The downsides of eyelash extensions

Eyelash extensions are used to give the appearance of longer eyelashes. They primarily come in two forms – as a strip or as individual hairs.

They are a very effective way to increase the appearance of your eyelashes but there are two big potential negative effects to watch out for:

1. They can shrink your natural lashes (traction alopecia) and;

2. The chemicals used to attached the false lashes can irritate the skin (allergic/hypersensitive reaction).

Traction Alopecia

Constant excessive tension on a hair over a period of time can cause the hair follicle to enter a resting phase of its growth cycle.

With eyelash extensions, this is caused by the long term use of individual lashes weighing down your natural eyelash. The speed at which this occurs is highly variable between individuals, but normally occurs within 4 months of use of the heavier fake eyelashes.

Initially, you may notice some eyelashes that are shorter than the others. This can then develop so that all of your eyelashes are noticeably shorter and you may be left with some gaps.

To prevent this, it’s best to minimise the use of individual eyelash extensions. There’s nothing wrong with using them for special occasions, but if you start to wear them for months at a time then there is likely to be a reduction in your natural eyelash growth.

Always use a well trained and experienced eyelash technician. They should use gloves for hygiene when working near the eyes.

Allergic/hypersensitive reaction

The adhesive used to attach the lash can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. There can be two types of reactions – an immediate reaction, and a delayed reaction.

The immediate reaction will occur within a few minutes (at a molecular level it happens straight away, but it takes time to “show”). There will be localised swelling and redness. This is the reason why many places offer a patch test before treatment.

A delayed response can occur months or even years after your first treatment. It often develops slowly and results in darker looking skin at the base of the eyelashes and swelling, but not as much swelling as the immediate reaction.

The cause of both reactions is an ingredient in the adhesives used. The most common irritant is formaldehyde, although some people may react to other commonly used chemicals such as limonene.

If you find that you have swelling, it is best to remove the adhesive as soon as possible. An antihistamine can be taken which can reduce the swelling, and you should drink plenty of water.

In most cases swelling will reduce significantly within days, but can take weeks to resolve entirely.

If you are concerned, if the symptoms are getting worse or crusting is developing, you should talk to your GP to exclude any serious eye complaints such as infection.

Written by Dr Tom Walker

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