This has happened to me more than once: I’m getting touched up for a photo, and the makeup artist assesses my face and says, “We just need to put some mascara on, and then you’re all set.”
To which I reply, “But I’m already wearing mascara.”
I have always been eyelash challenged. Not in a way that’s medical-condition serious but enough so that I’ve become somewhat fixated on my, well, shortcomings. When I am introduced to someone new, I often make a mental note of her assets: Is she a Bambi type? Or are her lashes, like mine, barely visible to the naked eye? A true sign that I’m obsessed? More than once I’ve caught myself staring at my 15-year-old stepson’s impossibly long lashes thinking not, I’m so happy for him that he’s such a handsome kid, but, No fair!
For many years I accepted the sparse fringe on my lids as the inevitable consequence of my naturally (okay, naturally when I was 10) blond hair. But recently I got tired of making do with less and decided to embark upon a lash-lengthening quest. First, I asked New York dermatologist Amy Wechsler to provide me with a few eyelash basics. “Eyelash length is purely genetic,” she told me, dashing my hopes that if I would just remember to take my vitamins, my lashes would magically grow. Even more discouraging is that, as Wechsler explained, lashes thin with age. So, like supple skin, long, full eyelashes have long been equated with youthful beauty. No wonder we’ve been playing them up for eons. Ancient Egyptian women rubbed their lashes with kohl, a mixture of charred plants and oils. That practice went unimproved until 1913, when chemist T.L. Williams mixed coal dust with Vaseline, creating Maybelline, the first mascara. Three years later film director D.W. Griffith invented the first pair of false eyelashes.
Over the years I have benefited from both Williams’s and Griffith’s ingenuity. Among the top-performing mascaras in my arsenal: Lancôme’s Definicils, Max Factor’s 2000 Calorie Mascara, Blinc’s Kiss Me and Diorshow. Still, none of these products was exactly turning me into Twiggy. So, three years ago, I moved on to the 21st-century version of Griffith’s falsies: eyelash extensions. Instead of attaching a strip of fringe, aestheticians glue synthetic hairs, one by one, onto a client’s own lashes. The process is fairly quick and painless, and it yields immediate, transformative results, but said results last only a few weeks. At around $300 a visit, maintenance can quickly drain one’s pocketbook.
For those who seek a more long-term commitment, there is eyelash transplant surgery, in which follicles are harvested from the back of the head and replanted in the lash line. Florida-based cosmetic surgeon Alan Bauman has been performing the procedure, which runs about $6,000, since 2000. “When I started, most patients were reconstructive cases,” he says. “Now, nine out of 10 are having it done for cosmetic purposes.”