Eyelash extensions: are they safe? Here’s what an expert had to say
As far as trends go, the eyelash extension craze has certainly picked up the pace in recent years. Perhaps due to celebrity endorsements, posts on social media, or the promise of a mascara-free routine, one thing is for sure: it’s all the rage.
The obsession over dark, long, and thick lashes goes way, way back, to the eye makeup-obsessed days of ancient Egypt. But your eyelashes have a very functional job to do too: they protect your eyes from wind, dust, and other particles. That’s why it’s important to make sure that you’re well-informed before heading to the salon.
If you’ve been considering eyelash extensions but are on the fence, you’re probably not alone. After all, you don’t have to look too far to read about the latest “eyelashes gone-wrong” story.
A new frontier
According to the Canadian Association of Optometrists, eyelash extensions are currently unregulated in Canada. This means that there are no rules on the products used, who can apply them, or how much and what type of training they need to have. The same is true for the United States, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
So should you steer clear? Not necessarily. Like anything concerning your health and well-being, you should always do your homework. Just because there are many people out there carelessly applying eyelash extensions, doesn’t mean there aren’t qualified technicians with proper training ready to serve you.
Above all, trust your instincts and remember that experience matters. If something seems too good to be true (think: cheap rates or fast applications) — it probably is.
What do you really need to know about eyelash extensions? We delve into the nitty gritty of what they are, if they’re safe, how to take care of them (and your eyes), and much more.
We spoke with Laura Shortt, eyelash technician and licensed eyelash extension educator, who also holds multiple international certifications. She is the owner of MAA Studios in downtown Victoria, British Columbia.
Who’s a good candidate for eyelash extensions?
Almost everybody can get eyelash extensions. If you have gaps, very sparse or thin lashes, there are techniques to address all of these concerns. You should avoid eyelash extensions if you have pink eye, a sty, recently undergone laser eye surgery (LASIK MD recommends waiting one month after your procedure), have herpes in the eye area, blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid), allergies to the materials used in application, or have musculoskeletal conditions that make it impossible to lie down for extended periods of time. Your eyelash technician can provide further details on candidacy.
Can you get them if you wear contacts or glasses?
Eyelash extensions are fine to wear with both contacts and glasses. Make sure to let your eyelash artist know that you wear glasses so they can apply a shorter length that won't graze the lens when you blink. You [should also] remove your contacts or glasses during the application process.
How long does it take to apply eyelash extensions?
A full volume set should take at minimum two and a half hours.
Is there anything to do in preparation for your appointment?
Before your appointment, you should remove all makeup. Having traces of makeup on the lash area can interfere with the bond of the glue and lead to premature lash extension shedding. Ideally, wear comfortable clothing as you will be lying down for [at least] an hour.
What should someone look for in a good salon and lash technician?
- Check for qualifications. The eyelash extension industry is new and growing rapidly but is currently unregulated. Is the artist certified by a licensed or accredited trainer? Even better if they have multiple certifications.
- Review their work on Instagram or their website. Do their photos look like the lashes are placed evenly or are they facing in different directions? Do the lashes look like they are isolated from one another or stuck together? Do you like how they look on the model?
- Pre-application consultation. Does the artist consult with you at the beginning of the appointment to ascertain what look you want and the reason why you are getting the extensions? Do you fill out an intake form?
- Application time. Does the artist provide enough time for a quality application?
- Quality. Do the extensions fall off fast or do they look presentable for at least three weeks with proper aftercare?
- Cleanliness and hygiene. Make sure the artist washes their hands before touching you, sterilizes their tools before they use them on you, schedules at least 15 minutes in between appointments for sterilization and keeps a clean studio. Cats and dogs in the studio are absolutely not [acceptable] and can lead to allergy or eye infection.
- Price. Do not go to someone who is charging $30 for a full set. You get what you pay for in this industry. [You should expect to spend $100-$200, depending on the types of lashes and set you decide to get.]
What should someone expect during the procedure?
Parts of the application process can feel strange to a first-timer. Gel pads are placed underneath the eye, below the waterline, to hold the bottom lashes down. This can feel [awkward] for people, but it is essential to prevent gluing the top and bottom lashes together. The application of the eyelashes is barely noticeable, but the client should be aware that if they move their head, talk or squeeze their eyelids closed during the application, it could lead to getting poked by needle sharp tweezers. [Sitting still for the two-and-a-half-hour session might be the biggest challenge for some, but it’s a mental challenge that won’t cause pain.]
Are there any possible side effects to wearing eyelash extensions?
If someone is allergic to adhesives, eyelash extensions may be problematic. If the client does not practice proper aftercare - washing their eyelash extensions at the lash line on a regular basis - it can potentially lead to infection. Most adverse reactions happen from lack of aftercare. If the extensions are improperly applied by an artist, it can lead to swelling in the eyelids and sharp pain from the eyelashes pulling on each other.
How can eyelash extensions affect our natural eyelashes?
In my experience, I have noticed that natural eyelashes may become straighter from the weight of the extensions. This is temporary as the old straight eyelash sheds and a new regular one grows back in. Otherwise, if properly applied by a certified and experienced artist, there is no effect on the natural eyelashes.
A little more about eyelash extensions
What are eyelash extensions typically made from?
Eyelash extensions are made from polybutylene terephthalate (PBT); otherwise known as polyester.
What type of glue should be used?
Only a professional, medical-grade eyelash extension glue that is cyanoacrylate based should be used. Absolutely no Krazy Glue® or nail glue!
Where do the extensions attach?
To the base of the natural lash, about 1 mm away from the eyelid.
What is the difference between single lash and cluster lashes?
If anybody tells you that they use cluster lashes, run away very quickly. All eyelash extensions are single lash. The difference is classic and volume. With classic, one eyelash extension is applied to one natural eyelash. With volume, any number between two and 14 thin eyelash extensions are handcrafted by the artist into "fans" that are joined together with a small amount of glue and narrowed at the base, shaped like a triangle. These fans then attach to the natural eyelash creating a full look. Fans should always be hand made and take a lot of practice and skill by the artist to make and apply. Cluster lashes are cheap plastic pre-made falsies you can buy at the drug store that should never, ever be applied with eyelash glue to the natural lash. They will destroy your eyelashes from the weight.
How do you take care of eyelash extensions?
It is essential to wash your lashes with a lash wash at least every three days and brush daily to keep your lashes from tangling and stimulate blood flow to the follicle. I have videos on my website’s aftercare section that show clients how to wash and brush their lashes. It is recommended that no eye makeup should be used as the oils will break down the eyelash glue and the extensions will fall off. Fills are recommended every three weeks to keep up with natural eyelash growth and shedding. Otherwise, you are good to go. [Eyelash extensions will fall out with your natural lashes as they go through the growth cycle. You typically lose 1-5 lashes a day, meaning in three weeks time, you will lose 21-105 lashes. Your eyelashes are all at different phases in the cycle, though, which is why you usually don’t see bald spots. However, if you want to keep up with the full look of your extensions, the three-week mark is the industry-wide suggestion.]
The popularity of eyelash extensions seems to be here to stay but hopefully you now have a better idea of whether or not they could be right for you.
A final note
Although the industry is still largely unregulated, in 2015 Health Canada proposed changes to the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist so that cyanoacrylate-based adhesives would be added to the Restricted For Use in Cosmetic Products list. In other words, extensions should only be applied by qualified professionals and products should always contain a cautionary disclaimer along the lines of “For application by trained professionals only" or "Ensure the eye is protected and immobilized during application.” It would also be wise to ask for a patch test the first time you have eyelash extensions applied.
Overall, don’t be afraid to do your research, ask questions, and trust your intuition... Your eyes will thank you.
To make sure the world – and you - can see your dazzling new look without glasses, book your free, no-obligation consultation with LASIK MD.