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Super Long Eyelashes: The Strange Saga of Eyelash Enhancement Products

Practically everyone wants long, fluttering eyelashes; cosmetic companies are all too aware of this desire, and have created myriad products claiming to stimulate lash growth. Do any of them really work, and if so, how?

Glaucoma Drugs Have a Fascinating Side Effect

Eye drops prescribed for glaucoma or ocular hypertension contain a class of compounds called prostaglandins. These compounds are derived from fatty acids and very much resemble hormones. They occur naturally in the body, where they hook up to receptors on cell membranes to help the cells perform various functions. For example, they decrease pressure in the eye and control cell growth.

Chemists can copy and tweak prostaglandin molecules in the lab; a synthetic prostamide called bimatoprost was found particularly useful in lowering eye pressure, and was marketed for years as an ophthalmic solution.

Many glaucoma sufferers used the eye drops; interestingly, they began to report that their eyelashes were growing in darker, thicker, and longer. Even elderly individuals were obtaining pretty amazing results.

Cosmetic companies jumped on these results and formulated their own products. Although cosmetics could not contain bimatoprost, companies could use analogues (molecules that are very similar in structure and function) of prostaglandins in their lash growth solutions.

FDA Removes Lash Growth Formula from Store Shelves

One of the first over-the-counter lash-growing cosmetics was Jan Marini’s Age Intervention Eyelash Conditioner, which cost $160.00 per tube and lasted about six months. This product quickly became Marini’s best-seller, accounting for thirty percent of the company’s sales.

Unfortunately, the FDA removed the product from store shelves back in 2008; stating that it was an “unapproved and misbranded” product, because it was claiming to actually change the structure and function of the body. The conditioner was also said to contain small amounts of the prescription-only bimatoprost. Moreover, Allergan, the makers of the prescription eye drops, was suing Marini for patent infringement.

The product was reformulated and is still sold today. On-line reviews state that it does not work nearly as well since the prostaglandin analogue was removed from the formula.

Other Lash Enhancing Products: Can Vitamins, Amino Acids, and Botanicals Really Grow Long, Lush Lashes?

Other products that claim to grow eyelashes include Revitalash by Athena Cosmetics, Enormous or Massive Lash, and M.D. Lash Factor by a company called Photomedex. Revitalash was formulated by a physician for his cancer-stricken wife, who’d lost lashes to chemotherapy.

Both Revitalash and Enormous Lash once contained prostaglandin analogue, but their formulas were altered after the FDA confiscated the Marini lash product. The on-line ratings of the products also slipped after the prostaglandin was removed, although so did the reports of side effects.

Over-the-counter lash enhancers now contain vitamins, amino acids, and botanical extracts instead of glaucoma drug imitators. They work much the way any conditioner works: They soften and smooth the eyelashes. So if your lashes are falling out because they are brittle, these products will make a difference. If you just have genetically short or sparse eyelashes, they won’t help much. An old cosmetic trick advised using Vaseline on eyelashes at night to help them grow; these products just update the same gimmick.

The Real Thing: Prescription-Only Latisse

In December, 2008, the FDA approved a bimatoprost solution for use as an eyelash growth product. Of course, because it actually changes the structure of the lash, it is only available by prescription. Now called Latisse, it is made by Allergan, and will increase the length and thickness of eyelashes in most users. It costs quite a bit: $120.00 per month for a one-month, 60-applicator supply, or $200.00 for a two-month supply, plus the cost of the doctor‘s visit. Obviously, Latisse is not covered by insurance.

Possible Side Effects of Eyelash Growth Formulas

The original glaucoma medications had several side effects, including irritation, itching, blurred vision, changes in color vision, eyelid darkening (which usually disappeared when the drug was discontinued), iris darkening (this side effect seemed more prevalent in hazel and green eyes than in blue ones), and occasional inflammation of the eye.

Users of Latisse have reported dark pigmentation on the eyelids. Again, this usually disappears when the patient stops using the product. There is some evidence that use of the product might cause dark brown spots to appear in the iris, but the manufacturer did not find this to be the case in its tests of the drug. Hair growth on facial areas that came into contact with the drug, and slightly lowered ocular pressure, have been detected in a minority of users.

This last is a concern if you or your family members have glaucoma; if Latisse lowers your eye pressure, your eye doctor might not be able to detect incipient glaucoma as it develops. Be sure to discuss this issue with your physician if you decide to give the product a try.

There were some on-line reports of blurred vision and pigment changes when using the original Jan Marini and Revitalash products as well, although these have not been confirmed by double-blind studies.

It might be advisable to wait a year or so, and see if any increase in side effects is reported before trying bimatoprost; until then, there’s always cumbersome false eyelashes and messy mascara to tide us over.

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