Whenever we hear of a new beauty product promising luscious lashes, we can’t help but be intrigued. Long and thick lashes have been sought after for millennia as people try and test countless products pledging to make them grow. As such, those products have evolved substantially since the first commercially sold mascara made from petroleum jelly and coal dust—different types of mascaras, eyelash extensions, fake lashes, lash lifts and tints, eyeliners and now, growth serums.
The lash boosting serums on the market are promising natural growth—fast. Dubbed ‘miracle workers’ by much of the beauty community, lash serums have seen a substantial rise in recent years—due to their promise to keep your lashes healthy, nourished and of course, looking luscious.
However, proceed with caution, as you should with all eye products. While it’s easy to be swept away in the promise of long, thick lashes, eyelash serums have been known to cause some serious side effects. To find out more about these so-called miracle workers, Vogue spoke to senior lecturer of clinical ophthalmology from the University of Sydney, Dr Constantinos Petsoglou.
“Eyelash serums are a group of products that aim to make eyelashes thicker, longer, darker and healthier,” Dr Petsoglou says. But, do they work? While it’s difficult to say with certainty, considering the hundreds of brands, Dr Petsoglou points to clinical trials that show prescription eyelash growth serums can actually work. Interestingly the birth of growth serums began thanks to patients noticing that their eyelashes became thicker and longer after using eye drops that included a particular medication for glaucoma (a serious eye disease). “When this was noted by the company in its studies, it gave them the idea to use it as an eyelash serum and encourage its unexpected side-effect,” he said, thus birthing the eyelash growing serum known as Latisse.
While most eyelash serums don’t contain this particular medication, with a recent study finding only 12 out of 64 serums did, Dr Petsoglou noted that many did not list the medicinal ingredient on their ingredient list even if it was included, which he said was a “serious concern”.
“Some products do not list all the chemicals within them and may contain these glaucoma type medications called prostaglandin analogues,” he says. “Further, putting unknown products around the most delicate skin and surface of the human body has serious risks. If an eyelash serum has these glaucoma products there are several well-known side effects that can occur, even in low doses,” Dr Petsoglou says.
The side effects that have been known to occur through use of glaucoma products include: redness around the eyelids, darkening of the iris and dryness, swelling and irritation of the eyelid skin. Because of the chemical’s nature and low dosage, Dr Petsoglou said that the side effects can come on slowly and take people by surprise. “Usually a friend who hasn’t seen [the person using the product] for a while will pick it up,” he says.
According to Dr Petsoglou, eye doctors have seen patients who have had a permanent change to their eye colour and eyelid skin due to medicated serums but they haven’t received irreparable vision problems. “Though not blinding or dangerous, it does cause patients significant concern,” he says.
When it comes to over-the-counter lash serums, serious medicinal ingredients are nowhere to be found. Ingredients in over-the-counter serums tend to focus on conditioning the lashes (similarly to hair conditioner) rather than directly growing the lashes. “The combination of the conditioner ingredients nurtures eyelashes and assists in keeping them healthy, much in the same way as similar hair care products,” Dr Petsoglou says.
In saying this, regular eyelash serums that don’t contain glaucoma ingredients can still cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness. However, these side effects usually occur immediately after use and are temporary, according to Dr Petsoglou. “The most serious side effects include infections, severe allergy and permanent changes to the skin and eyelids for some sensitive patients,” he said. “Though rare, these do present to optometrists and ophthalmologists requiring immediate cessation and treatment.”
Despite the side effects and potential risks, Dr Petsoglou mentions that eye doctors, including himself, do recommend eyelash serums for some patients, particularly those with dry eye symptoms. “Eyelashes are important in protecting the eye from dust, wind and help keep the surface of the eye moist,” he says. “Patients who lose eyelashes have drier and more irritable eyes.”
However, Dr Petsoglou does say that those looking to use lash-enhancing serums, including for appearance purposes, should check the ingredients and try a low dose of the product first. “Please don’t share products with others as the applicators can transmit infections,” he warns.
When looking for lash conditioners to strengthen your natural lashes, look for products that contain the following common ingredients: vitamins, amino acids, natural oils, thickeners to stabilise eyelashes, hormone or hormone-like products to stimulate growth. If in doubt, check with your eye doctor and never put anything near your eyes that you aren’t sure about.
It’s important to note that eyelash serums won’t continue to make your lashes grow after you cease applying lash serum, according to Dr Petsoglou. While you may not be able to say goodbye to your lash extensions forever, if you’re looking for a serum to help condition and care for your natural lashes, perhaps consult your eye doctor for the best route to luscious lashes.
This story originally appeared on Vogue Australia.