Some women don't leave the house without lipstick or a spritz of perfume. I never leave my apartment without mascara. Why? Because it makes me feel awake and polished. But no one ever said a perfectly combed-through, loaded-up lash was effortless, so while the rest of the world lusted after eyebrow tattoos, I started looking up lash extensions.
Eyelash extensions aren't new, but they are more prevalent and available than they've ever been. To a novice like myself, they seem like magic; something that removes the need for a coat of mascara — or even eye makeup in general. Was it too good to be true? Could I be one step closer to waking up like Beyoncé for weeks on end?
Turns out, the world of extensions can be slightly problematic. Yes, the procedure can be perfectly safe — but there are caveats. To help figure out what's safe and what isn't, what's bad, good, and better, I went to the pros to suss out the details.
First, What Exactly Are Lash Extensions?
There are multiple types of extensions, but the most natural and careful technicians recommend one-to-one application, where a single false lash is adhered on every single natural lash. A full set ranges from 150 to 200 lashes per eye, Tirzah Shirai, founder of Blinkbar tells Refinery29. This will cost you. Blinkbar's services start at $120 (£95) for a full set of lashes, but other salons might charge a few hundred for your first service. Beware of going to places that charge less.
"The biggest misconception is that there are all these places that say they do lash extensions for $65 (£52), but typically, what you're getting is a cluster," Shirai tells Refinery29. "A cluster is essentially a bunch of lashes that have been pre-glued together — and they're incredibly heavy. They'll completely destroy your lashes." Which brings us to our next point...
Understand The Risks
Eyelash extensions aren't illegal, but the FDA warns users to be careful. "Since the eyelids are delicate, an allergic reaction, irritation, or injury in the eye area can occur," the FDA website says.
In theory, lash extensions are fine. But they can be dangerous when applied the wrong way. "You want to make sure that the adhesive and extensions they're putting on are sterile and approved for use around the eyes," Dr. Andrea Thau, president of the American Optometric Association and spokesperson for Think About Your Eyes, told Refinery29. "Anytime you're adhering something to the delicate tissues of the eyes, you're creating a possibility of infection or styes." The sharing of equipment can increase the likelihood of infection, Thau notes.
Other technicians also recommend using extensions sparingly, warning that over-gluing lashes might damage your natural hairs. "In the long run, [extensions] can actually make your life harder," Lara Kaiser of Shen Beauty told Refinery29. "The extra-strength glue causes lashes to become brittle and the heavy extensions on top of compromised lashes cause breakage, stunted growth, and loss of lashes." A few of her clients have even developed an allergy to the glue after consistently wearing extensions, Kaiser says.
Still convinced this is for you? Read on to make sure you get the best experience.
Know Your Weights
The lighter the extension, the easier it is on your natural lashes. The typical fiber used is a 0.2 lash (where the diameter of the strand is 0.2 mm), Shirai says, but a good rule of thumb is to check if your salon carries 0.15-mm lashes. "That’s a safe, natural-looking thickness, and it shows that the salon has some sort of knowledge about the procedure," she says.
It's important to note that most good salons won't offer extensions more than twice your natural length or thickness for fear of breaking your natural strands. One-to-one lashes are the best for your lash health. Still, rules can be broken — by the right people. At Blinkbar, technicians will hand-glue together multiple 0.03-mm strands for volume sets that are just as light as a standard 0.2, creating the fluttery doll set of your dreams while limiting damage to your lashes.
Mink, Silk, Or Synthetic?
The three most popular types of lash extensions are mink, silk, and synthetic. Rumour has it, Beyoncé opts for mink. "Mink fur is actually hollow on the inside, so they're the lightest," Shirai says. "They give you a fluffy look that's really beautiful." They will, however, cost you more.
Not willing to shell out an extra £150 for mink? Silk and synthetic strands are slightly more affordable options — silk for high shine and a softer touch, synthetic for stylised offerings like ombré lashes. But, as usual, check to make sure you aren't allergic to any of the ingredients in the lashes or adhesive before you get them glued on.
Prepare To Take A Nap
You should expect the process to take anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours, including consultation, Shirai says. "The first appointment should always be at least 90 minutes, and our longest appointment would be three-and-a-half hours," she says, "but it should be a painless procedure. People fall asleep all the time."
Arrive at your appointment relaxed — and maybe forgo the triple shot of espresso so you don't move around during application too much. Shirai also recommends coming in without any eye makeup on, removing your contacts, and avoiding waterproof mascara for the week leading up to your appointment, since the mascara will leave an invisible film.
After Extensions: Your Beauty Routine
The good thing about extensions? You won't have to wear a lick of mascara for as long as they last. The bad thing? Taking off makeup won't be as easy.
Immediately following the application, avoid getting your lashes wet for 24 hours. After that, Shirai tells her clients to get rid of oil-based products, since the oil may break down the adhesive.
Blinkbar does offer a a special (more expensive) adhesive that can immediately get wet and stand up to oil, but generally, "Stay away from mascara, unless it's been formulated to be used with extensions," Shirai says. You should also comb your lashes — but not over-comb them — and keep them clean with oil-free cleanser.
Learn Your Lash Cycle
Despite the hefty price tag, lash extensions do not last forever — but they should stick around for at least two weeks. Many technicians recommend getting a touch up every two to four weeks if you want to maintain the look. "We all have a growth cycle for our lashes, so it doesn't matter which salon you go to," Shirai says. "Everyone loses six to 20 lashes a week. When your natural lash sheds, you're going to shed the extension along with it."
It's also important to note that if you choose not to have your set touched-up, they will look uneven as they fall out. As much as we'd like our lashes to shed in unison, that's not always the case. This is a complaint many first-timers notice if they don't keep up with them — as the extensions fall out, your fluttery fringe tends to look patchy.
No matter how uneven they start to look, you should not, under any circumstance, try to remove lashes by yourself. "You cannot remove your lashes with coconut oil. If you start rubbing your lashes, you might end up in lash rehab," Shirai says. Pulling them or cutting them won't work, either (you'll lose the tapered end). Always get a pro to remove them to avoid any damage to your natural hairs.
Nothing is worse than shelling out some cash for extensions only to get an infection. To avoid any disasters, make sure you find salons you trust — with technicians that sanitize often and do not share equipment or adhesives.
"[The safety of extensions] really depends on who is doing it and how careful they are," Dr. Thau says. "Are they washing their hands thoroughly before they touch your eyes? Or are they reusing the same adhesive over and over?"
For a quick spot-check, make sure that you can see the technicians' license posted by the bed and ask about the glue they use (be wary if there's formaldehyde in the formula). "I would recommend that you ask your technician where they were trained and ask to see before and after photos of their work," Shirai says.
And if it turns out extensions aren't for you? "I recommend a lash growth serum or even castor oil applied topically," Kaiser says. There are, after all, some crazy good mascaras on the market. But if you're still sold on extensions, go forth. Maybe just keep it to a few times a year for those truly special occasions.