you do react, your technician may be able to source a gentler product.
5. Know that allergic reactions happen. “If you have an allergic reaction — or contact dermatitis — to the glue, you can end up with puffy, red eyes until the extensions are removed,” says Dr. Colerick. And yes, you do need to have them removed by a pro. Dr. Kulkarni warns, “Do not try to remove them yourself, as this could damage your eyes.” He also advises against at-home treatment. “Doing so incorrectly may make the symptoms last much longer,” he says. But until you’re able to see an optometrist, Dr. Colerick suggests that you can make your eyes more comfortable by taking an oral antihistamine or anti-inflammatory medication, and using cortisone cream and/or eye drops.
6. Don’t ignore symptoms. Sometimes, through no fault of your technician, things can go wrong. “Women have reported adverse effects such as dry eyes, itchy eyelids, tearing, burning, lid swelling, discharge, and difficulty removing eyelash extensions. Some women have found that after removal, the eyelashes feel thinner or shorter and are missing eyelashes,” says Dr. Nguyen. In fact, these and other symptoms, as studied in 107 women in Japan, have prompted concerns from the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Consumer Reports, according to Dr. Kulkarni. If complications occur, “you could end up with corneal abrasions, eye irritations and redness, or a serious eye infection,” says Dr. Colerick.
7. Keep ’em clean. Dr. Hong sees a lot of patients with dead skin cells trapped near the lash line because they’re too nervous about losing lashes to clean their eyelids and extensions properly. “If you don’t clean your eyelids well, you can end up with blepharitis and dandruff scruff on the surface of the eye, which can cause inflammation,” she says. “Trust me; what I see under the microscope is a disgusting mess. Plus oil glands can clog and result in eye styes, chalazions, inflammation, and eye infections.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Dr. Colerick points out that, without the massaging action your eyelids usually get when you wash your face, you can end up with dry eye syndrome. “Lid massage is important because it helps keep the oils that control dryness present in the tear film,” he says. “When we scrub our eyes, the natural massaging motion helps keep the oil producing meibomian glands open.”
So what can you do to keep your eyelid hygiene in check *and* preserve your extensions? “Wiping the eyelids with baby shampoo or medicated wipes [helps],” says Dr. Ming Wang. Your artist or technician should also provide a clean brush (like a mascara tester wand) to help you keep your lashes from getting tangled.
8. Remember that it’s okay if they’re not for you. Lash extensions are addictive, but if you notice any new or recurring symptoms, they might not be for you. Dr. Nguyen sees a lot of extension wearers struggle to kick the habit, even in the face of adverse reactions. “I mean, I get it; they are really pretty,” she says. “It is just important to know the potential side effects which can occur when using this product, which can be damaging to your eyes.” There are other options: Dyed and permed eyelashes are easier to keep clean, but last just as long as extensions. And magnetic eyelashes add plenty of drama to your look, without glue or irritation.
Do you love your eyelash extensions? Tell us your top lash care tips @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)