Do eyelash growth serums work?

Are eyelash growth serums, such as Latisse and RevitaLash, safe and effective?

Genie in a bottle

Nothing frames a pair of peepers better than luscious long eyelashes. And if mother nature wasn't feeling generous the day you were getting your very own set there are plenty of options to fake it; from mascaras and tinting to false lashes and even eyelash extensions. But let's face it, none of these come close to the real thing.

What if there was a way to supercharge your very own natural eyelashes to make them grow longer, thicker and more curled? This is what eyelash serums promise to do. Over the last few years there has been a steady climb in products that claim to enhance and help boost the growth of your natural lashes. They're usually topically applied, and most claim that with daily use your lashes will grow longer in just a few weeks.

But do these products actually work? And more importantly are they safe? We take a look at some of the products available on the Australian market (and some that aren't, but are available online from overseas) to see if longer lashes really are just a quick swipe away.

What's on the market?

A quick search online reveals a number of eyelash serum products available on the Australian market over the counter and without a prescription (either online or in-store at chemists or cosmetic counters). None of them are cheap; we found products ranging from $62 right up to over $100 for a 12-week supply.

The Latisse effect

Latisse could be called the product that started all the eyelash hype. Latisse is the only eyelash serum that is backed by research and contains an active ingredient (bimatoprost) known to stimulate hair growth.

Originally developed as a treatment for eye pressure, patients who used it noticed a side effect – longer, darker and fuller eyelashes. As a result, the eyelash-enhancing Latisse was launched in the US in 2008 with plenty of celebrity ambassadors singing its praises and happy customers reporting their lashes had grown so long they had to trim them.

According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) Latisse is only available on prescription for people who have hypotrichosis (a condition that can cause hair loss). Despite this, there are websites offering generic or Latisse-like products from overseas without the need for a script. 

So while it's agreed that Latisse is the product most likely to work, longer lashes can come with some pretty ugly side effects including:

  • Lowering eye pressure if the serum gets in the eye
  • Eyelid pigmentation
  • Permanent eye colour change (ongoing use may turn blue eyes brown)
  • If you splash the serum on your face during application – you may end up with hair growing where it lands. Hairy cheeks anyone?

And even if you don't mind your eye colour changing there are a few more catches – Latisse needs to be used on an ongoing basis or the effect wears off. And in Australia it's only approved for use for 12 months as there are no studies to show the impact of use after a year.

What about the rest?

Beyond Latisse, there's certainly plenty of other lash-enhancing serums for sale at cosmetic counters, in chemists and online. But do they actually work?

According to Desiree Stordahl, US-based author and cosmetics expert with Paula's Choice Skincare, when it comes to eyelash serums most of the products aren't effective, with only a few exceptions, one of which is Latisse.

Stordahl says the only other lash serum that comes close in terms of effectiveness, in her opinion, is RevitaLash Advanced (which is available over the counter in Australia). She says it contains a synthetic prostaglandin which can increase lash growth, although there is less research into the product's efficacy.

Overseas, the Swedish Medical Products Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued warnings about eyelash serums containing synthetic (or analogue) prostaglandin due to the limited research of efficacy and risk of side effects including eye irritation, eye colour change and even changing the fatty tissue around the eyes which can cause the eyes to sink in.

As for the rest of the products on the market claiming longer, stronger lashes? She says they are unlikely to work.

"Most cosmetic products claiming to grow lashes typically don't work. They are marketed with exotic plant extracts, peptides, and conditioning agents which may sound great in theory, but do nothing to stimulate lash growth."

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Are eyelash serums safe?

If you are considering using any eyelash growth serum the experts we spoke to recommended checking with your GP beforehand.

Doctor Brad McKay, from Sydney, says that while over-the-counter products aren't going to make your eyelashes grow longer, it's important to watch the expiry dates of these products as prolonged use means the preservative will die and there is a risk of bacteria building up and causing bacterial conjunctivitis. (See our article about cosmetic expiry dates).

He also stresses it's important not to use products designed for glaucoma to enhance your lashes. "Eye drops normally used for glaucoma can be used 'off licence' to enhance your eyelashes, but that's at the risk of affecting your vision, so it's kind of important."

And then there is the possibility of eyelash growth products causing itching, inflammation and redness, or more serious side effects. So play it safe and check with your doctor before you buy.

Risky business – buying medicines from overseas

Thanks to the internet, the world is now a global marketplace and it's never been easier to get access to medicines even if they haven't been approved for use in Australia. While it could be tempting to order a product such as Latisse online and bypass trying to get a prescription, it's important to exercise caution.

The TGA says that buying medicines online might seem a convenient option but it can be risky in terms of legality, cost and safety.

Medicines not regulated by the TGA and bought online carry a risk of being:

  • counterfeit
  • out of date
  • contaminated
  • made from undisclosed ingredients
  • made with the wrong amount of the active ingredient.

A spokesperson on behalf of the TGA says that anyone considering buying medicines online from overseas must discuss the use of any unapproved medicines with their healthcare practitioner to determine whether such a medicine is suitable. People who do wish to use medicines that are not approved by the TGA for supply in Australia should be aware that no assurance can be given regarding quality, safety or effectiveness.

Read the TGA's guide to buying medicines online.

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