The latest trend to jump from the celebrity world to the real world is eyelash extensions. Celebutantes like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and Hilary Duff wouldn't dare be photographed without them, and clients are taking notice. To keep up with the growing demand, spas and salons across the country are adding the service to their menus. "Eyelash extensions have gone from being a hot new trend to an established must in beauty," says Tim Dana, president of Lavish Lashes, one of the first companies in America to launch lash extensions. "Imagine looking fresh and beautiful when you first wake up—without makeup."
Unlike fake lashes that are applied all in one strip, semi-permanent lashes are customized for each client and applied one at a time directly onto each natural lash. According to Dana, the process was invented in South Korea and brought to the U.S. market about seven years ago. "It fizzled out at the time because the adhesives contained toxins that many people were allergic to," says Dana. "Then, about three years ago, the adhesives were reformulated and improved and they've grown in popularity ever since." Applying the lashes is time consuming (it takes one to three hours) and requires sharp tweezers and a bonding agent, which means there is a risk of injury to the client, especially if the technician is not properly trained. If they are glued incorrectly onto the eyelid, for instance, tugging and irritation can occur or the eyelid can become glued together. In some cases where the lashes are weak or damaged from factors like thyroid medications or lash mites, the extensions can accelerate the loss of lashes.
NovaLash, Lavish Lashes, Xtreme Lashes, and E'lan Lashes are four eyelash extension companies that train and certify registered beauty professionals. Jo Mousselli, president of Xtreme Lashes, says the extensions won't stay and they won't look as beautiful if the technician is not properly trained. "They may be sporadic or clumpy, and they won't look natural," she says. What's more, savvy clients are paying greater attention to brand and certification than they are to the price, says Gina Medina of Christophe Salon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, who uses E'lan Lashes. "Companies that offer the sale of kits without training are not doing you any favors," she says. "Investing in a quality product with a company that supports you is everything."
Several of the eyelash extension companies provide marketing and business support to their certified clients via directory listings on their websites, brochures, media publicity, and other tools.
Many of their clients have opened separate lash-only businesses or created a separate area in the spa and called it "The Lash Bar" or "The Lash Boutique." Some have even dubbed themselves "The Lash Queen" or "The Lash Diva." Lash extensions were so popular for The Lash Company in Houston, which offers NovaLash extensions, that they became the sole focus of the spa's offerings. "Doing eyelash extensions is a very profitable business," says spa director Sophia Navarro. "The profit margin increased 400 percent last year for us and is expected to continue to grow this year. Offering eyelash extensions is great for a spa because it brings in more revenue than most traditional spa services."
Indeed, spas that don't offer eyelash extensions may just pay the price in lost clients and missed revenue, according to Dana. The service is costly—a full set typically runs around $350, but some professionals charge up to $600 depending on the market. "When you factor in touch-ups, which are required every four to six weeks, the revenue generated can be substantial," he says. Navarro agrees, adding that "customers who try out eyelash extensions often become addicted to the service and return to the salon on a regular basis for touch-ups."
Still, like doing manicures or facials, applying lashes is not for everyone. "It's for those who enjoy doing a craft," says Mousselli. "And for those with good hand-eye coordination." —Carrie Watson