Do We Really Need To Worry About Lice In Our Lash Extensions?

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
For every YouTuber, VSCO girl, and coworker who raves about the life-changing magic of lash extensions, there's an eye doctor listing off the reasons to lay off the faux hairs. From allergic reactions to bacterial infections, many pros call lash extensions the riskiest enhancement option. Now at the top of the list of less-than-sexy side effects: Lice.

ABC 7 News first reported that optometrists are seeing a rise in patients with "lash lice," otherwise known as Demodex, on their eyelash extensions. Similar to head lice, it's commonly spread through direct contact with hair or lash combs and lives near the follicle to feed off the host's blood.

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Demodex doesn't discriminate based on real or faux hairs, but there are more ways to catch it if you're going in for a lash touch-up every three weeks. Dirty lash combs, towels, and applicators can all contribute to the spread of lash lice, which is why it's critical to do your research before your appointment and ask how your lash studio sanitizes its equipment.
But the risk of infection doesn't stop when you walk out the door. It's also vital to properly and regularly cleanse the area, something avid lash extension fans might have previously avoided. "Generally, the idea when you have eyelash extensions is that people are afraid to touch them or wash them because they're afraid the eyelash will fall out," Dr. Sairah Malik told the news outlet.
Cleansing your extensions won't necessarily prevent lice, but it will make it much harder for bacteria and mites (sorry) to grow and thrive. While you'll want to avoid oil and alcohol to keep your faux lashes in tact, you can use a cotton swab dipped in micellar water to cleanse them. Jennifer Tsai, OD, a Manhattan-based optometrist of Line of Sight Vision & Wellness, recommends a diluted tea tree oil cleanser for your extensions and lids (just be careful not to get it into your eyes).
If your eyelashes are starting to itch just from reading this article, here's how to know if you're dealing with an actual issue: "Symptoms of eyelash lice can include lid irritation, scabbing, redness, itching, tearing, and swelling," says Dr. Tsai.
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If you are experiencing any of those symptoms, Dr. Tsai urges you to see an eye doctor, who will be able to treat the case with an antibiotic ointment that will help suffocate the lice. If left untreated, it could potentially lead to lash loss, chronic eyelid inflammation, or visual changes. 
Bottom line: You don't have to stop getting eyelash extensions for good, but you should stay on top of proper hygiene during the process and throughout the aftercare — and consider taking a break from the service whenever possible. In the words of Dr. Tsai: "Cleaning eyelash extensions and following proper lid hygiene care is really important." We just never knew this much.
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