New eyelash medication works, but comes with side effects

In a country where bigger is better, from super sized meals to volumized hair, it is no wonder that thicker, longer lashes are also in vogue. Although false eyelashes are a common way for people to achieve this look, prescribed eyelash enhancers are another option for those wanting something more durable and permanent.

“The medicine is actually a glaucoma medication that they’ve been using on patients for some time,” said Dr. Kelly Sanders, optometrist at Illini Eye Care. “They started to notice all these people coming in with these great eyelashes … now they’re just using it as a topical to make your eyelashes grow longer.”

The difference, said Sanders, is that the glaucoma medication is in the form of eye drops and the enhancer is applied along the lash line with a brush.

Although it is still uncertain exactly how eyelash enhancers work, the general idea is that the medication reacts with hair growth, possibly prolonging the hair growth phase, said David P. Lawrance, MD, medical director at McKinley.

It makes the eyelashes longer and thicker but does not cause more to grow, said Jaime Kesler, Nurse Practitioner at Hada Cosmetic Medicine.

Latisse is the only medical grade FDA approved product, Kesler said. However, Lauren King, junior in Media, uses a generic version of Latisse called Lumigan.

“I’ve actually used it for three years … I think I was just bored and ordered it, but I eventually noticed results so I just kept ordering it,” King said.

According to King, the product is applied nightly.

“You use (an applicator) like an eyeliner brush and paint it on like you were putting on liquid eyeliner,” said King.

Enhancers take around 10 to 12 weeks of use before seeing results, Kesler said, and improvement varies, often depending on original lash state. People who have little length and bulk to their lashes may see up to a 50% increase, whereas someone with decent lashes to begin with may see a 25-30% increase.

Although both Kesler and Sanders consider the product safe and would recommend it, there are some side effects.

One possible side effect is a permanent darkening of the iris, Lawrance said, which is more common in people with lighter eyes where the change is more noticeable.

According to Kesler, this pigment change has only been noticed in glaucoma patients who apply it directly into the eyeballs. This side effect has not been observed when applied topically unless too much product is used and it leaks into the eye.

Some users notice that once they stop using the enhancer, their eyelashes fall out.

“There was a time I ran out (of the enhancer) and I felt like my eyelashes were falling out,” King said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God I’m losing eyelashes,’ and then I had this awkward gap and so I freaked out and ordered a ton more.”

Users will not lose all their lashes, Kesler said, but the extra length and thickness will fall out and the lashes will go back to how they were before use.

“Once you start on Latisse, to maintain the lashes that you want you do have to continue to use Latisse,” Kesler said. “Or over time your eyelashes will just fall out and go back to their normal growth pattern.”

Speaking from personal experience, Kesler said it took about two bottles used nightly to achieve desired length, and using the product three times a week helped maintain that length.

Another possible side effect is a staining of the eyelid where the medication is applied. However, this is easily covered with makeup and goes away when the product is used less.

Eye redness is also possible.

“Some people get redness, but it’s just like any other medication, there are just some people who are more sensitive,” Kesler said.

“Sometimes, if I put on too much, my eyes will be a little red in the morning, because I put it on before bed, but nothing serious,” King said.

Enhancers range in price. Latisse lasts a month costing around $100 a bottle, and the generic version, Lumigan, can be anywhere from $30 to $50.