I consider myself low-maintenance when it comes to fashion and beauty. Whether I make it to the gym or not, most days I wear exercise clothes and zero makeup. So friends of mine were surprised a few years ago when I got eyelash extensions. But they are actually the perfect solution if you’re low-maintenance but still maybe a tiny bit vain.
My natural lashes are really stubby and straight and pale. Mascara helps a lot, but there’s nothing like the boost I get from those gorgeous extensions. The first time I had them put on, I was so obsessed that my husband would catch me in the bathroom, combing out my new lashes with the special little brush I had been given.
I only have eyelash extensions applied about once a year, but every time I do, a little voice in my head wonders, Are eyelash extensions safe? What are these things made of, what’s in the adhesive, and are my natural lashes going to be okay? Is there such thing as natural eyelash extensions?
Worried about what I might find out about eyelash extensions, I’ve done what any reasonable person would—decided I’m too busy to look into it, and stuck my head in the sand! But recently I dove into research for the much-requested Safe Mascara Guide, and the next logical thing to do was confront my questions about eyelash extensions, especially because so many of you have asked about them!
Well, I have good news. Although eyelash extensions can be a disaster—most adhesives have toxic ingredients, irritation and allergic reactions are relatively common, and the extensions can be applied poorly and damage your natural lashes—they can be okay for your eyelashes and the rest of your body if you choose the right products, get them applied correctly, and care for them well.
Read on for five tips to help you get safer eyelash extensions. For the extension-shy, I’ve also included some recommendations for strip eyelashes (aka falsies).
Eyelash Extension Tip #1: Choose the safest adhesive
From the safety perspective, eyelash adhesives (sometimes called glues) are the biggest concern with eyelash extensions. They often contain toxic and allergenic ingredients, like formaldehyde and latex. The bad news here is that I haven’t yet found an adhesive that I could call natural, non-toxic, or completely safe.
The good news is that extensions should be applied to your natural eyelashes, not your eyelids, so eyelash adhesives aren’t coming into direct contact with your skin. This reduces your exposure to the ingredients. However, it isn’t an excuse to get lax about finding the safest adhesive. “Fumes” (off-gassing) can still expose you to ingredients and cause irritation, like a burning sensation in your eyes. I’ve definitely experienced burning eyes and even a slight sore throat while having extensions applied, which I’m sure is a result of the glue being used.
Formaldehyde is the most concerning ingredient found in most eyelash extension adhesives. Formaldehyde is a preservative that’s a known carcinogen and allergen. People who aren’t allergic to formaldehyde can develop an allergy from exposure. It can hide in an ingredients list under names like formalin and formaldehyde- releasing preservatives. For a list of formaldehyde-containing ingredients to watch out for, see the formaldehyde entry on Skin Deep.
There are approximately a gazillion eyelash extension adhesives out there, and like I said, I haven’t yet found one I can call completely safe. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the safest adhesive based on your needs:
- Opt for a company that’s transparent about the ingredients in their adhesives. Review the ingredients with an eye for anything you might be sensitive to.
- Ask for a patch test on your arm before you commit to anything being used around your eyes.
- Ask your technician for an adhesive that is hypoallergenic or for “sensitive clients.” Hypoallergenic is an unregulated term and does not mean that a product is allergen-free. However, hypoallergenic adhesives tend to be latex free, “low fume,” and have the lowest levels of formaldehyde. They often don’t have the staying power of more toxic adhesives, but they are usually the safest choice. You can help extend the lifespan of your extensions with proper care and maintenance (see Tip #5).
Eyelash Extension Tip #2: Choose a great technician
Although this is Tip #2, it’s tied for first place, because a good technician can help you avoid most or all of the pitfalls of eyelash extensions. A good technician helps you choose the right products, applies them appropriately, and teaches you about effective care and maintenance.
There are various certifications and trainings available for preparing people to apply eyelash extensions. They vary widely in quality. Bottom line: Find a specific, well-trained technician with lots of experience who comes very highly recommended. Yelp and word-of-mouth are good resources.
Don’t go cheap—when it comes to eyelash extensions, you often get what you pay for, and the consequences of forgoing quality can leave you with some serious regrets.
Eyelash Extension Tip #3: Go easy on the extensions
To minimize the negative impact of eyelash extensions on your natural lashes, don’t go overboard. A good technician (see Tip #2) will help you choose the right kind of extensions (they vary in material, length, curl, color, and thickness) and apply them in a way that maximizes their visual impact without damaging your natural lashes. Generally, only a single extension should be applied to each of your natural lashes, and you may get the boost you’re looking for from just a partial set of extensions.
Most eyelash extensions are made from synthetic materials. Natural extensions are available, too, made from silk, mink, or even human hair. From the safety perspective, the extension material, and whether it’s natural or synthetic, doesn’t matter much. However, mink extensions do tend to be lighter in weight and therefore lower-impact on your natural lashes. (PS: They are also more expensive!)
Eyelash Extension Tip #4: Skip the mascara (or use it wisely)
Many technicians and extension-devotees recommend skipping mascara because it can be hard to remove effectively, leading to buildup (which can mean irritation) and causing wear-and- tear on your extensions/adhesive and natural lashes.
I always assumed that skipping mascara was one of the benefits of wearing eyelash extensions. I’ve since learned that some people with extensions use mascara, too, especially when they’re approaching a follow-up appointment. Based on my research, the best mascara for eyelash extensions is mascara that washes off easily—not a waterproof or water resistant formula– so you can remove it without damaging your extensions or natural lashes. You should also protect your extensions and natural lashes by only applying mascara to the outer part of your lashes; in other words, keep mascara away from the adhesive.
See my Safe Mascara Guide for non-waterproof mascaras I recommend.
Eyelash Extension Tip #5: Follow maintenance recommendations to a T
One of the main reasons people get eyelash extensions is that they make them look great without requiring much fuss in the morning. Some people forgo makeup altogether. However, extensions aren’t zero-maintenance. Getting eyelash extensions and maintaining them is a commitment of time and money.
Before you leave your appointment, make sure you know the ins and outs of how to care for your extensions, what kind of products you should and shouldn’t use around your eyes (typically depending on the type of adhesive and whether it’s oil- soluble), how often you should return for a “fill,” etc. Also, avoid rubbing your eyes and pulling on your lashes. If you want to quit, have the extensions professionally removed—pulling them off yourself can damage your natural lashes.
Bonus: What about falsies?
If you’re not up for the expense and other potential pitfalls of eyelash extensions, but you still want to add some oomph to your look now and then, strip eyelashes (aka falsies) may be worth trying. As with extensions, the main concern here is the adhesives, especially since you apply them directly to your skin (eyelids). The fact that you wear falsies for a relatively short time (and ideally not frequently) does offset some of the problems that might come with adhesives.
Here are some safer strip lash adhesives to consider:
- Good Stuff: True Glue All Natural Lash Adhesive is by far the safest and most natural product I could find in this category. I can’t vouch for its effectiveness, but I call it Good Stuff based on its ingredients: rosewater, chamomile extract, biotin, candelilla wax, pullulan, geranium, glycerin, and castor oil.
- Okay Stuff: Georgie Beauty Faux Lash Adhesives (Clear and Black) are formaldehyde free and paraben free. They do contain latex and parfum.
- Okay Stuff: House of Lashes White Lash Adhesive gets points for containing no latex, formaldehyde, parabens or phthalates. I call it Okay Stuff for occasional use because two of its ingredients, acrylamide/sodium acrylate copolymer and methacrylic acid, have EWG scores of 4 and 5, respectively.
Please share your own stories about eyelash extensions in the comments below.