an I let you in on a secret, just between you and me? I’ve worn eyelash extensions continuously for about two years now. They make me feel like a Disney princess whose pure and gentle spirit has enticed delicate, mascara-free butterflies to live on my face.
Amid my otherwise low-maintenance makeup routine, lash extensions are like a cosmetic cheat code: Whether I’ve just woken up, exercised for an hour, gone for a swim or lived through a harrowing 24-hour stomach flu, I’m unfailingly delighted by the way my eyes pop, and by how quickly I can get ready.
When it comes to, say, applying eyeliner, I have the fine motor skills of a ventriloquist’s dummy, but there is no daily effort required on my part for lash extensions work their fluttery magic.
For the uninitiated but curious, I asked the owners of four eyelash-extension salons (and one ophthalmologist) about what to expect when you’re extending.
What are lash extensions?
Unlike temporary false lashes, eyelash extensions are neither a D.I.Y. affair nor a fleeting commitment.
They are professionally applied, one on each natural lash, with a semi-permanent glue meant to hold them in place for several weeks. Extensions bewitch your lashes with the length and volume that nature didn’t see fit to give you (and beyond what multiple coats of mascara and a lash curler could), but at a length your face deserves.
Before we go any further, let’s get this out of the way: Ophthalmologists are fine with it.
“We don’t have any problem with people being gorgeous,” Rebecca J. Taylor, a Nashville ophthalmologist and clinical spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. That said, there are some risks that lash extension customers should most definitely be aware of. More on those later.
The price of eyelash extensions varies depending on the style, the technician’s experience and the area in which you live, but you can expect a full set to start around $100 and climb to as high as $500. At the Lash Method in Salt Lake City, a full set of eyelash extensions begins at $99. You’d pay $150 for that service at Maxim-Eyes Lashes in Orlando, and Chicago’s Flutter Lash Studio will set you back at least $350.
Where should you get them?
Other than personal recommendations from friends, reviews and client photos posted on sites like Yelp and Instagram are invaluable for offering insight into both the quality of service and the style of lashes a company provides.
Tirzah Shirai owns BlinkBar, an eyelash extension salon with three locations in greater Los Angeles. Her star-studded client base includes Selena Gomez, Kylie Jenner and Renée Zellweger.
“As a general rule, I would tell people: Save the Groupon for a yoga class,” Ms. Shirai said. “We’ve seen some crazy stuff at BlinkBar — people who have Groupons who are doing lashes out of the back of their car, using Krazy Glue.” (Full disclosure: I got my first set of eyelash extensions with a Groupon. Do as I say, not as I do.)
Shelby McKinney owns and operates the Lashing Out eyelash extensions studio in Dallas. When you arrive at your chosen lash salon, she said, look around.
“Take a quick glance to make sure all products used during your service are new or sanitized,” she said. “Your stylist is also required by law to be licensed in the state in which they are performing the service and their license should be posted somewhere in the salon.”
Your first appointment
Your first will be your longest, taking at least 90 minutes and possibly upward of two hours. You should arrive at the salon with your eyes entirely clean of makeup.
“We ask that our clients don’t have caffeine before they come in,” Ms. Shirai said. “You’re lying still, it’s a great chance to unplug. My advice would be to bring a playlist or a book on tape.”
I’m partial to podcasts myself, and I always make sure to switch my phone to airplane mode to make sure it won’t be buzzing in my pocket with crazy-making notifications I won’t be able to check for two hours. And given the complicated logistics of extricating yourself mid-application, you should always visit the restroom just before your appointment begins.
Your technician should discuss your expectations and personal taste with you: Are you interested in a more subtle look, or are you hoping to unleash your inner diva? The health and thickness of your natural lashes as well as the shape of your face and eyes will be used to determine the right set of extensions for you.
Eyelash extensions are available in a wide variety of lengths, diameters and curls. There are also different materials, including synthetic, silk and mink (the most expensive, and ethically dubious, option, touted for its real-fur fluffiness). The general wisdom is that synthetic lashes tend to look glossier and more dramatic than softer, lighter silk lashes, although different extensionists offered me contradictory descriptions of their attributes. I think it’s safe to say that an untrained observer probably wouldn’t clock a drastic difference.
Julie Mella and Ramona Azcona, the owners of She Winks Lash Studio in New York, recommend that novices err on the conservative side; they can always up the drama later.
“If a client is coming in for the first time, we advise them to follow their lash growth pattern and just make them darker,” Ms. Mella and Ms. Azcona wrote in an email. “That will give them a natural look, as if they were wearing mascara, until they get accustomed to the change.”
To begin, you’ll lie down on your back and get comfortable. Your bottom lashes will be shielded with under-eye pads, stickers or tape. Prepare for your eyes to remain closed for the entire application, as your technician delicately affixes each extension with tweezers.
It may take a few minutes to adjust to the knowledge that a pointed metal object is moving so close to your eyeball, but the procedure is gentle enough that, if you’re like me, you might very well find yourself dozing off. I’m usually awakened by the breeze of a small fan the technician points at my lashes to help dry the adhesive as the service wraps up.
“I have clients that come in, say hello and fall asleep,” said Soul Lee, owner of Beautiful Soul Makeup Studio in New York City. “If you can find a way to relax yourself, I think it’s great to find an hour during the day to take a nap.”
The care and keeping of lash extensions
After your appointment, don’t let your extensions get wet for the next 24 hours, so that the glue can dry completely. Steer clear of humid environments like saunas, too. I once made the mistake of running a 10-K on a steamy summer morning right after an evening lash application, and I remember wiping my sweaty face with my hand and finding three or four fugitive extensions on my palm.
To preserve your extensions, keep them clean and gently detangle them with a pristine mascara wand or spoolie brush every day. You can wear eye makeup, but accept that oils and oil-based makeup remover are your lashes’ worst enemy, because they break down the adhesive. When it comes to mascara specifically, the experts suggest skipping it.
“You don’t really need mascara. That’s why you’re getting the extensions, and you’re spending a lot of money doing it,” Ms. Lee said.
Ms. McKinney added: “The rule of thumb for eyelash extensions is the less you mess with them, the better and longer they are going to stay.”
To keep your extensions looking full and fresh, touch-ups should be scheduled every two to four weeks. These fill-in appointments take roughly one hour and range in price from $50 to $250. (After a month, you’ll normally be charged for a full, new set.) Extensions, properly applied and cared for, should not make your eyelashes fall out, but you will notice some inevitable casualties as your lashes grow and shed according to their natural cycles. Ms. Lee said she has clients who have worn lash extensions for 10 years without any apparent adverse side effects, though she does recommend that her customers take a three-month break every year or two.
What ophthalmologists want you to know
Among the medical concerns associated with eyelash extensions are the possibilities of trauma to and infection of the eyelid or the cornea, permanent or temporary loss of the eyelashes, and allergic reactions to the glues, some of which have historically contained formaldehyde. (Like other cosmetics, eyelash adhesives are not subject to F.D.A. approval.)
If you’re interested in lash extensions, and your eyes and eyelids are otherwise healthy, Dr. Taylor, the ophthalmologist, recommends asking about the contents of any glue before it’s applied near your eyes and even requesting that your technician first do a spot test on the inside of your wrist.
“What you don’t want to end up with is a massive allergic reaction,” Dr. Taylor said. “You’re just trying to go in and get a little bit more glorious and beautiful, and two days later, you wake up with swollen eye you can’t even open.”
Should symptoms like pain, itching or redness present themselves, don’t take matters into your own hands. Dr. Taylor strongly recommended against attempting to remove your extensions at home, as did every lash guru I spoke to.
“If you’re having a problem, please come in and see an ophthalmologist,” Dr. Taylor said. “You may exacerbate your symptoms by tugging and pulling. You may fracture your lashes. Try not to handle it yourself, because sometimes it can be a bigger fish to fry than you realize.”