Are you looking for lusher, longer lashes without the mess of mascara or the maintenance and expense of eyelash extensions? You’re not alone. The DIY eyelash craze has only accelerated since the start of COVID-19 pandemic with stay-at-home orders forcing people to miss their usual professional treatments and face masks putting a renewed emphasis on the eyes.
If you’re not naturally blessed with Lucy Boynton-level lash length and volume, you might be wondering about the benefits of eyelash growth serums. Do they work? Are they safe? To better understand the lash serum market, we spoke with a board certified dermatologist and eyelash industry expert to get the scoop.
How Lash Serum Works
When we talk about promoting healthy hair growth on any part of the body, what we’re really discussing is the importance of healthy hair follicles. Those tiny, tunnel-like structures in the epidermis are where hair bulbs (clusters of cells that are pushed out as they die) become strands of hair fibers.
For normal hair growth on the scalp, brows, and lashes, those follicles need plenty of oxygen and nutrients. “Lash and brow serums work by directly supplying the hair follicles with vitamins, nutrients, and hair-promoting growth factors by applying with a brush or wand,” says Adriana Lombardi, MD, a board certified dermatologist and co-director of the Advanced Laser and Skin Cancer Center of New Jersey.
While women have been seeking thicker, longer, fuller lashes for millennia, modern lash serums were born by accident. “Latisse® was initially and still is a medication to treat glaucoma when applied into the eye,” Dr. Lombardi explains. “We found that patients using this product had significant growth of the eyelashes. Since then, it has been used on a brush applicator to apply to the eyelashes and eyebrows to stimulate growth.”
What are the active ingredients in lash serums?
Most lash growth serums contain two main categories of ingredients: conditioners and growth stimulants. These typically include:
- Botanical Extracts: Powerful plant essences that can help hydrate and nourish skin.
- Vitamins: The most important of these is vitamin B7 (a.k.a. biotin), which helps turn the food we eat into energy and plays a key role in creating healthy skin, hair, and nails.
- Ceramides: These fat molecules (lipids) help skin retain moisture.
- Peptides: Small chain amino acids are the building blocks of collagen and other proteins essential for keeping skin and hair healthy.
You might be wondering if you can just go ahead and swipe your favorite brow serum on your lashes and vice versa. “Brows and lashes are different,” explains Alicia Grande, founder and CEO of Grande Cosmetics. “They have different growth cycle lengths and are different in size.” As a result, product formulations tend to be slightly different, and their applicators are, too. If you are using Latisse®, many experts agree it can be applied (carefully!) on the brows to stimulate growth.
Prescription vs. OTC Lash Serums
In a nutshell, substances classified as ‘drugs’ elicit some sort of physiological change in your body (in this case, quantifiable eyelash growth), while cosmetic-grade products affect your appearance (shinier, plumper lashes, for example). Drugs like Latisse® undergo thorough examination by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whereas cosmetic OTC products do not have to go through the same testing protocols.
Whether a product is approved by the FDA as a drug also affects how companies can characterize and market the product. Claims made by a manufacturer are often just as important as the ingredients listed on the packaging. “Prescription products go through full-blown medical studies and can claim growth,” Grande says.
Some over-the-counter serums — like RapidLash, RevitaLash, and Rodan+Fields LashBoost — contain growth-stimulating ingredients that behave similarly to bimatoprost, a prostaglandin analog that is the active ingredient in Latisse®. Others — like GrandeLash-MD, LashFOOD, and Vegamour — rely on conditioning compounds, many of them botanical. “GrandeLASH-MD enhances your lashes with lash-loving ingredients,” Grande shares. “When you give your body the right nutrients and right ingredients, you do see enhancement.”
How long does it take to see lash serum results?
We’re all about instant gratification, but patience is a virtue when it comes to lash growth. Why does it take so long for lash serums to work? It has to do with the natural growth cycle of the hair. Regardless of whether you choose a prescription or OTC formula, you can usually expect to see initial results in about four weeks, with maximum results peaking after three months of use.
The catch? As soon as you stop applying the serum regularly, the benefits will fade. But don’t go thinking you can defy Mother Nature with a ‘more is more’ attitude. “We don’t recommend applying the product more than one swipe, once a day,” Grande says of GrandeLASH-MD. “ Our serums are formulated to work based on the growth cycle timetable of your lashes and brows, which you can’t speed up.”
Lash Serum Safety
The FDA considers Latisse® to be safe and effective as long as it’s used under the supervision of a physician. “When patients complain of thinning eyelashes or eyebrows, I do recommend using Latisse®,” Dr. Lombardi says. “It works well and gives patients significant results.”
Like any drug, however, there are potential risks and side effects, including dry eyes, eyelid darkening, and, in rare cases, eye color change. “This was found if the medication gets into the eye and is used for long periods of time,” Dr. Lombardi says of the misconception. When the product is applied correctly, she notes that the risk eye color change is under one percent. A more common side effect? “It can commonly cause dermatitis where applied,” she says.
As we’ve established, things are less clear in the OTC market. Any product that contains a prostaglandin analog will likely carry similar risks to that of Latisse®. Consumers should always check the ingredients list and consult with their dermatologist before introducing new products into their skincare regimen. “While sensitivity is rare, there is always a possibility whenever introducing a new beauty product,” Grande explains. “We suggest testing our products on your hand first to determine if you have a sensitivity to it.”
More often than not, sensitivity or irritation occurs when products are not used as intended. “If irritation occurs, feel free to use the product every other day or so for a week or two,” she advises. “Then, resume daily use as instructed. A consumer study [of GrandeLASH-MD] was performed on 35 participants and the side effects were very minimal.”
Can You Use Lash Serum with Lash Extensions?
Let’s dispel a common myth: If you’ve got eyelash extensions, you can — and should — use a lash serum to help prevent the loss and breakage of your natural eyelashes. Make sure, however, you choose a product that does not break down cyanoacrylate (i.e. the glue used in most lash extension treatments). Steer clear of products containing coconut oil or other oils (olive, jojoba, etc.) and look for lash serums that say “safe for lash extensions.”
Dr. Lombardi generally recommends foregoing lash extensions altogether in favor of Latisse®, as long as the patient is a good candidate. “Lash extensions are harmful to the overall health of the eyelash,” she explains. “Whenever you apply traction/glue to a hair follicle, you run the risk of causing irreversible damage to that follicle.” That damage can lead to hair thinning and loss, and the same holds true for eyebrows. “Microblading is done by creating trauma or micropores to the eyebrow area and placing dye,” she says. “This also has the potential to cause damage to the hair follicles in this area.”
How to Find the Best Lash Serum
So, how do you decide whether to opt for a prescription or over-the-counter lash serum? It really comes down to your needs, budget, and biology. “Not all serums are created equal and what that means is, not all serums have the same ingredients,” Grande says. “But keep in mind, more expensive doesn’t always mean better.”
If dramatic growth is your goal and you’re willing to accept potential side effects, prescription Latisse® could be a good option. If you’re looking for something more natural but still noticeable, an OTC brand can likely do the trick.
The best way to find an OTC eyelash growth serum that suits you is to seek recommendations from family and friends and research popular brands that have a proven track record. “GrandeLASH-MD has been on the market for over 12 years and won over 30 awards,” Grande shares. “We have a proprietary formula that has been proven effective to provide longer, thicker-looking lashes and at a fair price point.”
At the end of the day, it’s about safety, effectiveness, and education. “When patients are using a product, they should be aware of the risks and benefits,” Dr. Lombardi concludes. “And proper use should be explained.”
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