Eyelashes may be small, but they pack a mighty punch. In fact, according to a recent Mintel report, more than half of the women surveyed visit a spa for eyelash services regularly, and lash products lead sales growth in the beauty category. But lash services can come with a price if you don’t take important health and safety concerns into account.
Before your spa invests in lash products and services, there are a few things to keep in mind, beginning with qualifying your clients. “The first step to keeping your clients safe is checking to make sure they are candidates for eyelash extensions in the first place,” says Sophy Merszei, molecular biologist, cosmetic chemist, and CEO of NovaLash. “Estheticians are the perfect beauty professionals to weed out poor candidates, because a skin examination and a quick questionnaire can give them a good idea if a potential client could possibly suffer complications from eyelash extensions.” Those more likely to suffer an adverse reaction include clients with acne, eczema, hives, rosacea, subcutaneous cysts, and various skin rashes. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, possible complications from eyelash extensions and growth serums include itchiness and irritation, redness and swelling, damaged hair follicles, and a loss of lashes. With the right training and tools, your spa can reduce the risks of clients suffering from these issues.
As lash products have become more mainstream, formulations have improved considerably with respect to efficacy and safety. “The ingredients and materials used in lash extensions and most lash products are much safer now than they were five years ago,” says Christian Zamora, master of artistry for Borboleta Beauty and a New York City makeup artist. “Previously, extensions contained plastic, and now they are made of silk, mink, and synthetic yarn. Lash products, like adhesives, have improved so they dry faster and are more emulsified, which means less is applied to each lash. Growth serums are now more conditioning and aren’t as harsh to the lash line or the eyelid.”
Often, great extensions start with healthy lashes. So when lashes need a bit of TLC, it’s a good idea to recommend lash conditioners and serums, which can compensate for some of the side effects caused by extensions. “Extensions, fake lashes, and eye cosmetics in general wear down your natural lashes,” says Alicia Grande, CEO of Grande Naturals. “This is why professionals recommend using eyelash conditioners prior, during, and post extensions. Conditioners strengthen and enhance natural eyelashes so they can sustain more stress. Using an eyelash conditioner can significantly reduce the negative effects of extensions.” Grande recommends looking for a hypoallergenic formula that contains natural ingredients to avoid reactions. Clinical testing and doctor approval are other characteristics to look for in lash products. According to Nicole Pigott, brand manager at Rocasuba, distributor of RapidLash, it’s also a good idea to seek out formulas that are free of parabens and fragrances.
But even conditioners need to be used with care. According to Rebecca Taylor, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, sometimes conditioners and growth serums can be too effective. “Patients who have healthy eyelashes can get extremely long and thick lashes after using a growth serum,” she says. “They can grow too long, and unwanted hair can even grow on the sides and bottoms of the eyes.”
Although the ingredients and methods may be improving, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still doesn’t regulate lash extension products. It’s up to you and your spa staff to differentiate between safe options and worrisome ingredients. “The safest thing to do is to ask if the company has anyone on staff with an education in chemistry who can explain the molecular nature of the active ingredient in the adhesive and adhesive remover,” says Merszei. Many products appear to be made in the U.S. or Europe, but they are actually manufactured in China, where contamination concerns can arise. Formaldehyde has been frequently found in dangerous quantities in lash products. As a result of a warning from the Korean government’s Consumer Protection Board, more accurate toxicity tests have been developed to find it. “When shopping around for a company to work with, ask to see documentation that the adhesive passed the toxicity testing,” says Merszei. She also recommends looking for proof that an adhesive has passed the Environmental Protection Agency test to ensure correct purification and that no formaldehyde has formed.
To ensure high-quality lash care for clients, estheticians must be properly trained and experienced so they can select the appropriate tools and extensions for each individual to help avoid side effects. According to Allison Baker, global educator for American International Industries and Lash BeLong, extension application is very technical. “One possible eyelash extension risk results from improper lash application, which can cause a loss of natural lashes,” says Baker. Applying lashes that are too thick or affixing them too close to the eyelid skin can cause irritation. “Always study each individual’s natural lashes and ensure that the lash extensions are not too heavy or attached to more than one natural lash,” says Soo-Jin Yang, founder and CEO of Illumino Lashes. Greater demand from clients has led to improved hands-on training and better techniques. “There is greater awareness among people who are applying lashes and more understanding of the service,” says Kate Zasowska, sales and marketing manager for JB Lashes. “Estheticians are better educated about the application process.”
Many people are quick to blame the adhesive when any issues arise, but that’s not always correct. “A common myth in the lash community is that clients who suffer from itching, swelling, or discomfort from eyelash extensions are most likely allergic to the adhesive,” says Merszei. These symptoms can result from a number of factors related to the lash service, like application technique, tools, and sanitation, so it’s important to stress the importance of all of these factors when training your team. “Education is paramount for professionals to understand the formulas and products they are using,” says Sabrina Little, director of marketing and product development for Athena Cosmetics. “It is important to be familiar with ingredients, application instructions, and best practices for each product, as items and usage may vary by product and manufacturer.”
As with all spa services, keeping eyelash tools and facilities clean can help avoid adverse reactions. Sanitation requirements for eyelash services are essentially the same as other cosmetology offerings. Merszei recommends sterilizing tweezers in an autoclave or other dry-heat sterilizer instead of simply washing them. Wearing a few layers of gloves and being careful not to touch objects that may be contaminated can also help protect eyes from infection. “Lash stylists need to stay diligent about using their safety and sanitation protocols, always clean and sanitize tools between clients, store products properly, and never double dip or re-use tools or products that can’t be properly sanitized,” says Leslee Bouttu, owner of Largest Lashes. “In my opinion, cross contamination is probably the biggest thing clients should be concerned about.” Certain extension materials are cleaner than others, as well. “It is very difficult to ensure that animal hair is 100 percent sterile and doesn’t have remnants of mites, natural animal proteins, oils, and other naturally occurring substances that could cause a true medical allergy, infection, or other complication,” says Merszei.
Cleanliness is equally important for clients between appointments. As such, clients need to be taught about homecare and proper hygiene. “We always educate clients on how to maintain and keep their lashes clean for longer retention and less reaction to infections,” says Yang. Gentle cleansing helps extend the life of extensions.
While risks and safety issues make splashy headlines, many lash companies and artists sing the praises of lash extensions and products for healthy eyes and lashes. “One great thing about wearing lash extensions is that if they are applied correctly, they can protect the natural eyelashes,” says Merszei. “When people switch over from mascara, eyelash curlers, and combs, people just tend to be much more gentle on their eyelashes.” When lashes are more dramatic, clients are more inclined to adopt a more natural makeup approach. “By wearing lash extensions, most clients can go sans eye makeup, because the extensions really enhance the eyes,” says Yang. “This helps eliminate clogging of the follicles with the heavy eye makeup residue and keeps the skin from accumulating foreign debris and buildup of dead skin when makeup isn’t removed properly.”
Your spa can protect clients from many of the safety concerns associated with eyelash extensions so they can enjoy the many benefits of lush lashes. “Eyelash extensions are like putting on a gorgeous gown,” says Taylor. “Wearing the dress, you feel good and look good, but it’s not helping your skin or the health of your heart. It’s important to feel good about yourself and feel beautiful, if you don’t harm yourself in the process.” As long as your spa follows safety guidelines, there’s no reason not to cash in on lashes.
A study completed at the Georgia Institute of Technology last year found the optimal eyelash length by measuring the lashes of 22 species of mammals. For all species studied, from hedgehogs to giraffes to humans, lashes that are one-third the width of the eye are the best for protecting the eyes and encouraging airflow around them. Shorter or longer lashes increase airflow around the eyes and lead to more dust hitting the surface. “Eyelashes form a barrier to control airflow and the rate of evaporation on the surface of the cornea,” says Guillermo Amador, study author and Ph.D. candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “When eyelashes are shorter than the one-third ratio, they have only a slight effect on the flow. Their effect is more pronounced as they lengthen up until one-third. After that, they start funneling air and dust particles into the eyes.”