Eyelash extensions are basically the answer to life's eternal question: "What if I want to wear mascara every day without actually having to apply mascara every day?" The semipermanent "lashes" stay on for days, streamlining your makeup routine instantly. Plus, unlike lash growth serums, you only have to refill them periodically instead of applying nightly.
If you've never gotten them before (but are curious), these are the basics: Extensions usually last around 2-4 weeks before you'll need a touch-up appointment. You’ll also need to avoid oil cleansers around your eyes and brush them out to keep them in good condition. And, they can be a fairly expensive addition to your routine (top technicians like the ones in this story can charge up to $450/appointment). Even so, legions of makeup lovers continue getting them for the instant drama they add to every smoky eye and winged liner look.
Of course, if you have lash extensions, it’s essential to know how to best care for them. And it seems there are a lot of questions floating around out there, from the possibility of eye infections to the possibility of your actual lashes falling out. We spoke to a group of experts — from pro lash extension artists to eye doctors— to get the scoop on what you need to know.
What are the risks?
Let's start with the biggest question first. On the milder end, there can be side effects like itchiness and redness. The purpose of our eyelashes — much like our brows — is to keep out sweat, dirt, and dust to better protect our eyes. "Extensions, however, trap all of this debris, increasing risk of infections," ophthalmologist Dr. Caryn Nearnberg explains. As debris accumulates, the chance for irritation increases.
Occasionally, more serious side effects can occur as well. According to Dr. Nearnberg, “Eyelash extensions can cause infections to the cornea and eyelids, as well as loss of your natural lashes." Applying extensions puts additional tension on the hair shaft, which can damage the hair follicle and slow down lash production.
One more thing to look out for: conjunctivitis and keratitis. This is due to “attached debris and bacteria that get trapped and stay in the lashes,” says Dr. Nearnberg, “The bacteria can also clog the oil glands and cause styes.” If you encounter any of these conditions, consult an eye doctor immediately, as you’ll need topical or oral antibiotics to treat inflamed and swollen lids.
Granted, all of this might sound like lash extensions will mean doom for your eye health, but plenty of people wear them regularly without issue. While the risks can happen, there's a significantly decreased chance of encountering them if you do your research. So:
What should I research?
As lash extensions become increasingly popular, you want to make sure you're in the hands of the pros and getting them in a hygienic environment. Dr. Nearnberg recommends that you “review the certifications and ensure that the salon is sanitary and a reputable establishment.”
Lash expert and owner of Envious Lashes, Clementina Richardson, notes that “depending on the state, the stylist also needs to be licensed, not just certified." Always check credentials as a potential customer and make sure that the salon is clean. (Other considerations include making sure your technician is wearing gloves and washing their hands frequently.)
"Besides licensing and certification, experience is crucial," Clementina says. "At least one year of experience is a must. Look closely at before and after pictures of the artist's work — there should be no evidence of visible adhesive or criss-crossing lashes, nor should there be any clumping of the lashes. There should never be multiple lashes attached to an extension."
Courtney Akai, lash expert and owner of the eponymous Courtney Akai Lash Boutique, recommends asking or researching the following questions before making your first appointment:
- How much lash experience does the stylist have?
- What is the salon's reputation?
- How do they sterilize their implements?
- Can I see before & after pics?
- What type of lashes do they use?
- What type of adhesive are they working with?
- Is it ophthalmologist tested?
- How can I be sure my own lashes will stay healthy?
Discuss the weight of the lashes your stylist will use, too. The appropriate weight will make sure your natural lashes are not weighed down and stay in healthy condition. “With the modern methods, it’s very possible to give a very full look without causing too much stress on the natural lash,” Courtney says. If you don’t have strong natural lashes, Clementina recommends trying a lash treatment three weeks prior to your extension appointment. "The stronger the natural lash, the better the chance are of preventing breakage,” she explains.
How can I make sure I won't have an allergic reaction?
It's also important to ask about the glue that is being used to adhere the lashes. Some places actually use a formaldehyde-based glue, which can be toxic. "Most eyelash adhesive brands include the chemical formaldehyde," Dr. Nearnberg says. "If this kind of glue gets in the eye, it can irritate or scar the cornea." We recommend making sure that the glue your specialist is using is formaldehyde-free. “You can also ask the aesthetician to spot test on your inside wrist to make sure you are not allergic,” adds Dr. Nearnberg.
What do I need to know about caring for my eyelash extensions?
Taking good care of your new extensions can also go a long way in preventing issues. “It’s important to keep your lashes clean once you get them,” Courtney says. ”The old school myth is that you don’t ever wet them, but this is not true!” She recommends using a gentle, (oil-free!) cleanser, which won't cause them to fall out. So, grab your favorite formula and give them a good clean every night. With a little extra attention, you should be able to avoid a bad reaction — and enjoy your new extensions in peace.
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