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Are Lash Extensions Healthy for You or Not?

By Vivian Manning-Schaffel ; Updated July 18, 2017

For those who can never use enough mascara, lash extensions seem like a gift from the gods.

However, their application is an arduous and painstaking process: Extensions are glued on to your actual lashes one at a time to make them natural-looking. And let’s not even talk about removing them. Even still, devotees swear by the results.

But are lash extensions safe? To discern the false claims from the truth, we asked Jessica Lattman, M.D., New York City-based cosmetic ophthalmologist and oculoplastic surgeon, for her expertise, and the results may surprise you.

Claim: Extensions maintain the health of your natural (extension-free) lashes.

Truth: Lash extensions are safe, but aren’t necessarily healthy.

If the lashes are applied by a well-trained technician with sterile equipment and formaldehyde-free glue, they’re generally safe, says Dr. Lattman. But she’s not without concern. “Some salons use glue with formaldehyde, which can be irritating and cause allergic reactions,” she says, adding that with an inexperienced technician, the glue can get onto the surface of the eye, causing damage to the cornea.

The glue can also block the meibomian glands, which open directly behind the lashes, leading to styes (bumps and swelling of the eyelid), which can be difficult to treat and last for months.

Indeed, a 2012 Japanese study found that of 107 extension-wearing women complaining of irritation, 64 came down with keratoconjunctivitis (eye inflammation from dryness) due to glue or removing agents, and 42 came down with allergic blepharitis (eyelid inflammation). So the risk of irritation does exist and can be rather high.

To err on the side of caution, choose a brand of lashes that requires training from the technicians and check that they use glue without formaldehyde, advises Dr. Lattman. One formaldehyde-free brand: Duo Lash Adhesive. A latex-free option? Infinity Waterproof Lash Adhesive from Thrive Causemetics.

Claim: You could wear lash extensions for the next 50 years straight without any complications.

Truth: The shorter the stint with lash extensions, the better.

Dr. Lattman says, when lash extensions are worn too long, they tend to build up bacteria. “Sometimes people are less likely to thoroughly clean the lashes because they want them to last longer. The lashes can harbor bacteria, which can lead to fungal infections,” she says.

As we write this, there’s a lack of scientific studies that stipulates a specific safe span of time to wear lash extensions. However, Dr. Lattman strongly recommends taking weeklong breaks between lash extension applications to give the area time to breathe and be cleaned thoroughly with the lashes off.

Claim: Lashes fall out due to a growth-and-shed cycle. It’s not actually the extensions that cause them to fall out.

Truth: Lash extensions can, indeed, cause your lashes to fall out.

Dr. Lattman says the traction on the lash (where the false lash is glued on) can actually cause your own lashes to fall out. Also, when the lashes are removed, the pulling can cause more lashes to fall out, causing a vicious circle in which you have to keep lash extensions up to have any lashes. Take the time to educate yourself on how to remove them properly or consider having an expert lend a hand to spare the lashes you have. Don’t fiddle with them!

The Takeaway

All in all, lash extensions are relatively safe — provided they’re applied by an expert with formaldehyde-free glue. Be sure they’re applied with sterile equipment.

Maintain the lashes by removing makeup with cleansing towelettes very gently so as not to pull at them. Be sure not to leave lashes on too long and remember to take breaks in between applications! The time between applications will pass in the blink of an eye.

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