Long, thick eyelashes have been a sign of good health and beauty for thousands of years. But we can’t forget that the real function of eyelashes is to provide an “early warning system” that keeps projectiles, like sand and insects, out of your eyes. Particles that hit the lashes trigger a lightening fast blink reflex that protects your cornea from injury.
Women spend a billion dollars a year on products that enhance the appearance of eyelashes. They coat them with mascara to make them look thicker, they glue on fake eyelashes and extensions, and even have hairs transplanted to their lids. A couple of years ago, an eyelash-growing drug called bimatoprost (Latisse), was approved by the FDA. Latisse is a type of drug called a prostaglandin. It is safe and effective. Over 80% of people who coat the base of their eyelashes with Latisse grow longer and thicker eyelashes. But it is a real drug and all drugs have side effects - some people develop swelling of their eyelids and redness of their eyes and have to stop using it.
Because Latisse is a prescription drug, it is expensive and requires a visit to your doctor. That has prompted a bunch of cosmetics companies to make competing products that also claim to grow eyelashes. These different cosmetics contain chemicals like prostaglandins, vitamins, and other things that claim to make your eyelashes grow. I’m not sure if these products really work, because as cosmetics, their manufacturers don’t have to prove they work or submit any data to the FDA.
If they don’t work, you’ve wasted your money. When you paint this liquid on the eyelid margin where the eyelashes grow, some of the chemical inevitably gets in your eye. If the material is contaminated with bacteria or toxins, your eyes could be injured and your vision could suffer. And if these eyelash growers really do work to grow eyelashes, then the FDA would consider them drugs. The FDA would want to know if these new drugs are safe and effective. And the process to market a new drug is a long and expensive one. So how can cosmetics companies market drugs without calling them drugs? Your guess is as good as mine ... and the FDA’s.
Latisse has passed the scrutiny of the FDA and is safe and effective. The same cannot be said for the over the counter versions.