The Dark Side of Eyelash Extensions

March 01, 2019

Women have been craving long, lush lashes since the dawn of time. Mascara, introduced in 1917, seemed like the perfect solution…until false eyelashes hit the scene. The latest version of false eyelashes - eyelash extensions - have taken the beauty world by storm. But your eye doctor will tell you…there’s a dark side to this dramatic look. 

In an earlier post we talked about Demodex, the little mites that tend to nestle in your eyelash extensions. But there are other concerns too…and some of them are very serious. Just ask actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth. The star experienced a devastating allergic reaction to formaldehyde, a dangerous compound in the glue used to attach her eyelash extensions. This clip from an interview tells her story. Allergic reactions to formaldehyde or biologics in the adhesive can include red, swollen, itchy eyes or eyes that ooze fluid or develop crusty deposits on the lids and lashes. The solvents used to remove the glue can also cause allergic reactions. 

Extensions can trap dirt and bacteria, causing infections such as pink eye and fungal conditions. Regular cleaning with tea tree oil can help combat the buildup of dirt and bacteria, but it must be done thoroughly at least twice daily to be effective. Many women find it difficult to keep to a safe schedule when it comes to cleaning their lashes, putting the health of their eyes at risk. 

Eyelash extensions can also irritate the eye itself, caused by direct contact with the lashes or with the glue used to attach them. Conjunctivitis and irritation to the cornea are common issues with eyelash extensions, and can cause permanent damage to the eye if not addressed immediately. 

Eyelash extensions can even cause permanent damage to your own lashes. Traction alopecia, a medical condition caused when the lashes fall out due to the increased tension placed on the hair shaft, is becoming more and more common among women who return to the salon multiple times for eyelash extensions. As the condition progresses, the hair follicles become damaged, resulting in the slowing or even the complete end of new hair growth. Irritation caused by the adhesives or the lashes themselves can also lead to the development of madarosis, a condition where women tug and pull on their own lashes, eventually leading to “bald eyes”. 

One of the most frightening trends is the addition of crystals, beads or charms to eyelash extensions.  Hard or sharp objects this close to the eye is never a good idea, especially in combination with the other issues associated with eyelash extensions. 

There is also new evidence that using eyelash extensions may contribute to problems with dry eyes. Studies show that there is an optimal length for eyelashes if they’re going to protect your eyes from wind, dust and irritants. According to Deepinder Dhaliwal, MD, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, when your eyelashes are fuller and longer than the optimum length, the fan-like effect increases air flow to the surface of the eye, aggravating dry eye issues. Animal studies have shown that the most effective length for eyelashes when it comes to protecting the eye is one-third the width of the eye. Anything longer is likely to cause decreased protection and dangerous irritation. 

If you’re seeking longer, fuller lashes, don’t despair. While eyelash extensions may not be the answer, alternatives are out there. At the Tanglewood and Galleria Area offices of Pro-Optix Eye Care, your optometrist will take the time to review all your options, and even perform a comprehensive vision exam if you haven’t had one lately. Our goal is complete eye care – because healthy eyes are beautiful eyes! 


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