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Fast forward to now, and lash extensions are as ubiquitous as bodysuits on pop stars. (Speaking of pop stars, J. Lo was one of the first celebs to allegedly wear lash extensions, in mink obviously.)
So if mascara has been your lash gateway drug and you’re craving something a little stronger, here’s everything you need to know before you try eyelash extensions.
Lash extensions are different from false lashes. False lashes are usually strips or small clusters of lashes that you attach directly to your skin at the base of your real lashes, and are meant to be worn for a day and removed. False lashes are what you can buy at Blac Chyna's Lashed shop, and they are DIY. Lash extensions are single false lashes that are glued directly onto your existing lash, not to the skin on your lid, and can last for four to eight weeks.They have to be applied by a pro.
Types of Lash Extensions
Lash extensions come in materials ranging from silk to mink to synthetics. According to Courtney Buhler, a lash artist and the CEO & founder of Sugarlash, a luxury line of lashes available to aestheticians, lash extensions generally look more realistic if they’re a bit more matte in color and aren't too shiny. Silk lashes tend to look more dramatic while mink looks more natural. She says that the most natural look overall occurs when a lash artist adds dimension by texturizing lashes using a combination of lengths, degrees of taper, and even some flat lashes instead of standard cylindrical ones. "Flat lashes can be more dramatic and look thicker without added weight." (Lashes that are too heavy can cause the real lashes to fall out.) The flat lashes also give some density at the lash line and offer the look of tightliner, an eyeliner technique involving color placed just between the lashes to open eyes a bit.
How to Find a Lash Artist
Lash artists are pretty ubiquitous now, but training, regulation, and licensure are not consistent from state to state. Some states require lash artists to have an aesthetician license, and some don’t. But Buhler says that even if a state does require a license, it doesn't mean the lash artist is proficient, since it’s not a skill that’s usually taught in beauty schools.
To find an artist, start with personal recommendations if possible. None of your friends ‘fessing up to fakes? Head to Yelp and Instagram next. An artist’s Instagram should be filled with before and after photos. Once you decide you like someone’s work, call. "Grill them," recommends Buhler. "Someone who takes their career seriously should be able to sit on the phone with you for 15 minutes if you want and explain the whole process." She also warns that if you’re able to get an appointment right away, that might not be a great sign and could mean the artist doesn’t have a strong customer base. (Although obviously that’s not always the case.) But if you have to wait a week or two, it’s a sign that he or she is in demand.
Budget the Time
According to Buhler, there are anywhere from 25 to 300 lashes (the average is 70 to 150 on the upper lids) on an individual eye. A good lash artist will only be attaching one lash at a time, which means getting eyelash extensions is a lengthy process. If an artist claims to be able to apply a full set in less than an hour and a half, be wary; in general, plan on about two hours. Follow up "fill" appointments, which you’ll need after about three to four weeks (more on this shortly), take about an hour. While lash extensions are the ultimate low maintenance luxury once they’re on, they’re not low maintenance in the longer term. You can’t DIY them, so expect to spend hours laying on a table if you commit to them. Generally lash extensions are only applied to the upper lid.
Cost varies widely, depending on where you live, what brand lashes the artist uses, and how in-demand the artist is. In expensive cities like LA and New York, you can expect to pay about $200 to $300 for a full set of lashes, and $100 to $200 for fills. It’s relatively easy to find deals on Groupon, but do the same research on those artists before blindly going to the studio just because it’s a deal.
You might want to download a podcast to listen to since you’ll be lying on a table for two hours, or just take what is known in the biz as a "lash nap." Despite the fact that someone is hovering precariously close to your eyeballs with tweezers and glue, it’s a really chill procedure. The worst part is when the artist adheres down your bottom lashes, which is a bit disconcerting, but it’s necessary so the lower lashes don't get mixed in with the top ones. The entire procedure takes place with your eyes closed.
The artist will painstakingly apply a drop of adhesive to the lash extension and attach it to your natural lash a millimeter or two away from your lid with tweezers. Repeat x 300.
What They Feel Like
Lash extensions should feel like your regular lashes. You shouldn’t feel any tugging or a sense of your lashes being weighed down. Buhler warns that to save time, some artists will use lashes that are too heavy or thick to get a volumized look with less lashes, but that’s not great for your real lashes. Traction alopecia, which happens on your head when things like too-tight braids or too-heavy hair extensions cause the hair to fall out, can also happen on your eye lashes. "[There should be] nothing touching your skin, they should be soft, they should be flexible, you can move them," says Buhler. "They should feel natural except longer or thicker. A sensation of tugging or pulling or a sore spot indicates that lashes weren’t isolated properly and adhered together."
You can still wear mascara if you’d like, but you shouldn’t have to. If you want more drama once in a while, Buhler recommends gently applying it just to the tips, and don’t use a waterproof formula that may be difficult to remove. She also recommends using liquid eyeliner instead of a waxy pencil, because waxes and oils can loosen the bond. For this reason, oil-based makeup removers and skin care products are a no-no around the eye area. (Sugarlash makes a cleanser specifically to keep lashes clean as well as to remove eye makeup.)
If you're a stomach or side sleeper, lash extensions may be challenging because they can get distorted and mashed up. Even if you’re a back sleeper, it’s a good idea to have a lash comb or brush (good option here) to gently straighten things out. You can still wear an eye mask if this is your habit, but look for one that is bubbled, like this one. "Some lashes will twist and shift, but the majority should be laying nicely at your fill appointment," says Buhler.
As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to go in for fill appointments approximately every four weeks. That’s because your eye lashes shed naturally at that rate. So as your lashes fall out and new ones grow in, your lashes will start to look uneven if some have extensions and some don’t.
Finally: Can Lash Extensions Kill/Injure/Blind You?
No, maybe, and very unlikely. All kidding aside though, there are definitely some safety concerns to be aware of. Kristen Chenoweth made headlines a few years ago because she had an allergic reaction to the lash adhesive, which may have contained formaldehyde. (It’s common to find small amounts in a variety of beauty products still,depending on how pure they are, though lash adhesives are generally made without it; they can release miniscule amounts of formaldehyde while curing, however, which probably poses a bigger risk to the artist in the long run than it does to you.) While it’s difficult to find conclusive numbers, Buhler says that less than 2% of people experience an allergic reaction, and that it will generally occur after several lash appointments, not at your first. So if you’re experiencing any itching, redness, swelling or other discomfort, get yourself to an eye doctor and get the lashes removed asap. Lash salons will be able to quickly remove them using a special adhesive remover.
There are other horror stories, ranging from simple eye infections to a lash actually embedding itself into someone’s eyeball (read it in all its grisly detail here), but they’re generally safe. Experts still warn that heavy lashes weighing down the lid can cause lashes to prematurely fall out, but Buhler says that if an artist is using lashes that are the appropriate weight that won’t be an issue. Finally, there was a fascinating study done noting that the "ideal" eyelash length – meaning, ideal for performing the function nature intended, protecting your eyes – in a variety of different species of mammals, is one third the width of the eyeball. Anything longer than that actually starts funnelling dust and debris into the eye rather than keeping it out.
Corrections: This post was updated with a clarification of application technique and fill frequency (3-4 weeks instead of 4 weeks), and more thorough information about formaldehyde and eyelash glue risks.
Want to know more about eyelash extensions? Further reading here.