The ideal client for this procedure has wavy hair. “What you have on your head is what you’re going to get on your lid,” Bauman explains. “Patients with straight hair had better be proficient with a lash curler.” Not to mention a pair of scissors: Scalp hairs continue to grow in their new home. Bauman’s office now offers a full lash-care menu, including perming, trimming—even lash shampooing.
Because the idea of going under the knife sounded extreme, I began to explore a less invasive frontier: lash conditioners. The first of these products appeared in 2005, when Jan Marini launched Age Intervention Eyelash, a serum boasting an ingredient called eyelash growth factor. Soon the beauty blogs were lighting up with rave reviews.
In the wake of Marini’s success, a wave of copycats flooded the market, including Revitalash and Massive Lash. But the party didn’t last. Under FDA rules, any product that claims to induce growth is a drug, not a cosmetic, and thus needs to go through the agency’s approval process, which lash conditioners hadn’t done. So in November 2007, Marini’s product was seized. Complicating matters, the active ingredients in lash conditioners, compounds known as prostaglandin analogs, are patented by Allergan, the company that makes Botox. (Allergan uses a prostaglandin analog in its glaucoma drug, Lumigan, and its cosmetic potential was discovered when patients experienced lash growth as a side effect.) Allergan sued Marini and several of her competitors and has since submitted an application to the FDA for its own prescription drug specifically targeting lashes. It’s now awaiting approval.
Meanwhile, Marini and most of her competitors have reformulated their products, replacing prostaglandin analogs with peptides, chains of amino acids that are used in antiaging creams to boost collagen production. In this case, the peptides are meant to stimulate follicles. Among the peptide pushers are Marini Lash, RapidLash Eyelash Renewal Serum, Actifirm Actilash Eyelash Conditioner, B. Kamins Chemist Eyelash Fortifier, Dr. Denese Eyelash and Brow Enhancer, and DermaLash Colors.
If all of this sounds confusing, you’re not alone. Nashville, Tennessee, ophthalmic plastic surgeon Brian Biesman says that even experts like him don’t have enough information yet to determine what’s safe and effective. Patients taking prostaglandin analogs to treat glaucoma—using it in their eyes rather than on their lash lines—have reported side effects, including darkening of the iris and the skin around the eye. Given these safety concerns, Biesman’s advice is to “stay away for now” from conditioners containing prostaglandin analogs. “They need to be studied in a formal way,” he says. As for the lash conditioners containing peptides, exercise caution. “Run any product by your ophthalmologist before using it around the eye,” he says.
I’ve sampled several conditioners, giving each its fair four weeks or so. (What can I say? I’m a risk taker.) I haven’t noticed much growth, but, believe it or not, I’m not overly bummed about it. The reason, in two words: vibrating mascara.