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Is Lash Serum Safe? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Vogue Arabia, January 2020. Photo: Kourosh Sotoodeh

Interested in lash serum? You’re not alone: Web searches for “lash serum” have nearly doubled in the last six months, according to insights from Exploding Topics, while “lash serum” and “the best lash serum” have amassed over a billion views on trendsetting platform TikTok. Translation? It’s safe to say consumers are pretty obsessed with the product these days.

I, too, have recently become infatuated with lash serum: After removing my eyelash extensions this summer, I’ve desperately sought ways to strengthen the few lashes I still have. But while I’m certainly tempted to try serum, I’m also concerned by the slew of lawsuits against cosmetic companies, like Rodan + Fields, alleging their serums have dangerous side effects.

To help shed some light on lash serums’ safety, we asked experts everything consumers should know about the products, including how they work, which ingredients to use, and potential risks.

What is lash serum and how does it work?

Lash serums are topical eyelash treatments that work to strengthen, nourish, and condition the eyelashes, says Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. “By improving the health of the brow hair, serums may also help make it less susceptible to breakage, and give the hairs a thicker and healthier appearance,” she says.

As for how they strengthen and support the lashes? That’s all in the formulation. “A few key ingredients that are often found in lash serums on the market include peptides and amino acids, castor seed oil, and vitamins, such as vitamin E,” cosmetic chemist and NakedPoppy research scientist Marisa Plescia tells Glamour. “Peptides are more or less the ‘hero’ ingredient in these eyelash serums: They can help activate keratin production to promote thicker and healthier-looking lashes, and through other complicated biological mechanisms, can help protect hair follicles and prevent hair loss.”

Does lash serum make your eyelashes longer?

If you purchased your lash serum OTC (over the counter), then probably not. “Lash serums that you find on the shelves of stores and online are considered for ‘cosmetic use,’ and therefore shouldn’t make claims about actually causing hair growth,” says Plescia, though she notes that they can still lead to healthier-looking lashes.

Therefore, if you’re specifically looking for length, you’ll probably need a prescription. “Latisse is the only eyelash growth serum currently approved by the FDA, and it is available only by prescription from an eye doctor,” says Jeffrey S. Dello Russo, MD, ophthalmologist and LASIK refractive surgeon, noting that OTC lash products do not contain the essential ingredient prostaglandin. “Prostaglandin and prostaglandin-derived ingredients encourage the lashes to enter the anagen (or growth) phase of the lash growth cycle and help to prolong this phase,” explains cosmetic chemist Vincenzo Spinnato.

How long does it take to see results?

It typically takes three to four months before you see full results, according to Spinnato. “Most serums work gradually, and most people will not see any results until week four.”

Is lash serum safe?

Generally speaking, yes, though eye and/or skin irritation are always possible. “Most lash serums are ophthalmologically tested, but of course that’s no guarantee of its effect on you,” Plescia notes. If you have concerns or sensitivities, talk to your doctor first.

In part because the area is especially delicate. “The skin around your eyes is much thinner than elsewhere on your face and body because it doesn’t contain as much subcutaneous fat as other areas of your skin, and doesn’t have as many oil glands,” she explains. “This all means that the skin around your eyes can be much more sensitive.” What’s more, there’s the possibility that lash serum could get into the eye itself, potentially causing eye irritation or other side effects. “That’s why important to apply it properly, though product transfer into the eye can still happen.”

Furthermore, unlike with other parts of the skin, a traditional patch test may not be a good indicator of whether you might have a reaction to lash serum. “If you have concerns about sensitivity and irritation, start slow, use a small amount, and follow directions,” Plescia says.

Is lash serum FDA-approved?

“Latisse is the only eyelash growth serum currently approved by the FDA,” Dr. Dello Russo reiterates. “Over the counter serums have not been FDA tested, and their safety and side effects are not clinically known.”

As noted above, many OTC lash serums are rigorously tested, just not by the FDA. Plus, Latisse does not come without its own side effects: According to Dr. Garshick, Latisse is associated with low risk of iris hyperpigmentation, so individuals with light eyes tend to hold off from using it.

Can I use lash serum if I have sensitive eyes or skin?

“If you have sensitive skin, it is always best to use with caution given the skin around the eyes may be more delicate and as such, more likely to trigger a skin reaction,” says Dr. Garshick. Plescia concurs. “Pinpointing specific ingredients to avoid can be difficult, but as a starting place, if you identify with having sensitive skin, consider avoiding lash serums with fragrances and essential oils,” she says.

What should I do if I have a reaction to lash serum?

“If you experience any sensitivity or irritation, it may help to apply an ointment such as Vaseline to help support the skin and provide a protective barrier,” Dr. Garshick advises. But first, talk to your doctor. “If the skin is red, itchy or inflamed, it is good to see a dermatologist.”

“If the product does enter the eye, remove any corrective lenses (if applicable), and flush the eye with water,” adds Plescia. “If you’re experiencing more serious side effects like blurred vision, consult a doctor immediately.”

Can I boost my lashes without serum?

Yes! “There are ways to stimulate eyelashes naturally,” Spinnato says. “Apply oil to your lashes: Natural oils such as castor oil, coconut oil, and olive oil moisturize the lash hairs and support healthy growth and moisturize with aloe vera. You could also use a lash-boosting mascara, or consider supplements.”

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