Eyelash extensions: the misconceptions, the risks and the alternatives
We speak to eyelash technician Sue Marsh about her definitive dos and don’ts when it comes to eyelash extensions. We hope she will help you understand the options better, we certainly learned a lot from her.
“I call extensions ‘eye crack’,” says eyelash technician and Get The Gloss Expert Sue Marsh. “The reason that I do is because it’s an addictive look. Once you put them on someone, they will never ever believe they can ever get that kind of enhancement from anything else.”
Whether seen as a way to provide a thicker lash line or a way to fast-track your morning makeup regime, the popularity of eyelash extensions has become bigger than ever. A beauty service that’s become so widely available that you’d be hard-pressed to find a salon or spa that doesn’t offer it nowadays, could one of the beauty industry’s biggest addictions pose more of a risk than previously thought?
We asked eyelash expert Sue about her thoughts on the beauty trend. With a number of long-term side-effects that could result in eyelash loss and traction alopecia, it seems an eyelash extension backlash could be on the cards sooner than we think. “Now I’ve become really strict and my clients know that. They’ll come in and we’ll work on them, but within a limit. We look at how well the product will work for them in the long-term. If they’re doing a film, then for that, that’s fine. However, for continuity they’re much better off going for a strip lash or a lash lift instead. That’s what people are doing more of these days – they’re looking for ways to look ‘naturally fake’.”
Here are Sue’s definitive dos and don’ts when it comes to eyelash extensions and the alternatives that are available to allow people to achieve a fuller flutter in a much more safer and effective way.
Don’t think eyelash extensions are the only way
Despite misconceptions to the contrary, there are other eyelash treatments available that can provide as good an effect as eyelash extensions. “90% of people don’t need eyelash extensions at all. They’ll need an alternative treatment instead,” says Sue.
It’s all about thinking about the full picture, including the condition of the skin around the eyes. “What normally happens is that a person will look at their eyelashes and not see them properly. Their eyelashes appear straight, so they automatically think that they’re not long enough or they don’t exist. Often clients will say that they used to have amazingly long eyelashes when they were younger. They still have amazingly long eyelashes, they’re just straighter,” says Sue. “That’s often to do with the fact that as we get older, our eyelids get a bit heavier and that pushes the eyelid slightly forward and changes the way that the eyelash is growing.”
So what alternatives are out there? “We just recommend that they have an eyelash lift which bends the root and makes the lash go straight up. It’s so much easier and costs half the price, takes half the time and also lasts four times as long as an eyelash extension would (approximately for two months) which gives the natural eyelash enough time to grow through,” recommends Sue. “The only damage caused in any form, is when the technician doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
How does a lift differ from an eyelash perm though? “It involves using a silicone bar, not the traditional perming that people are aware of. If you go somewhere and ask for an eyelash perm, they can vary tremendously, but it’s a curl. An eyelash lift is something uniquely different in that it bends the root. The eyelash isn’t made curly, it’s still straight but instead of going straight down, it goes straight up instead,” says Sue.
“For perms or eyelash lifting, maintenance is really simple. Don’t use creams or oils other than in the perimeter of the eye for the first 24 hours. The hair shaft has been opened by the chemical in the gel solution that we use, revealing the softer part of the hair in the cuticle in the centre. A fixing solution will close the outside but takes 24 hours to do so. It’s exposed.”
She adds, “In those 24 hours it will suck up water, anything that can cause the hair to bounce back into its natural shape. However, as mascara is something that works from the outside and doesn’t penetrate eyelashes, it can be worn immediately after an eyelash lift, but I’d recommend that you don’t remove it for that 24 hour period. After that, they’re fine. If you want to keep them nice and fluffy, I always recommend blow-drying them when they’re wet and with your finger, brush them upwards like you were styling your hair. There are no other contraindications.”
Don’t use eyelash extensions as a substitute for make-up
Think that eyelash extensions should be used as replacement for your mascara? Think again. “Eyelash extensions shouldn’t be worn as a replacement for makeup anymore. They should only be worn for special occasions and there should be a maximum number of times you should wear them. If you were to wear eyelash extensions say four times a year that’s acceptable, more than that is not because your own lashes will suffer and change shape,” warns Sue.
“I’d be really pushed to recommend an eyelash extension,” she adds. “The only time I would use one was when there wasn’t the option to get the natural look for them because their eyelashes were too short for example.”
Do try an eyelash enhancement product
If you’re looking for a way to increase your lash line naturally, try one of the legion of lash enhancing beauty products that are out there at the moment. “We usually recommend a product called Mylash,” says Sue. “It’s the same product as Latisse which was a product formed in America by a medical company. It found that a treatment for glaucoma was actually strengthening and lengthening the eyelashes of the patients it was used on. It was then made into a cosmetic product 20 years later. It’s the product that we use in its medical form, signed off by Dr Tom Walker. They send it through to our offices after a full consultation so people know how to use it and so it doesn’t damage their eyes.”
Do be aware of the risks
Continued use of eyelash extensions can result in long-term or even permanent eyelash loss. A beauty treatment that in the grand scheme of things is relatively new, the consequences are only now being realised. “When I started there was no information about the breakdown of eyelashes as a result of eyelash extensions,” says Sue. “I had to record it to make sure we were using a safe product. I saw that there was a breakdown and it was considerable and there were situations where certain people couldn’t use them too, such as those who suffer from alopecia, have hormonal problems or are cancer patients. In those situations, eyelash extensions can cause the natural eyelashes to come out more and the damage could be even worse.”
So what can we do to ensure that we keep the risks to a minimum? “The danger with eyelash extensions lies where the weight is not conducive with the lashes’ natural weight,” says Sue. “So if you’re putting something that’s going to be sitting on top of a natural eyelash, it would have to be balanced with the weight and the width of the natural eyelash.”
“You have to make sure that you don’t overload them because if do, the natural eyelash will freak out a little bit and the premature lash loss that occurs can cause long-term traction alopecia. Traction alopecia is caused by too much weight being applied to that eyelash when it hasn’t had enough time to fully grow.”
Scarily enough, there aren’t strong enough regulations in place to keep a strict enough tab on who is able to provide eyelash extension services. “Once the NVQ is passed, (I’m an assessor which allows me to teach this job), I’ll be glad because that means people will need licensing and it will therefore reduce the number of people who are in the industry to only make money,” says Sue. “Secondly, the education will be there so it can be taught in beauty schools too.”
Although safer, are there any risks involved in an eyelash perm or eyelash lift though? Encouragingly not that many, provided you don’t make a habit of it. “One of the questions that I ask people before an eyelash lash lift is when they last had an eyelash tint. An eyelash tint does something similar to a perm as it involves the penetration of the hair shaft. A tinted eyelash is slightly dehydrated so the time span that you leave the gel solution on [for a perm or a lift] has to be shorter. The other point is that an eyelash lift will literally lift the colour [of your tint] out. The two chemicals don’t bond together,” cautions Sue.
Do choose your expert carefully
With eyelash extensions available on a wider scale than ever, vigilance is key in selecting an eyelash specialist with the requisite experience and skills to ensure it’s safely done. “Before having eyelash extensions, you need to see a picture of something that person’s done that’s worked,” recommends Sue. “A before and after is essential. We have that on our website and on our price list too.”
“Word of mouth is the best form of recommendation. Don’t go for someone that’s cheap. Just don’t. Not when it comes to your eyes,” warns Sue. “It’s worth charging a little more for better services, than it is to go for less of a cost for less of a service.”
“I wouldn’t look for eyelash extensions as an add-on service for beauticians for example, you need to be looking for a specialist – someone who’s only working on eyes all day, every day and has more than one service on offer. They need to provide an alternative for your natural eyelashes and if they don’t, they’re not specialised – don’t go near them. It’s like going to the doctor and them giving you only one type of pill.”
So who possesses the necessary skills to carry out the service? “There’s a big difference between a beautician and an eyelash technician,” says Sue. One is aesthetic and one is dermis and works on a deeper level. That’s something that a lot of people don’t understand. This is a completely different career, it’s like being a hairdresser – you’re working on the hair on the face.”
What else should we look out for? “The person has to have an understanding of STDs that occur in the eyes, how to approach their client and how to go about cleansing. For example, I never use my bare hands, I always wear gloves and a mask because I’m so close, I clean all of my tools and there needs to be an autoclave on the premises or a 100% alcohol cleansing solution that they can leave their tools in while they’re working.”
“They need to be asking you the right questions with regards to eye surgery, any problems in your eyes, different eye diseases etc. You’d expect to see those questions on the consultation questionnaire.”
“You always want to make sure they do an analysis of the hair – it’s an essential part in deciding what they’re going to do.”
Do focus on the subtleties
Tempted to go for the type of eyelash extensions seen on an episode of TOWIE? Just. Don’t. “A little goes a long way – less is more in the long run,” recommends Sue.
“You need to stagger the lengths – that’s the secret of my success,” she suggests. “My other secret is colour. I never just do black, you always have to mix the tones as otherwise you don’t get the full effect as if they were real. Nothing is ever black black, there’s never one colour going through the entire lash. Colour tones are what give the texture and the bounce and the appearance that something is thicker than it is.”
Do ensure you maintain your extensions well
If you do opt for extensions for a special occasion, there are certain tips and tricks that you can do to prolong their longevity and make them look their best. “If they get wet, you will need to dry them quite quickly because hair holds water and it will swell and stretch the adhesive on the eyelash. Having said that, after 48 hours you should be able to wet your eyelashes as the adhesive cures, sets and encapsulates the eyelash it’s attached to,” suggests Sue.
“Do not use any cotton wool. Clean around the eye with a cotton bud for precision cleaning and try not to get liquid eyeliner in between eyelashes as that can’t be removed. Don’t use a comb to comb them as some might separate. If you catch the extension at the base, you are far more likely to loosen the natural eyelash. Don’t use soap as it is very hard to remove from in between your eyelashes – water is enough.”
“Don’t use mascara on freshly applied eyelash extensions as they’ve been designed so that you don’t need to wear it. It’s also almost impossible to remove mascara from eyelash extensions, so you end up with a build-up of bacteria and dust. Don’t ever use waterproof mascara on eyelash extensions, because that means everything has to come off for maintenance.”
“Don’t use oils or creams around the eyes apart from the perimeter area – you can dab it there and it will work its way into the lid and under eye areas throughout the day as there’s not enough muscle tissue to absorb it, (that’s a good tip for with or without eyelash extensions).”
Don’t think that men can’t book in for eyelash treatments too
A great way to add an extra twinkle in the man in your life’s eyes, although still viewed as a women’s-only treatment, more and more men are booking in with Sue’s team. “Men usually go for a colour boost and that can be really rewarding for them. Often as men age, they also get a heavier lid and getting a very subtle lift usually means just tipping the edges upwards slightly, not the root. It’s a different type of technology and it doesn’t lift the eye in the same way.”
“When coupled with the colour boost, it will really intensify their eye shape as well and it won’t look like they’ve not had anything done at all – the lashes will just look a little longer. You’d be surprised how many men let me work on them like that. For those who’ve had it done, they’ve liked the results and they’ve come back.”
Do allow your eyelashes to rest
Eyelashes need time to recover and regrow after eyelash extensions in order to regain their strength and condition, “If you’re having eyelash extensions, let them come off in their own time and then don’t do it again until after three months since your first treatment,” recommends Sue. “This gives your new eyelashes time to grow and rest and allows for there to be enough eyelashes there to attach eyelash extensions to.”
The closing word
Do not get eyelash extensions unless it’s for a special occasion. It’s just not worth the risk of long-term eyelash loss and quite frankly, the faff. “We’re a society of people wanting things here and now, which is quite a lot of pressure for people in my trade,” says Sue. “Now it’s all about going natural and getting the same results and I feel that I’m there with that now.”
Book in with Sue or a member of her team through the following ways:
Sue Marsh: 07880811647
Natalie Wood: 07961159707
feature writer for Get the Gloss.