Eyelash Extensions Pose Health Risk

Performers like Adele and Katy Perry and celebrities and models who grace the glossy cover of magazines and appear in commercials are often seen with thick, full, lusciously feathery lashes the rest of us envy.

To achieve the same look takes more than a few coats of mascara. Unless you are genetically blessed like Elizabeth Taylor – who had been born with a congenital abnormality called ectopic cilia (distichia), which gave her double-layered eyelashes – lash extensions are required.

Eyelash extensions, or fake lashes, are any number of artificial temporary or semi-permanent cosmetic enhancements designed to add noticeable length, thickness, and fullness to natural eyelashes – a similar concept to hair extensions, but for the eyes.

The lash extensions can be manufactured from both human hair and synthetic materials and are marketed as soft and flexible, meant to replicate but enhance ones natural eyelashes.

The effect can be subtle or extreme and ornate depending upon the style used. Fake eyelashes come in various lengths, colors and thicknesses, from natural-looking to outrageous. Temporary false lashes are intended to be worn for a short period; less than 24 hours, and not designed to endure showering, sleeping, or swimming. Temporary lashes are applied with an adhesive (glue).

For semi-permanent extensions, a single lash is applied to each natural lash using a stronger adhesive than temps, building up the lash-line with as many as 50 to 70 individual pieces, which can run anywhere from $100 to 600 or more in the US depending on the quality and quantity. This process can take a couple of hours and there are additional costs for touch-ups.

When applied properly, neither the extension nor the glue should touch the eyelid. The bond is designed to last until the lashes naturally fall out, though the extensions may fall out faster if one uses oil-based eye makeup remover or rubs eyes regularly.

Natural eyelashes grow in and fall out in cycles (every 60 to 90 days). When a natural lash matures and falls out, a new lash has already been growing and quickly replaces it without a noticeable turnover. Therefore, the amount of time semi-permanent lashes last can be subjective – based on the rate of natural growth, the makeup and products you wear or wash with, and lifestyle.

As safe and easy as either method sounds, eyelash extensions may pose a health risk, according to Consumer Reports. The adhesives used to fix the lashes into place can be made from a formaldehyde-base or other biologic glues. Both the adhesives and the solvents used to remove them can cause allergic reactions. In addition, cosmetic eyelash enhancers carry a risk of bacterial and fungal infection.

Improper application of eyelash extensions and excessive adhesive use, or using the wrong type of glue can lead to lashes sticking together, eyelid pain, pulling and poking of the eyelashes and eyelids, inflammation and redness, bacterial infections of the eye, and temporary and permanent lash loss (traction alopecia).

The Association for Damage-Free Eyelash Extensions (ADFEE) defends the practice, quoted in an ABC News report saying, “Properly applied eyelash extensions are not dangerous,” and that the “adhesive should not contain formaldehyde,” and “hypoallergenic adhesives are available.”

In view of its widespread use, toxicity and volatility, exposure to formaldehyde is a significant consideration for human health. In 2011, the US National Toxicology Program described formaldehyde as “known to be a human carcinogen (cancer causing).” Yet formaldehyde still appears in consumer products. Yes, the same organic compound used as a tissue fixative and embalming agent. Ingestion of as little as 30 mL or 1 fluid ounce of a solution containing 37 percent formaldehyde has been reported to cause death in an adult human.

Be aware of the ingredients in the adhesives you are buying and patch test them on the skin of your arm to check for a possible allergic reaction before applying to the eyelid or eyelash area.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also reinforces the cosmetic safety of fake lashes and eyelash extensions, provided they are handled properly and with care. Fake eyelashes especially should never be shared, though in general eye makeup or products used on the eye should never be used by more than one person. This limits the potential of swapping harmful bacteria and developing conditions such as conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye.

According to the FDA, if any eye cosmetic, including an adhesive, causes irritation, stop using it immediately. If irritation persists, see a doctor. Avoid using and discard eye product if you have an infection or notice the skin around the eye is inflamed. The bacteria on your hands can cause infections so wash your hands before applying eye cosmetics/products. Make sure that any instrument you place near the eye area is also clean.

[Image via Shutterstock]