Is Your Lash Growth Serum Causing Lasting Damage?

10:04 PM

What do women want? The results of a 2014 Allergan survey showed 75% of women age 18-65 want longer, thicker and darker eyelashes. It was that kind of overpowering demand from market research that drove Allergan to bring Latisse to market, their blockbuster lash growth serum that shows clinically significant changes to lash length, thickness, and darkness within 16 weeks of use.  The results speak for themselves:

But what is the real price of longer lashes? Latisse has well documented side effect potential. The main active ingredient bimatoprost is a chemical known as a prostaglandin analogue. Prostaglandins are chemical compounds found in naturally within almost all of our body's tissue that are responsible for signaling inflammation within the body. As such, it's no surprise that Latisse has been associated with common symptoms of inflammation around the eyes like swollen lids (also called chemosis), redness, itching, and watering. FDA clinical testing show about 4% of Latisse users experience itching, redness, and watering, while a much lower number experience an allergic reaction causing the eyelids to swell. In addition to chronic irritation, Latisse has also been known to darken the eyelid skin and the color of the iris in people with light brown or hazel eyes, as well as potentially causing a sunken eye appearance by shrinking the layers of orbital fat around the eye socket. 

Popular beauty blogger Kate of The Small Things Blog shared the dry eye side effects that made her quit Latisse on her blog. via

It's easy to brush off eye irritation as no big deal, but ocular surface dysfunction and chronic dry eye can take a permanent and lasting toll on your vision quality and ocular comfort. Prostaglandin analogues have been used for decades in glaucoma treatment (including bimatoprost - the main active ingredient in Latisse), and studies have confirmed that they are strongly related to lasting dry eye issues.  In fact just under 50% of all patients on prostaglandin analogue eye drops for the treatment of glaucoma also have a diagnosis of clinically significant chronic dry eye disease.  While the preservatives in medications like Latisse or glaucoma drops have historically been blamed as the main culprit in causing dry eye, we know now that prostaglandin analogues in and of themselves can cause significant dry eye disease.

By promoting inflammation on the ocular surface, prostaglandin analogues can disrupt tear film production and expression at all layers.  This includes the water layer of our tear film expressed by the lacrimal gland and the mucin layer expressed by the goblet cells on the surface of the conjunctiva. Inflammation also promotes thickening of the oil secretions (sebum) expressed by sebaceous glands in our eyelids. The meibomian (sebaceous) glands run vertically through our top and bottom eyelids and are responsible for secreting the top coat oils that hold the water and mucin layers of our tear film onto the surface of the eye.
Inflammation causing dry eye can disrupt the ocular surface at every level. via

Every time we blink, the meibomian glands secrete their oil. If that oil is too thick, it's difficult for the eyelids to spread it evenly over the surface of the eye --more like toothpaste than olive oil. It may even get so thick that the oil blocks and backs up in the gland.  This will slowly but surely damage the gland permanently. If the meibomian glands atrophy or die off, the body is not able to repair the tissue and the gland becomes permanently nonfunctional.  The result is irreversible and often severe dry eye. 2015 study showed a shocking 91.7% of patients treated with prostaglandin analogue drops for glaucoma had meibomian gland disease, versus only 57.7% of patients being treated for glaucoma on a different category of medication.

What's gotten more press than the possible risk of permanent and irreversible dryness and ocular surface damage caused by Latisse or other prostaglandin analogue agents is the financial cost. At around $130 per month, prescription lash growth isn't cheap. Over the counter alternatives have increasingly gained popularity due to this price point, but unfortunately the fact that they are not prescription leads some to falsely feel they must also be safer.  A list of the ingredients of one of the most popular over the counter lash growth serum, Rodan and Fields Lash Boost, shows a not-so-friendly potential dry eye culprit:

Ingredients: Water, Butylene Glycol, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Keratin, Hydrolyzed Keratin, Biotin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Isopropyl Cloprostenate, Octapeptide-2, Allantoin, Panthenol, Copper Tripeptide-1, Pantethine, Polypeptide-23, Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin) Seed Extract, Glycerin, Sea Water, Malus Domestica Fruit Cell Culture Extract , Hydrolyzed Glycosaminoglycans, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Fruit Extract, Backhousia Citriodora Leaf Oil, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Rhizobian Gum, Styrene/Acrylates/Ammonium Methacrylate Copolymer, Xanthan Gum, PVP, Lecithin, PEG-12 Dimethicone, Alcohol Denat, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol, Sorbic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide

What is Isopropyl Cloprostenate? It's a synthetic prostaglandin analogue. As such it has the same method of action described above, and yes all the same potential side effect profile.  In fact, the FDA issued a warning to OTC lash serum makers back in 2011 about the potential dangers of including a synthetic version of a prescription product with known FDA-studied side effect profile in their formulations. Statements from companies claiming that they "contain no active medical ingredient" like this from the FAQ for Rodan and Fields Lash Boost makes it all the more confusing for potential patients trying to do their due diligence if they know they have a previous diagnosis of dry eye or are at increased risk. 

The advertising claims that this product is safe, but it contains a synthetic version of the same chemical category (prostaglandin analogues) that have proven dry eye and ocular surface side effects in glaucoma medications.

Here's a list of the most popular OTC lash growth serums using synthetic prostaglandin analogues in their formulas:
  • Xlash Eyelash Enhancer
  • Neulash
  • NeuveauBrow
  • RevitaLash
  • Nutraluxe MD Lash
  • M2 Lashes Eyelash activating serum
  • Peter Thomas Roth Lashes to die for Platinum
  • Rodan and Fields Lash Boost

Take Home: If you have chronic dry eye, or experience any increase in redness, watering, or eye irritation using these products, understand that you may be causing permanent damage to your delicate tear film and ocular surface. Listen to your body and discontinue use immediately if you experience any symptoms. There is a major push within the medical community to have the FDA put stronger regulations on beauty products that are using chemicals with known side effects without disclosing the risks involved, but regulation and oversight may be many years away. Just because a product is over the counter, doesn't mean that it is safe.  Make sure you read the ingredients closely on all cosmetic and facial products that you use, and if you spot Isopropyl Cloprostenate in any product you are using around your eyelid, consider that lasting dry eye issues could result as a side effect.

Want to learn more?  Check out this podcast with Dr. Leslie O'Dell, Dr. Laura Periman, and Amy Gallant Sullivan, the executive director of the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society.

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  1. Hi there - Thank you for this. I started using Nanolash and the effects were incredible. Sadly, by about one month into use, I started developing styes on a monthly basis. Please note that in my 42 years, I have NEVER EVER had a stye. After having four styes (one per month beginning in Oct), February suddenly showed up with two chalazions on my left eye. I mean, it was incredible! A surgeon removed the chalazions and told me that both styes and chalazions are caused by blocked glands.

    Because I am a little slow, and because I really loved Nanolash, I only quit it about a month ago (shortly before the surgery to remove the chalazions) and have not had any issues since. Fingers crossed. But honestly, what an unfortunate side-effect of a product that actually does work.

    Though it has it's own problems (but not styes or chalazions!), I will go back to fake lashes every few months. Thanks for this article. Cheers.

  2. Hello, My meibomian glands were permanently damaged after using Latisse. I never experienced dry eye symptoms prior to using Latisse. I am unable to wear eye makeup regularly and take doxycycline on a daily basis. A friend selling Rodan and Fields Lash Boost says that the ingredients are safe, but sadly your article indicates otherwise. I hope that people do their research and find your article before their eyes are permanently damaged like mine.

  3. Great article. I would love to see an additional discussion of periorbital fat atrophy (a very real and COMMON side effect of prostaglandin analogous such as these mentioned here). I so frequently see before and after photos of lash boost where the persons eyeball is much more physically prominent and it appears they no longer have the same level of "hooding" as they do in most before photos. Frequently I see people attributing this to whatever eye cream they are using when in fact it is the prostaglandin analogue causing periorbital fat atrophy. I believe it is unclear as to whether or not it is permanent upon discontinuation (my understanding is that there is a direct relationship to duration of therapy - the longer it is used the less likely to be reversed). This is troubling for myself as a medical professional. I strongly feel there needs to be more discussion around the side effects of prostaglandin analogues.

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  5. I worry about this as a consumer and I'm trying to avoid it. Like you said, companies are totally misleading/lying to us. It is hard to know by looking at an ingredient list if one of them is a prostaglandin analogue. Could you update this article with a list of known prostaglandin analogues to look out for. Also, a list of safe lash conditioning serums would be helpful. Thanks!

    1. Will do! I'm definitely planning on updating this with scientific study data as the topic generates more research. At this time isopropyl cloprostenate is the only synthetic prostaglandin I've seen reported. As far as safe last serums that wouldn't cause anyone any possible ocular side effects, I don't know of any. Even if they don't have a prostaglandin, they usually contain preservatives, ethanols, and other known irritants. Depending on your unique body chemistry, you could react negatively to any of these chemicals. Knowng to be aware of side effects and discontinuing if they occur is what I'm hoping we can achieve. Many people are using lash growth serums comfortably, but for those who aren't, they should be aware of the risks and be empowered to make an informed decision.

  6. Sorry, another ingredient I see in many formulas that people swear by is myristoyl pentapeptide-17. Do you have any information on that? Thanks.

    1. There isn't a lot of data unfortunately. It stimulates keratin growth but the good news is I don't see any studies specifically linking it to side effects at this time.

  7. Have you ever heard of VegaLash? Apparently there's a mascara that can be used solo but the company recommends use with its lash serum. Thoughts?
    Btw. I started using lashboost 2 weeks ago and noticed dark circles under my eyes and the skin looks very thin. I wondered if it was my imagination. Thank you for confirming.

    1. I'm not personally familiar with it, but I would say listen to your body! If your eyes get red or irritated, it's likely causing problems! Having your eyes assessed for dry eye before and then again 3-6 months after you start using is also a great way to find issues.