Everything You Need To Know About Eyelash Extensions

If your dream is to wake up with long, full, dark, and feathery eyelashes — without globbing on three coats of mascara — you've probably at least considered semi-permanent eyelash extensions, a trend that has sprung up over the past few years to respond to that exact wish.
Going one step beyond falsies, these lashes last weeks. And while the trend has become prevalent in certain celebrity circles and big cities, you might still have questions about the safety, cost, comfort, and overall process. To help us suss out the real deal about lash extensions — the good, the bad, and the annoying — we talked to a few pros about what it takes to achieve your dream lashes, below.

The Basics

Unlike gluing a strip of falsies to your lash line, the process of applying eyelash extensions is much more meticulous. First, a technician will walk you through the various lash extension options: fiber (synthetic, silk, and faux-mink), length, and curl type. Most salons have a menu to help guide the consultation and determine the lash extension that will best fit your aesthetic.
Yes, you can just roll out of bed with thick, Kim Kardashian-inspired lashes, if that's what you want. But, if you're trying to achieve a my-lashes-but-better look, where people might just think you were born with a soft, fluttery set? That's 100% possible, too. With the growing interest in extensions, the process of application had become so advanced, the look is now completely customizable. At your consultation, you can explain your lash aesthetic to your technician — full, super-long, natural, and so forth — and he or she will help you craft your dream lash.
"Nowadays there are several different textures for lash extensions," explains celebrity lash expert Clementina Richardson of Envious Lashes. "You can go with a premium faux-mink fiber lash, which is flexible and light. Or, ultra-silk lashes, which are extremely soft to the touch, but create a more dramatic look than the faux-mink fiber, without causing any strain to the natural lashes. For clients going for a more natural look, I advise them request a set of 80-90 lashes per eye, depending on the size of their eyelids."
Once you've found your desired lash look, the next step is the application — and don't expect this to be snappy. Your technician will be using a teeny-tiny, tweezer-like tool to precisely affix around 160 individual eyelashes to your eyes. They do this by glueing one false lash onto each of your own natural lashes, one tiny lash at a time. (When your natural lash sheds so does the extension that's attached to it — that's why they must be touched up.) Understandably, the initial set will take upwards of two hours to apply. Since your eyes are taped mostly closed — warning: expect an awkward eyelid position that some find unnerving where your eyes are tapped slightly open — try to use the time to just relax and be with your thoughts.

The Pros

If you've ever seen someone with distractingly long lashes, so luscious and fluttery that they couldn't possibly be natural, then you know the number one benefit of extensions: You get to walk around with the lashes you wish you were born with, no mascara or sticky lash glue required.
"One of biggest pros of eyelash extensions is you never have to wear mascara ever again," explains lash expert Skyy Hadley of Blink Beauty Boutique. "Lashes make your eyes pop, and actually help breath life into an otherwise tired face." Some women even say that they're more inclined to take an all-natural approach their makeup when they have extensions on because the feel so confident with long, full lashes.
Tailor-made lashes sound great, right? But for every lash devotee out there, there's someone who'll be quick to warn you: extensions are not low-maintenance, incredibly uncomfortable, and stupid expensive to maintain.

The Cons

There are some serious drawbacks to lash extensions that you should know about before assessing whether or not they're worth it for you. First and foremost, they're pricey. A full starter set can easily set you back between $120 and $200, depending on the type of lashes you want and your technician, Tirzah Shirai, founder of Blinkbar tells Refinery29. And that's not even considering the touch-up cost. You need to replace your extensions every two to three weeks, as the extensions will shed with your natural lash cycle, and those replacements cost another $100, minimum. And for the bargain-hunters among us, Shirai warns: "beware of going to places that charge less."
"There are all these places that say they do lash extensions for $65, 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."
How? In short, these clusters each affix to a few lashes, making the shedding that happens later a big 'ol mess: lash clusters stick to lashes that have shed and natural lashes that are still intact. It tends to leave clients in a lose-lose predicament: Leave the unsightly jumble on or pull it off.
But even when applied individually, skin-care expert Dr. Lamees Hamdan tells us that it's a good idea to only get extensions sporadically, like before a wedding or special occasion, as opposed to consistently. "Getting eyelash extensions regularly can, and usually does, lead to loss of your own natural lashes," explains Dr. Hamdan.
Even worse than destroyed lashes (which is pretty bad), would be the risk of icky infection that might follow a lash-extending procedure. "Many people don’t realize that there are definitely some hygienic factors that come with having lashes," Hadey tells us. "If the implements or the lashes themselves aren't cleaned properly, you face the risk of conjunctivitis."
Dr. Hamdan echoes that you're putting your eyes and the surrounding skin at risk with lash extensions. Most often, it's not the lashes themselves that cause an issue, as they are designed to be lightweight and safe for the eyes. Instead, it's the glue that can cause could potentially hurt your eyes.
"The lash glue is a chemical, and usually contains formaldehyde and other irritating chemicals that can potentially cause inflammation, irritation, allergic reactions, or dry eyes," explains Dr. Hamdan. To rule out possible issues, your technician should carry out a patch test before the glue gets anywhere near your skin or eye, just to make sure you won't have an adverse reaction. Also, it's important to recognize that this process involves sharp tools near your eyes for a prolonged period of time, so you have to consider whether or not that will bother you before you're in the chair.

Things To Keep In Mind

If you've considered the cost, and weighed your risks, you have to keep in mind the somewhat-annoying rules of lash care. First, like the major annoyance of getting a spray tan, you can't hop in the shower after you've had extensions applied to your lashes. "You should avoid steam and wetting your lashes for the first 48 hours after getting lash extensions," Richardson instructs. And, when you are able to shower, you'll have to blow-dry your sopping-wet spider lashes with a blow dryer, on the cool setting, and a little spoolie brush — something you've likely never done before.
Speaking of scary eyelashes that somewhat resemble long, thin spider legs, even dry, your eyelashes will end up looking a little creepy as they grow out and fall out. Because your natural lashes shed at different rates, so will your extensions, which means that after just two or three weeks, you'll likely be left with a wonky lash line that's full in some spots, but sparse and short in others. And because you can't remove your extensions on your own (because you'll risk pulling out your natural lashes in the process), you'll have to book another appointment at the salon for a lash refill, or to have the straggling extensions removed by a pro.
Another adjustment to consider is that your skin-care routine will likely have to change post-extensions. For example, things like oil-based cleansers and heavy eye cream will have to go. "You need to avoid using oil-based products and heavy creams around eyes — and you should not apply any mascara to the lashes," says Richardson. The oils and cream will loosen the lash glue and cause the extensions to fall off faster, while mascara will add weight to the very-delicate lashes and could cause breakage.
Basically, the most important thing to remember with eyelash extensions is to be extremely gentle. You can't stumble home at 2 a.m., rub your tired eyes with the back of your hand, and fall asleep face-first on your bed. No, you must treat your lashes like the $200 investment that they are. "Rubbing your eyes at all will result in immediate lash breakage," warns Richardson. She also recommends investing in a silk pillowcase, as sleeping an ordinary cotton sham can cause drying or lash snagging.
From minding how you sleep to what you're putting near your eyes, it's clear that maintaining eyelash extensions is a delicate art. And if you're feeling overwhelmed by the upkeep and the cost, maybe consider starting small, with a lash conditioning serum or a lift and tint. In the end, we'll always admire long lash extensions, but we might not be able to live with them.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series