Everything You Need To Know About Eyelash Tinting
For millennia (yes, it’s really been that long), humans have been searching for the most effective way to achieve the illusion of long, lush lashes. And the rise of face masks and facial coverings during COVID-19 has put the eyes firmly in the spotlight. Cosmetic dermatologists and plastic surgeons have seen an uptick in eye-related procedure requests, eye creams and serums claim to lighten dark circles, decrease puffiness, and minimize the appearance of crow’s feet, and mascaras promise expertly curled, lengthened, and defined fringe that rival eyelash extensions. But what about a salon treatment that offers long-lasting color? Here, we take a closer look at the benefits of lash tinting.
The History of Lash Tinting
As we mentioned, ancient civilizations — most famously the Egyptians — darkened their lashes with a substance called ‘kohl’ that was made by grinding the mineral galena (lead sulphide) into a fine powder and mixing it with oil. South Asian cultures, meanwhile, formulated ‘kajal’ by blending ash with castor oil. Later, Europeans used everything from sulfuric acid and saffron to the soot from the fireplace to tint their lashes.
In 1917, a Chicago chemist named Thomas Williams introduced the Maybelline Cake Mascara, which evolved from a formula of petroleum jelly and carbon dust that was favored by his sister. About a decade later, in 1933, the Cosmetic Manufacturing Co. of Los Angeles introduced Lash Lure, a “new and improved eyebrow and lash dye,” which may have been “new” but it certainly wasn't “improved.” Almost immediately, users experienced severe dermatitis of the eyelids and surrounding areas that, in some cases, required the removal of all eyelashes.
Investigations found that Lash Lure contained 30 times the safe human exposure of p-phenylenediamine (PPD). As a result, several states banned eyelash tinting, and the scandal was instrumental in the passage of the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which, for the first time, allowed federal oversight of cosmetics.
Eyelash Tinting Today
Even today, the rules governing eyebrow and eyelash tinting vary from state to state. The controversy surrounding the treatment centers mostly around the safety of the dye. While semi-permanent and vegetable-based dyes are considered acceptable in states that allow the service, permanent dyes tend to be banned. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA): “No color additives are approved by FDA for permanent dyeing or tinting of eyelashes and eyebrows. Permanent eyelash and eyebrow tints and dyes have been known to cause serious eye injuries.”
All the while, both impermanent lash and brow tinting remain popular salon treatments — even in states where the practice is technically prohibited.
So, Is Lash Tinting Safe?
“This is a bit of a loaded question,” says Alisandra Tobia, a licensed aesthetician and the founder of Beauty Mood. “There are some lash tinting dyes that are safer than others, and there is some controversy around whether lash tinting should be allowed.” Tobia tells us that, in New York, semi-permanent (but not permanent) dye is permitted. In California, all brow and lash dye is prohibited.
Hold on: You can’t have your eyelashes or eyebrows tinted legally in California? It’s surprising news when you consider the fact that a simple Yelp search for “best lash tinting Los Angeles” yields a top-10 list, complete with customer reviews. As it turns out, lash and brow tinting was outlawed in California in 2001, but the state didn’t start enforcing the law until 2015. “These laws caused us to have to hide our coloring agents and be very secretive about it,” says Alisha*, the owner of a high-end Los Angeles salon that still performs the services. “When we were caught just having a tube of coloring agent in a drawer, we got a $500 fine.”
California law prohibits salons from using any products not FDA approved, and it’s currently the only state in the U.S. that has banned both lash and brow tinting. “It makes absolutely no sense to me that the law also banned eyebrow tinting because there’s no real danger there,” Alisha says. Our experts agree that, when performed by a trained professional using semi-permanent dye formulated for the face, eyelash and eyebrow tinting is generally safe. But it’s not meant to be done at home. “It should never be attempted as a DIY or at-home treatment,” Tobia warns. “The lashes and skin on the eyelid are so delicate and sensitive and, therefore, more susceptible to irritation and infection.”
What Lash Tinting Treatments Entail
Usually, a lash tinting appointment begins with a brief consultation to determine the client’s desired look. As Tobia explains, the entire procedure takes about 30 minutes, but you’ll only spend a portion of that with the dye on your lashes.
Once you’re situated in the salon bed or chair, your practitioner will place a pad beneath your eye to catch excess dye. After the dye is applied, you’ll lay still with your eyes closed for about 10 minutes while the tint processes. After the tint is set, your practitioner will use a cotton swab to carefully remove the dye from your lashes and gently cleanse the area with a saline solution. “It’s very important that you remain relaxed during this part of the procedure and avoid squinting your eyes or flinching,” Tobia shares, adding that both are common reflexes.
The tint lasts for up to four weeks, at which point the natural shedding and regrowth of the lashes brings them back to their natural color.
Side Effects of Lash Tinting
Though the semi-permanent and vegetable-based lash dyes used by salons today cannot legally contain PPD (the toxic substance found in Lash Lure), some of them do contain its gentler cousin, toluene diamine. This substance and others in dyes (even those touted as ‘vegan’ and ‘natural’) may cause irritation, which is why some people experience stinging and watering during lash tinting treatments. Many salons require clients undergo a patch test prior to treatment to help prevent any adverse reactions.
How to Find a Reputable Lash Tinting Professional
Choosing the right aesthetician and salon for your lash tinting treatment is critical. Tobia recommends people take these steps to ensure your visit goes smoothly:
- Ask About Experience & Licensing: Don’t be shy about asking your lash professional to disclose their training and experience. After all, we’re talking about your eyes and, in the age of COVID-19, salon safety is about more than just your face. “You should feel comfortable with the salon or spa itself, especially their cleanliness protocols nowadays,” Tobia says.
- Find Out What’s in the Dye: Steer clear of permanent products in favor of semi-permanent and plant-based dyes. Those with allergies or sensitivities should request for a patch test.
- Seek Out Referrals: “Just like you would ask friends and family for recommendations for things like auto mechanics and dentists, referrals and recommendations can be a good way to find a lash tinting practitioner that you can feel comfortable with,” Tobia shares.
As with all salon services, coronavirus-related regulations vary by state. “Right now, lash tinting is allowed in many places, with masks required for both the client and the provider,” Tobia explains. “Providers are also required to wear face shields and gloves.” Even if salons are open in your state, they may not be able to perform your requested treatment(s) right now. So, be sure to call ahead to learn more about their service offerings and safety protocols.
Best Treatments to Combine with Lash Tinting
According to our experts, it’s quite common for clients to combine lash and brow treatments. “Getting both your lashes and brows tinted at the same time is a very convenient pairing, since the dye can be applied to the brows while your lashes are processing or vice versa,” Tobia says. In Alisha’s L.A. salon, lash and brow tinting often accompany a brow-shaping session.
A lash lift (a process akin to perming lashes to create curl) is another natural pairing. “Getting a lash lift in combination with a tint tends to work well because you’re already physically situated for the tint once you’ve gotten a lash lift,” Tobia shares. “And, obviously, if you’re trying to make a wow statement with your lashes, getting both a lash lift and tint definitely achieves that.”
Despite its checkered past, lash tinting by a trained professional using ingredients safe for the face can provide a big — and time-saving — beauty boost. “There’s a huge convenience factor,” Tobia says. “Rather than applying mascara every day as part of your makeup routine, a lash tint can last around a month.” As she explains it, a half hour in the salon can streamline your makeup routine for weeks at a time.
*Name has been changed