Eye Health Central

Are Eyelash Extensions Safe? How to use them with contacts?

Are Eyelash Extensions Safe?

Beauty trends go in cycles, as anyone who survived skinny jeans in the 1980s only to snicker at seeing them return in recent years can tell you. Some trends, such as bangle bracelets and neon clothing, are harmless. Others, such as huge, heavy “door knocker” earrings and non-prescription “circle” contact lenses, can be bad for your health. The new trend of eyelash extensions is slightly concerning, as the eyes are one of the most sensitive areas of our bodies and also one of the most vital.

What are lash extensions?

Lash extensions are semi-permanent fibers that are attached to your natural eyelashes to enhance your length, fullness and colour, with options like synthetic, silk and mink. The application process takes a couple of hours, and the extensions last a few weeks. But this procedure comes with risks. 

If mascara just isn't giving you the wow-factor you're looking for and you're considering extensions, there are steps you can take to reduce the risks associated with extensions. You will still need to accept that the only way to mitigate all of the risks is to choose another method of thickening your lashes, such as Latisse and Lumigan false lashes or permanent makeup, all of which have their own set of risks. 

There have been claims that Latissie and Lumigan can change the eye colour with extended usage, a spokesperson for Allergan, the makers of Latisse and Lumigan has reported ‘The risk of eye-colour change is extremely small and included in labelling for Latisse and Lumigan. Patients should be consulted about this.’ The eye colour change can be permanent.

Are Eyelash Extensions Safe

How Are Extensions Applied?

Eyelash extensions come in single hairs or tiny clumps that are bonded to your natural lashes with a substance similar to superglue. Not only is this expensive, the process can take three hours or more. A technician or aesthetician uses two sets of tweezers, one to hold other lashes out of the way and the other to apply the extension to your natural lash. The extensions, which can be made of anything from nylon to mink fur, are dipped in glue and then applied to the lash. The two bond together in a matter of seconds. Over and over, this process is repeated until both lash lines have been extended. This will last about six weeks before you need to remove the extensions or have them touched up. In the interim, you are left with an aesthetic that could be described as either dramatic or startled, depending on your opinion of the matter.

How To Remove Eyelash Extensions

Our eyelashes fall out on their own, shedding and re-growing in a new cycle about every six weeks. If you do nothing, the eyelash extensions will be shed over time as well, and you could expect them all to be gone within eight weeks at the most. If you want to remove them before they are shed, you have three options.

  • Return to the salon and pay to have the extensions removed. With this method, your technician or aesthetician will use solvent to loosen the glue from your natural lashes and remove the extensions. While this certainly works, solvent near your eye can be an irritant, leaving you with swollen, red lids, itchiness, dryness or a feeling of a foreign body in the eye when you blink.
  • Purchase eyelash glue solvent at the drugstore and do it yourself. Carefully use a cotton swab to gently brush the solvent on and wipe away the extensions. If you have the patience to do this yourself and have good fine motor control, this method will allow you to remove the extensions at your own pace and avoid contaminating your tears with solvent.
  • Steaming and using olive oil to remove your extensions. This method avoids the use of solvents entirely.
    Boil some water pour into a non-metallic bowl, drape a towel over your head and lean over the steam, being careful not to burn yourself. After ten minutes or so, use a cotton swab dipped in olive oil to wipe away the extensions. You may have to do this a few times to remove them entirely. Olive oil is inert and can be flushed out easily if you accidentally get some in your eye. 

If you wear contact lenses remember to remove your lenses before starting any of the procedures to remove eyelash extensions.

The Risks Associated with Eyelash Extensions

Allergic Reaction 

There is always a chance you will be allergic to the glue or solvent used, which can lead to itchiness, irritation, excessive tearing, infections and, in severe cases, scarring. If the extensions are made from mink or another animal's fur, an allergic reaction could be very severe if you are allergic to that specific animal.

Damage to Hair Follicles

As extensions are attached to your natural lashes, it's possible that the natural lashes will break off. This can damage the hair follicles permanently, leaving you with fewer lashes than you began with. This can lead to a vicious cycle, where you have extensions applied to cover up the sparseness, only to cause follicle damage and have fewer natural lashes.

Scratching the Eye

It's also possible for a dislodged extension to get caught under your eyelid, much like a natural eyelash may. This can be extremely if not removed promptly this could lead to discomfort and scratching and may necessitate a trip to the Optometrist's office to have it removed.

Dry or Watery Eyes

 Our eyelashes are the length they are for a reason, mainly to wick away irritants and dust. By lengthening the lashes artificially, you are creating a “fanning” effect that could lead to your eyes drying out. Your body may produce more tears to compensate, leaving you with watery eyes, or you could have issues with dry, irritated eyes.

Can I Wear Eyelash Extensions and Contact Lenses?

You should have no problems wearing eyelash extensions with contact lenses, however, you will want to remove your lenses before having extensions applied or removed. This will make flushing the eye easier if anything gets into the eye. It's possible an extension could come loose and become trapped under your lens. If this occurs, treat it as you would a natural lash. Remove the lens, pluck out the offending extension, clean the lens and reinsert it. 

Alternatives to Eyelash Extensions

If you find the risks too great, there are other options available. Latisse is a prescription medication praised for increasing the number and length of eyelashes. It's simple to apply and takes only minutes instead of hours. You also have the option of using false eyelashes, which come in a strip and use less harsh glue for adhesion. “Falsies” are removed daily, leaving you to decide when you'd like to wear them and when you'd like to go natural for the day. Permanently tattooed makeup can give the illusion of longer, thicker lashes at all times. Of course, all of these alternatives have their own sets of drawbacks and risks associated with them, leaving you to decide which avenue to explore.

If you aren't happy with the length and thickness of your eyelashes, extensions can offer six weeks of improvement. 

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 24 May 2017, Last modified: 20 May 2024