Because I can’t be trusted to cut my hair more than twice a year, it was shit luck that I fell for the high-maintenance eyelash extensions I got before my wedding:
Here are some things I wish I knew before getting them in the first place:
1. Eyelash extensions are NOT the same as temporary lashes.
Typically, semi-permanent lashes are applied by a technician who hand-glues the extensions on top of your natural lashes, says Courtney Akai, a New York City-based extensions expert with more than 12 years of experience. With proper care (more on that later), they can last for six to eight weeks until they naturally fall out like your lashes usually do.
2. Eyelash techniques are constantly evolving.
Whereas the classic, most widely used technique involves applying a single lash extension over your natural lash, the Russian Volume technique (also referred to as the Volume Technique or 3D lashing) is a newer trend where the technician places up to eight ultra-fine extensions onto each natural eyelash for a fluffy, thick, fanned-out effect, says Andra Ciulei, master lash specialist at the Courtney Akai Lash Salon.
3. Extensions aren’t a one-size-fits-all situation.
So you want Kim Kardashian-level lashes? Great—but that doesn’t mean your eyes can handle them. “The type of lashes you can get all depends on the length and strength of your natural lashes,” says Ciulei. “Wearing lashes that are too long or too thick for your lashes can actually cause damage in the long run, so you need to make your sure your extensions aren’t too much longer or thicker than your natural lashes.”
If all that sounds confusing, don’t freak—a licensed lash specialist will help you make the best decision for your lashes, including what type of material you should get, such as mink, silk, or some other kind of synthetic. Mink is usually pricier, feels softer, and looks more natural; however, some synthetics, which are highly customizable, can also look and feel natural and end up costing as much as or more than mink. Then, you’ll have to pick your density (more lashes create a fuller look); curl (the steeper the slope, the more dramatic the effect); and length (a matter of personal preference, really).
4. You have to lay low for at least 12 hours after application.
Most technicians will tell you not to sweat, cry, swim, or wash your face for at least 12 hours after getting extensions to give the glue a chance to dry. “Eyelash adhesives vary in the time they take to cure, from either 12 to 24 hours depending on what glue your stylist uses, but that first 24 hours the most important time frame for keep your lashes long-lasting,” says Ciulei.
5. Extensions are expensive and time-consuming to maintain.
While extensions are typically dramatic enough to give you the same effect as mascara, which isn’t recommended for use on top of extensions because it can damage them, don’t kid yourself into thinking extensions will save you money on makeup in the long run.
In New York City, a basic set (typically 70 to 80 lashes per eye) can put you back at least $100, but upward of $400 for application by the most experienced technicians. And then you also have to tip. Plus, the entire experience can take up to two hours. And because eyelashes grow and eventually fall out, you’ve also got to go back every few weeks for fill-ins, which can cost anywhere from $50 to $165, depending on how many new lashes you need.
PSA: The longer you go between fill-ins, the more lashes you’ll need to replace, and the more it will cost you—but if you wait too long, your technician might just want to give you a brand-new set of extensions, rather than a fill-in.
6. Extensions make everyday eye makeup pretty much unnecessary.
When I first got extensions, I knew they’d be stand-in for mascara, but I didn’t realize that they’d give me the illusion of wearing eyeliner, too. I’ve never worn a ton of makeup during the day, but I stopped wearing eye makeup altogether the day after my wedding. I still felt selfie-ready every second of my honeymoon, and still feel pretty stellar whether I’ve just rolled out of bed or gotten back from a run. And, TBH, feeling just a bit more put-together during my early morning, barefaced gym sessions is a major perk, too.
7. They get in the way when you do want to wear eyeliner (or remove it).
When special occasions have called for more of a dramatic makeup look, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to apply basic eyeliner. The exaggerated angle of the lashes can block your view, making it hard to see where the liner is going. If you do opt for liner, though, “Always go for an eyeliner with a soft tip that applies evenly without tugging, as opposed to the very dry kind that take several strokes to apply,” says Ciulei.
And because rubbing your eyes can loosen natural lashes, removing eye makeup with cotton pads or oil-based wipes can wreak havoc on your falsies, accidentally pulling them out or dissolving the glue. (If you do need to apply a full-on eye, though, and eventually remove it at the end of the night, use oil-free pads and gently swipe downward to take the makeup off.)
8. Daily maintenance isn’t entirely effortless.
Lashes can get tousled when you sleep or get them wet, and they can also pick up debris. So, it’s important to gently brush your lashes with a clean, disposable mascara wand when you wake up, after you shower, and at the end of the day. (Akai recommends applying diluted baby shampoo to the lashes for gentle nightly cleanings.) “It’s a myth that you shouldn’t wash your lashes,” says Akai, who warns not to play with, pick at, or rub them, either.
9. Extensions can seriously mess with your eyes.
The third time I got them, I left the salon (not Akai’s establishment!) with gorgeous lashes, but really red eyes that got itchier and redder as the day went on. By the next night, I noticed a sticky yellow discharge in the corners of my eyes and lower lids, and started to feel like I had something foreign lodged behind my left eye. The next day I got my eyes checked out by the nurse at my office, but instead of returning to the salon for lash removal ASAP like she’d recommended, I went to urgent care to get a second opinion and a test for cornea damage.
The urgent care doctor diagnosed me with conjunctivitis, a bacterial infection I might have picked up from having the eyelash technician get all up in my eyes with her bare hands. (“You can’t work with gloves on because they get caught on everything, and everything gets stuck to them,” Akai later explained.) Of course it’s also possible that I picked up the infection from something else, like contaminated lashes or even rubbing my eyes after riding a CitiBike. The doctor prescribed antibiotic eye drops and told me I’d only have to have my new lashes removed if the itching didn’t go away after seven days of using the drops. After three days of use, the itching finally stopped and the redness went away a few days later.
To minimize the risk of transmitting icky stuff, make sure your technician washes their hands between clients, wears a mask, uses sanitary pillow covers, sterilizes their tweezers, and uses disposable eyelash brushes — all things Akai does at her salon.
Reactions to extension applications are pretty common. A web-based survey conducted in Japan found that 26.5 percent of people who’d gotten them experienced some kind of reaction, such as redness, irritation, and itchy, swollen eyelids. It could have something to do with irritants like formaldehyde in the eyelash glue. For this reason, Akai recommends sticking to salons that use American-made glues, which are typically made without the ingredient.
Just ask where glue is made when you make an appointment, and don’t be surprised if salons that use glues sourced in the U.S. charge slightly more. Glues made with butylcyanoacrylate and octylcyanoacrylate are ideal because they’re flexible when dry, odorless, and generally “less toxic” to the eye than alternatives, according to Dr. Al-Mohtaseb, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. But you’re still talking about chemicals near your eyes. It’s no wonder the American Academy of Ophthalmology frowns upon extensions in the first place. Besides the bacterial infection I picked up, extensions also put you at risk of conjuctival erosion (damage to the membrane that covers your eyeball) from the eyelid-fixing tapes used during application.
If you do experience any abnormal symptoms, it is smart to return to your salon to get the lashes removed. “It’s hard to differentiate between the bacterial infection and an allergic episode or a combination of both, so [removal] will lead to faster resolution,” Dr. Al-Mohtaseb says.
10. After you get extensions, your natural lashes will always seem much shorter to you.
Akai says extensions shouldn’t cause lash breakage, so long as your technician doesn’t overload fragile lashes with extensions that are too heavy. That said, when I got my first set removed before replacement and asked to see my natural lashes, I couldn’t believe how much shorter they appeared relative to the XXL ones I’d been seeing in the mirror. #Ruined.
11. No one knows whether frequent application eyelash extensions causes permanent damage.
When I asked Dr. Al-Mohtaseb about this, she didn’t exactly reassure me. “There isn’t much data showing if eyelash extensions affects any aspect of lash length, growth, or health long-term, although some talk about traction alopecia in which natural lashes can fall out as a result of the constant weight of the repeated eyelash extensions,” she says. Ugh.
But that doesn’t mean it’ll automatically happen to you. “It usually takes years of bad application and improper care for longterm lash damage to happen,” says Ciulei, “so again, finding a professional that puts the health of your lashes first is very important.”
12. You’ll probably be addicted to extensions despite the cost/inconvenience/icky risks.
The last time I got my extensions touched up, I had to see two doctors, buy antibiotic eye drops, deal with a week’s worth of itchy eyes, and work from home for two days to avoid spreading my infection. But, in an admittedly crazy way, I still sort of love them.