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Prescription vs. OTC Lash Serum: What’s the Difference?

Prescription vs. OTC Lash Serum: What’s the Difference? Image
Written by Nurx
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Long, thick, and dark eyelashes are often associated with feminine beauty. Consequently, women turn to products to achieve this look. Yet, navigating the many prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) options available to promote healthy eyelashes and growth can be overwhelming. 

Mascaras, lash serums, and extensions are all possible ways to achieve desired lash results. However, there are differences between each option and many can come with high costs, trial and error, and side effects. Here’s what you need to know when choosing what’s right for you:

What’s the Difference in Ingredients Between OTC vs. Prescription Lash Growth Serum?

Prescription and over-the-counter, or OTC, lash serums usually contain prostaglandins. As active ingredients, prostaglandins are responsible for stimulating lash growth. You may already know how prostaglandins work if you’ve researched menstrual cycles. Essentially, prostaglandins act like hormones, and the body makes them when there’s inflammation or an injury.

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Since there are several types of prostaglandins, they can play various roles. Some help your body heal and form blood clots when you sustain an injury. Others promote the contractions responsible for labor and menstruation. Doctors also use synthetic prostaglandins to treat medical conditions like glaucoma.

Synthetic prostaglandins are in OTC and prescription lash growth serums, but this is where the similarities end. OTC serums don’t have the same prostaglandins as prescription formulas. For example, prescription-strength growth serums contain bimatoprost, while some OTC formulas have latanoprost. Not all OTC serums contain the same prostaglandins, and some don’t contain any. In addition, OTC serums have less potent concentrations of prostaglandins.

These differences are similar to prescription tretinoin creams versus OTC retinol moisturizers. The active ingredient is essentially the same, but the retail formula isn’t as powerful and takes longer to work. While OTC serums may promote lash growth, a prescription may give you faster, more noticeable results.

What’s the Difference Between OTC and Prescription Lash Growth Serum Results?

A critical distinction between OTC and prescription lash growth serums is Food and Drug Administration approval. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, approves the use of prescription serums’ active ingredient for eyelash growth. Bimatoprost has been shown to make eyelashes thicker, longer, and darker in clinical studies with adults and children.

Glaucoma patients first reported these effects during disease treatment using bimatoprost. Further examination through clinical trials has demonstrated eyelash growth in patients. However, bimatoprost seems more effective than latanoprost, the active ingredient in OTC serums. A three-month clinical trial found eyelash growth occurred more often with bimatoprost.

Furthermore, the FDA does not usually test or approve OTC formulas for specific uses. While you may experience lash growth with OTC serums, you’re more likely to see improvements in your eyelashes’ appearance with a prescription-strength product.  

OTC Options

A quick walk through a cosmetics aisle may lead you to several OTC lash serums. So will an online search for lash growth serums. As with other cosmetics, you’ll find a range of choices and prices. OTC formulas are typically less expensive, and you don’t need to go to a doctor. Here are a few lash serums you’re most likely to come across.

  • Revitalash – contains smaller amounts of latanoprost
  • SmartFX – doesn’t contain prostaglandins and uses castor oil instead. Castor oil is not scientifically proven to grow lashes
  • Lashfood – relies on arginine, an amino acid. There is some clinical evidence that arginine formulas can stimulate hair growth
  • Obagi Nu-Cil – contains dehydrolatanoprost, a prostaglandin
  • Lash Boost by Rodan + Fields – contains isopropyl cloprostenate, a synthetic prostaglandin analog

Prescription Options

Individuals with medical conditions that cause hair loss may benefit more from prescription-strength lash serums. These formulas may have a stronger effect on thinning lashes caused by disruptions in hair growth cycles. Treatments for conditions like cancer may also lead to more severe hair thinning and loss. Prescription serums, like the ones listed below, can be more appropriate in these cases.

  • Latisse® uses the FDA-approved prostaglandin, bimatoprost, to promote eyelash growth.
  • Nurx’s prescription-strength formula also uses FDA-approved prostaglandin bimatoprost, a scientifically proven ingredient to improve eyelash length, thickness, and color.

Which Option Is Best for Me?

Before you decide which formula is best, you should be aware of potential side effects. You’ll want to discuss your options with a medical professional, if you have any conditions lash serums might aggravate. Formulas with prostaglandins are more likely to cause side effects, including irritation.

Prescription serums may lead to more adverse reactions. Besides irritation, the most common after effects are redness and darker eyelid skin. Some people may also notice their eye color change if they get the solution in their eyes. If you have blue or green eyes, there’s a chance they’ll darken to brown, though it is unlikely. Side effects like irritation reverse once you stop using the serum.

But if your eye color changes, this is usually irreversible. OTC serums with prostaglandins aren’t as likely to produce side effects. Even so, it’s still possible to experience the same reactions and changes to some degree. With any formula, you may also develop an allergic response. If you already have allergies, an OTC formula without prostaglandins may be less irritating.

Additional considerations are convenience and price. Insurance plans do not cover prescription or OTC lash serums, so you’ll cover the entire cost out of pocket. Plus, you do need to consult with a medical professional to get a prescription. Although OTC formulas are readily available and typically less expensive, the FDA doesn’t regulate them. These serums may also use ingredients that science doesn’t back.   

Ready To Try Lash Serum?  

You don’t have to settle for thin lashes. Mascara and eyelash extensions may work temporarily, but these solutions can ultimately make thin lashes more sparse. On the other hand, eyelash serums address the problem by encouraging your natural lashes to grow thicker and stronger.

If you think it’s time to try a different fix, the next step is to talk to a medical professional. They’ll help you sort through your choices and determine whether a prescription-strength serum is a good fit. With the right formula, you can grow thicker, fuller lashes.

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