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Beauty has its price: lash crisis at 3 a.m.

October 29, 2005|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

LASH extensions are the most durable and natural-looking way to get a big lash line -- but extensions are a labor-intensive procedure that require powerful glue and hairbreadth precision. If your technician is even slightly careless, you'll be looking at weeks of discomfort.

That would be why I woke at 3 a.m. with a swollen, watering left eye. I'd had a full set of eyelash extensions done a few days earlier at a salon in Beverly Hills. I'd wedged into a stylist's chair while the in-house "lash expert" darkened my natural lashes with dye to intensify the effect. Then she covered my bottom lashes with a cotton pad and, using a tweezer, individually glued 24 curved, acrylic lashes throughout my top lashes. All standard procedure. The lash application was painless but tedious: After nearly two hours, my lashes looked flirty and natural.

Days later, when one started to hurt, I discovered that groups of my upper lashes had been glued together and hardened into sharp clumps that poked my lids if I squinted or cried. Now I was stuck with what felt like a row of thorns and no idea how to remove them. The salon's aftercare card said to contact the technician in the event of a problem. Who do you call at 3 a.m.? (Dousing them with baby oil, the suggested procedure, had no effect.)

I dabbed the lid with antibiotic ointment and went back to bed. The swelling went down the next day. Later, a representative from the American Academy of Ophthalmologists told me the procedure and its pitfalls are too new to have been studied.

"They look great when applied properly," said Dr. Marguerite McDonald, clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane University School of Medicine. "The downside is these bonding agents are very similar to super glue and they are not yet regulated by the FDA because the extensions are applied to the eyelash hair and they don't touch the skin -- but they are microns away from the skin."

She warned that the procedure could cause a corneal abrasion if done incorrectly. (And she added that it's also illegal to dye eyelashes in the United States, even though it is commonly done.) Plus, lash makers said many technicians are trained for the technique only by watching a DVD.

The potential for problems seems huge, but no complaints have been filed with California regulatory agencies.

One reason may be that many problems associated with cosmetic products or procedures go unreported, said McDonald, either from fear of appearing vain or from ignorance about how to report adverse reactions. (The California Department of Consumer Affairs can be reached at [800] 952-5210 or

Meanwhile, glue formulas are not regulated and won't likely be until many consumers complain about adverse effects, McDonald said. That's slow to happen, she added, because consumers "have to admit that they had done something with an element of danger just to look a little prettier."

If you have the time, money and desire to try extensions, it's wise to ask for proof of both cosmetology licensing and an in-person training class. Take a break during the procedure to carefully check the technician's work and be prepared: You may suffer for beauty.

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