In the United States in 2022, more than $905 million was spent on mascara alone. Worldwide in 2021, sales of false eyelashes hit $1.62 billion. Suffice it to say, many people are invested in the appearance of their lashes
Many people strive for increased length, thickness, curling, and darkness of the lashes — exactly what most mascaras claim to do for your lashes.
Although mascara and false eyelashes are commonly used in the quest for great lashes, the market is flooded with serums promising to make your lashes sensational. Rather than buying one with blinders on, you might want to understand how they work, if they work, and whether lash growth serum is right for you. Here are a few facts you should know.
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The Anatomy of the Eyelash
To learn what you need to know about lash growth serum, start with understanding the anatomy of the eyelash. Lashes are distinctive from other body hair. What that means is that what you know about hair shedding and growth on your scalp may or may not apply when it comes to your lashes.
Your eyelashes serve a vital purpose to your eye health. They keep sweat and debris out of your eyes. Blinking is triggered when the faintest wisp of air or the tiniest particle hits your lashes, which keeps drying air and debris out of your eyes. Eyelashes are also part of the eyelid margin, along with the meibomian glands, which produce the oils that keep your eyes moist by keeping your tears from drying too quickly. Therefore, lacking sufficient lashes is far more than a beauty problem.
Your upper lid has five or six rows of follicles from which emerge 90 to 160 lashes, all with curvature. The lower lid has fewer rows and less lashes, usually about 75 to 80. Each lash has three layers: the medulla, the cortex, and the cuticle. It’s worth noting that within the cortex, the amount of melanin present determines how dark a person’s eyelashes are.
Unlike hair follicles on other parts of the body, which are rooted in three layers of skin, eyelashes are rooted in only two, which is why they are shorter than scalp hair. Other hair follicles have muscles that respond to factors like cold, creating what are referred to as “goosebumps.” Lash follicles do not.
As with other body hair, lashes have four stages of growth. These include the anagen (or growth) phase, the catagen (or degradation) stage, the telogen (or resting phase), and the exogen (or shedding) phase. The lash falls out during the exogen phase, and the process begins again, with the complete life cycle of each lash lasting from four to 11 months.
Your lashes are also affected by the aging process. As you age, your eyelashes will decrease significantly in darkness, thickness, and length. They are also affected by genetics. The DNA sequence (allele) for long lashes is dominant while the allele for short lashes is recessive, so it depends on your parents. However, long, thick, dark, and curly eyelashes may be exaggerated due to congenital syndromes, including Oliver-McFarlane syndrome, Cornelia de Lange syndrome, and congenital heart disease.
Lash trichomegaly (the length, curling, pigmentation or thickness of eyelashes) may also relate to acquired conditions. These conditions include HIV, hair disorders, allergic conditions, malignant conditions, and connective tissue disorders. Trichomegaly changes may occur as a result of certain drugs, including some used for cancer treatment, those used for hair growth, corticosteroids, penicillin,, and most notably, glaucoma treatments like bimatoprost.
Understanding how eyelashes grow naturally helps when it comes to understanding how growth serums can be beneficial.
What Is Lash Growth Serum?
You may be surprised to learn that the development of lash growth serum was a side effect of treatment for glaucoma and ocular hypertension. In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of latanoprost, a prostaglandin analog, for the use in lowering eye pressure. Bimatoprost 0.03% ophthalmologic drops, under the proprietary name Lumigan, was also approved for the treatment of these conditions in 2001.
Over time, patients and doctors noticed that those using bimatoprost eye drops also experienced noticeably increased lash length, density, and darkness. And when compared to latanoprost, bimatoprost was significantly more effective in promoting lash growth.
The Lumigan manufacturer, Allergan, launched clinical trials in the use of the solution for eyelash growth. And in 2008, the FDA approved use of Latisse®, which used the same active ingredient, bimatoprost 0.03%, to treat eyelash hypotrichosis. The condition is characterized by having too few lashes to provide adequate protection for the eyes.
What Are The Ingredients In Lash Growth Serums That Make Them Effective?
Prostaglandins, including bimatoprost and latanoprost, are the effective ingredients found in lash growth serums. They are fatty acid compounds naturally found in the body and manufactured in the tissue where they’re needed. Prostaglandin medications are prescribed for a variety of reasons ranging from inducing labor and treating stomach ulcers to combating glaucoma and eyelash hypotrichosis.
For best results when using an eyelash growth serum, a drop of bimatoprost solution is applied once a day along the lash line. Then it’s believed to drive the lashes out of the resting phase into the growing phase, promoting increased lash growth.
Do Lash Growth Serums Really Work?
Latisse® is the only FDA-approved lash growth serum. That means its safety and efficacy have been researched and met rigorous standards for prescribed uses. Studies found that eight weeks after starting to use the serum, lash growth and quality increased significantly and were sustained through the sixteenth week of treatment. Results of one study showed increases of 25% in length, 106% increase in thickness, and 18% increase in lash darkness at week 16.
As with any name-brand drug, Latisse® can be pricey. However, there are now generic versions available. They contain the same active ingredient, bimatoprost, in the same strength but at a more affordable price.
There are also some over-the-counter (OTC) lash growth serums that contain prostaglandin analogs other than bimatoprost as the active ingredient. However, they are not FDA approved, so neither their efficacy nor their safety has been proven in clinical trials.
There are a lot of other OTC products that market themselves as lash growth serums but do not contain prostaglandin analogs. Many of them instead contain peptides designed to promote the growth of keratin protein, which is key to the formation of hair.
But do these serums actually work? You may see longer lashes with use, but in all honesty, results may vary. Some serums could improve the health of your eyelashes, but this isn’t the same as spurring their growth. If you’re struggling with eyelash loss, simply having healthy lashes isn’t going to make much impact. Using an FDA-approved product to grow your own lashes is the only science-backed solution.
What Should I Look for in a Lash Growth Serum?
As you can see, not all lash growth serums are created equally. The differences between prescription and OTC serums come down to proof and safety.
You should always read the list of ingredients on any lash growth serum and if the serum doesn’t come with a list, skip it. Most will focus on claims of being paraben and/or cruelty free and all natural, which sound great. However, prioritize seeing active ingredients backed by science.
Reading reviews about products can also be helpful. However, make sure you find ones that aren’t on the manufacturer’s website or written by an influencer who is receiving payment for promoting a specific product. Remember that with the exception of bimatoprost 0.03%, no other formulas have passed FDA muster. So, if a product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
What Are the Side Effects of Prostaglandin Lash Serums?
Prostaglandin lash serums may cause some side effects, including eye redness and puffiness, itchy eyes, dry eyes, and discomfort. They can also cause darkening of the eyelid or circles under the eye. Moreover, you may notice shedding or brittle lashes when you begin use. Many people experience no side effects when using prostaglandin serums, but you should talk to your health provider right away if you do. These symptoms typically go away some time after discontinuing use.
A change in the color of the iris has occurred in some people using bimatoprost for glaucoma, which requires application of the medication directly into the eye. Because you apply lash serum to the eyelid, this is less likely to occur. However, if not careful, you may get bimatoprost in the eye when applying it. Although this will not harm your eye, it might cause changes to your eye color over time. Eye color change is permanent.
You should also take care when applying lash serum to the lash line. You may see hair growth anywhere else the solution lands.
There may be side effects associated with OTC lash serums that do not contain prostaglandin analogs. But since they have not been subject to clinical research, you may not know what they are unless you experience them. If you experience negative effects, you should discontinue use right away.
Is Lash Growth Serum Right for Me?
If you suffer from eyelash hypotrichosis, the need for longer, thicker, and darker lashes is more than just vanity. It’s about protecting the health of your eyes, which is essential.
There are a wide range of causes when it comes to eyelash hypotrichosis. Aging, heredity, chemotherapy, eye surgery, facial trauma, overuse of eyelash curlers, eye makeup residue, and trichotillomania — the compulsion to pull out your hair, including your eyelashes, are all known causes. But there are unknown causes as well, so talking to your doctor or an online health provider that prescribes bimatoprost solution is a good place to begin.
Not only have studies indicated that bimatoprost solution actually makes lashes longer, darker, and thicker, in one study, those who used it said their improved lashes made them feel happier, more confident, more attractive, and even more professional. Those outcomes may be reason enough to try lash growth serum.
10 FAQs About Lash Growth Serum
1. Are lash growth serums safe to use?
FDA approved eyelash growth serums, like Latisse, are safe to use. In clinical studies, the bimatoprost 0.03% solution proved safe to use, although some may experience side effects that go away after discontinuing use. While eye color change is a possible permanent reaction, it’s most prevalent only when the formula is used in the eye to treat glaucoma and eye hypertension.
2. Do lash growth serums really work?
Virtually every OTC lash growth serum claims anecdotal evidence that they make lashes longer and thicker. However, only Latisse® with the active ingredient of bimatoprost 0.03% has garnered FDA approval based on efficacy and safety in clinical trials.
3. Are there other methods I can use to give the appearance of longer, darker, thicker, curlier lashes instead of growth serums?
Using mascara, lash curlers, and false eyelashes can create the appearance of improved eyelashes, but there are risks with these methods. Curling pulls out lashes and residue from glues and mascara can make lashes fall out.
4. Is it difficult to get a prescription for a bimatoprost 0.03% lash growth serum?
Because it is a prescription treatment, you will need to consult with a licensed healthcare provider—such as an optometrist, ophthalmologist, or dermatologist—to get bimatoprost, but the process is fairly simple. A provider will evaluate your medical history, current medications, and overall health to determine if bimatoprost is safe and appropriate for you to use. Telehealth providers like Nurx make the process even easier by eliminating the need for an in-office visit.
5. Are all prostaglandin analog lash serums the same?
Only bimatoprost 0.03% and latanoprost, used in the original treatment for glaucoma, have been clinically proven to increase lash growth. Both of these require a prescription and are FDA-approved for glaucoma treatment. However, only bimatoprost is FDA-approved for treatment of eyelash hypotrichosis. Other prostaglandin analogs used in some OTC lash serums are not FDA approved.
6. Do I have to visit a doctor for a bimatoprost lash serum prescription?
A qualified healthcare provider must prescribe bimatoprost 0.03% solution for eyelash growth. However, you can consult an online healthcare provider who can prescribe and fill the prescription rather than visit a provider in person.
7. Do non-prostaglandin lash growth serums work?
There is no scientific evidence that supports the efficacy of OTC lash growth serums. However, those that do not contain a prostaglandin analog may still improve the health of the hair follicle and shaft, which may keep your lashes intact longer before you break or shed them.
8. Do men always have better eyelashes than women?
Men often have longer, darker, and thicker lashes. This may be attributed to their facial features overall being larger, and larger eyes can mean more lashes. It may also be due to heredity, just as one woman’s lashes may be longer than another’s. It could also relate to the fact that unlike women, who often begin wearing mascara and using lash curlers when they are young, men often avoid the damage that overuse can cause, especially over time.
9. Will minoxidil or finasteride give me longer eyelashes?
Minoxidil and finasteride are prescribed for treatment of scalp hair loss. However, they are not safe for use in the eye area and could cause significant damage and irritation. If you are using minoxidil or finasteride for scalp alopecia, you could notice greater hair growth in other areas, including your eyebrows or eyelashes. Eyelash hair follicles and scalp hair follicles do not work in the same way, so treatments designed for one or the other will not work in the same way.
10. Will dietary changes improve the quality of my eyelashes?
Eating a healthy diet and consuming the right amount of some vitamins and minerals will make virtually every part of your body healthier, including your skin and hair follicles. While that could make your lashes stronger and last longer before shedding, it likely won’t give you longer, thicker, and darker eyelashes.
Start to Grow Your Lashes Today
If you want your eyelashes to grow longer, thicker, and darker, a bimatoprost 0.03% lash growth serum is the only clinically proven way to get there. Because it requires a prescription, get started today by talking to a healthcare provider. You may be only a click or call away from achieving longer lashes and the confidence and contentment that may come with having them.