Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Mink eyelash extensions sound like the most luxuriously over-the-top beauty indulgence ever, second only perhaps to a caviar facial. And while they are certainly a splurge at nearly $300 for a set, you might be surprised by who makes up top San Francisco lash expert Michelle Nicole's clientele.
Beyoncé may be a mink lash devotee, but most of Nicole's clients have a decidedly less intense beauty routine. In the interview below, she enlightens us on how she learned about lash extensions from Miss Hawaii, why mink makes amazing (but possibly not the best) lash extensions, and how her job jives with her hippie outlook on life.
How long have you been doing mink eyelash extensions?
I've had my business for about three years. I started doing mink from the beginning, when they were first introduced. I got a lot of calls for them.
What makes mink eyelash extensions look so amazing?
Mink lashes are really superior in the sense that they have this really fluffy, natural look. Even regular extensions applied lash by lash can have a strip-esque look, because they're made by machines. The mink ones, because they're made of hair, take on their own natural look. There's basically no way for anyone to tell they're not real.
But they are permed hair, so they relax in a way that synthetic lashes don't. I've been designing a method that's the best of both worlds.
So there's something better than mink?
Well, a silk lash holds the curl but can look like mink. A lot of lash artists don't get the same dimension with synthetic. So I do a silk lash and I use varying curls and lengths to mimic the different angles and deeper, thicker look of the mink.
Can you curl a mink lash at home?
You can curl them with a heated curler, which are now pretty common. One of the great things about having a really strong curl in the lashes is it lifts up the natural lash and really opens up the eyes.
Are most of your clients repeats or one-time, special occasion appointments?
I definitely have more repeat regulars. Even clients who come in for a wedding day or special event come back a month later because they're so addicted. I have a really solid set of monthly lash addicts.
Who is your typical client?
It's funny because you would think it would be really high-maintenance people who get them. And I do have people like that, but mostly I have a lot of professionals like doctors and attorneys who are on call and need to look nice and professional on a moment's notice. They can't be putting on makeup when they get a call to perform surgery. They want to be able to run out the door. Their only complaint is they say no one at work believes they're tired anymore! Extensions pull the attention up from your eye, away from the bags and circles. And you don't have mascara rubbing off under your eyes.
How long do they last?
Most clients come back every three-and-a-half to four weeks for a fill. Some come sooner; then there are people who can stretch it five to six weeks.
How long does the appointment take?
The initial appointment is usually two hours, and for a follow-up you can book anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. A one-hour fill costs $85.
How did you train to do eyelash extensions?
They don't teach it at cosmetology school or anything, so you have to do a private training. You can buy CDs online to learn how to do it, but you should really go to someone who's been certified. It's not brain surgery or even as complicated cutting or coloring hair. You just need to stick on the lashes and not get them stuck together. But I've seen lashes that are temporarily ruined (they take 60 to 90 days to grow back). If you go to an inexpensive place, you're getting what you paid for.
I have three and a half [times] as many appointments this January than I did last year. I was hoping for a bit of a built-in vacation after the holidays, but it's not happening!
What did you do before eyelash extensions?
I'm definitely not glamorous, and I didn't graduate from high school and go to beauty school. I was actually in market research. I learned about lashes at a party in Hawaii; Miss Hawaii was there and had these amazing lashes. I just thought she was blessed with amazing lashes, then she told me about extensions and I ended up getting them myself.
Then my best friend was getting married in the Caribbean, where she lives, but no one there did extensions. So I went to school to learn myself. At first, I just learned to do them for her — had no plans to do them for anybody else. But of course in that time I had to practice, so I did them after work for friends at my house. When the wedding came, people said, "You're not going to stop doing this, are you?" That's when I decided to really make a career change.
Wow, what a change — are you happy you did it?
Work before was solitary. It's nice to be interacting with women all day who leave feeling good about themselves. It's nice to end the day with people being really happy. It's not that intellectually stimulating and I'm a hippie from Santa Cruz, so this is a weird thing to do for my living. I started wondering whether it's healthy to be promoting some kind of beauty standard in the world. So I asked my energy worker about it, and she said “The more people love themselves, the more love they have to share with others.” I really do see how people feel happy, and that makes it more meaningful to me.
A lot of people say they hadn't liked how they looked for years and felt so unhappy. Just doing this small nice thing for yourself can make a difference. When people wake up in the morning and look really awake, it feels good to not feel like you immediately want to change yourself. Even the most obsessed makeup wearers start just doing bronzer and lip gloss.
This article originally appeared on Racked San Francisco on January 29th, 2013.