Having thick, long lashes is every woman’s dream, but how far will they go for a fuller look? Recent trends in eyelash plumping have now bypassed the trusty mascara wand, going to more extreme measures to get that dramatic, sexy look. A new fad of eyelash extensions has swept through salons and spas, costing women both tons of money and for some, their natural lashes. As many reports have proved that lash extensions pose potential health risks, more and more horror stories have emerged as an increased number of women are trying to look like Beyoncé. So what exactly is happening, and what should you look out for when considering the false lash trend?
Why it’s risky
Putting any foreign object anywhere near your eye poses a threat, but eyelash extensions are particularly hazardous because they have been known to cause a variety of different types of irritation. “The glue, for some people, can cause allergic reactions,” said Dr. Robert Dorin from True and Dorin Medical Group in New York City. “And for some reason bacteria wants to stick with it, and it could cause fungal or viral infections as well.”
Even though the glue is deemed biologically acceptable, some glues contain formaldehyde which can cause the allergic reaction. Also, dirt and bacteria can get trapped within the extensions, as Dorin said, and it is very likely that the extensions can cause eye infections.
The biggest risk, though, is the vicious cycle extensions start when they begin to damage your natural lashes. “The weight of using [eyelash extensions] on a regular basis can put stress on the hair follicle and eventually make it fall out and not grow back,” Dorin said. “The incentive to use it is to make your lashes fuller, and it can actually do the reverse and make them thinner.”
The evidence seems to be pretty compelling that lash extensions are more trouble than they’re worth. But in case that hasn’t convinced you, some of the worst reactions women have experienced may do the trick.
The grossest story you’ll hear all day
According to Allure’s assistant editor, Alexandra Owens, a close friend of hers had what she calls “the worst experience of [her] life” thanks to her eyelash extensions. A former lover of her new, false lashes, Owen’s friend found that one of her extensions fell off her eyelash, and into her eye. After days of rubbing and trying to flush the extension out, she saw an ophthalmologist. Much to her horror, the ophthalmologist discovered that the extension had become embedded in her eye, and that the flesh of her eye was now growing over the lash. After experiencing a painful extraction of the lash with a needle, Owen says her friend is never going near extensions again.
What’s happening in Japan
Currently in Japan, eyelash extensions are a huge fad, much bigger than it is in the United States. However, with the increasing number of women pumping up their lashes, there has been an increase in visits to the eye doctor.
“In countries like Japan, they attribute most of their eye clinic visits to infections caused by extensions,” Dorin said.
In a recent study in support of this claim, Japanese researchers examined a smaller pool of participants to see what kinds of ocular diseases eyelash extensions were causing. Out of 107 women ages 21 to 52, 64 had experienced allergic reactions because of the glue, while 42 experienced conjunctival erosion because of infection. The rest were found to have other types of allergic reactions associated with the lashes, as well as different forms of infections to different parts of the eye.
A UK woman was abandoned by her salon
In 2013, 42-year-old Jane Rolfe decided to try eyelash extensions from her local salon. After not being given an allergy test to see if she was allergic to the glue, Rolfe awoke the day after getting her extensions with a severely swollen face, a painful stinging sensation, and bloodshot eyes. After immediately returning to the salon to ask they remove the extensions, Rolfe was told that the reaction was normal and that if she wanted them gone, she would have to remove them herself.
Rolfe found no choice but to try and remove them, as she was experiencing blisters forming under her eye, and a rash spreading to other parts of her face. The swelling was getting worse, and Rolfe found herself unrecognizable.
“It took me five hours to work them free using nothing but soap and water and it was an excruciatingly painful experience, but even after that the rash and irritation carried on getting worse,” she told the Daily Mail.
Even after the extensions were removed, the reaction persisted until Rolfe’s doctor prescribed her steroids. Unfortunately, Rolfe’s insurer refused to pay for her medication and visit because the salon did not issue the allergy test. As a result, the salon’s negligence left Rolfe with not only a scarring experience, but a hefty medical bill.
Everything that could go wrong, did.
A 28-year-old woman experienced the Murphy’s Law of eyelash extension mishaps in 2013, when she tested out the falsies three months before her wedding. After spending half an hour at the spa, Louise Jackson’s aesthetician told her to open her eyes. Only problem: she couldn’t.
Once Jackson told her aesthetician her eyelashes were glued shut, she reports that the woman went to get tweezers and quickly starting pulling her eyelids apart.
"I screamed in pain," she told Female Mag. "When she finally pried my eyes open, I looked in the mirror and could see that dozens of my own lashes had been pulled out in the process. There were gaps on the upper and lower lids."
After a bout of tears and panic, Jackson tried to remove the lashes with baby oil, and noticed her eyes were beginning to puff up. When she had no luck with that, Jackson went to the emergency room only to find that doctors could not help her. "They told me it looked as if the salon had used super-glue, which they couldn't take off because applying more chemicals would irritate my eyes even further."
On top of that, doctors found that the aesthetician scratched both her eyeballs with tweezers. Jackson had no choice but to pull off each lash days before her wedding, leaving her in physical agony with little lashes left.
It’s true that not everyone who gets lash extensions will wind up in the ER, but the risks are still there. If you’re still not convinced that lash extensions may not be a great idea, be sure to contact a reputable, licensed salon for your extensions, and make sure they sterilize everything. But, if you’ve been scared straight like I know I have, maybe stick to the mascara tube. It may not give you the to-die-for Kim Kardashian look, but in the case of your health, less is more.
Study: Amano Y, et al. Ocular Disorders due to eyelash extensions. PubMed. 2012.