Eye Doctors Weigh In On The Murky World Of Lash Serums

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the beauty category.

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You’re not imagining it — our collective demand for longer, fuller lashes is booming. While alternative methods for faking a voluminous lash look, like extensions or falsies, will always have a place in your bag of makeup tricks, the emerging range of growth serums is making an au natural approach to Bambi-level eyelashes much more feasible. Even if you haven’t waltzed down the aisles at your local beauty store lately, the numbers don’t lie. In 2020, the eyelash serum market was valued at $752.1 million, with a projection to reach $1.3 billion by 2031, proof that despite the revolving door of makeup trends taking over your TikTok algorithm, a full, fluttery set of eyelashes will never go out of style.

The growth serum craze started gaining steam in 2008, when Latisse became the first FDA-approved topical treatment to treat hypotrichosis of the eyelashes (aka a lack of lash density) to produce thicker, longer, and darker eyelashes. Since then, the category has exploded with more accessible over-the-counter options, particularly in the last few years, as beauty shoppers search for more natural-looking cosmetics and alternatives to labor-intensive products like fake lashes.

“I got married [last] fall and I knew I didn't want fake lashes that day,” says beauty writer and consultant Katie Becker, “so I decided to start testing the Obagi Nu-Cil Eyelash Enhancing Serum and see how far I could get.” Others turn to growth serums to repair damage from years of more invasive treatments like lash lifts or extensions. Says BDG Executive Beauty Director Faith Xue, “I got lash extensions for years, and when I finally stopped, my lashes were all broken and practically nonexistent. It was horrifying. That's when I started trying lash serums.”

However, for all the fanfare Latisse and its generic competitors have received in the last 15 years, they have also become something of a poster child for the potential risks involved with using a lash serum. Read on for a deep dive into the world of lash-lengthening serums that explores whether they’re safe — and whether they’re worth your money.

Are Lash Serums Safe?

As optometrist Inna Lazar, O.D., says, prescription lash serums rely on common active ingredients such as prostaglandins, like bimatoprost and isopropyl cloprostenate. “While effective at stimulating lash growth, prostaglandins can potentially cause side effects like eye redness, itching, and darkening of the iris and eyelids as well as loss of fat around the eye,” she says. Still, it’s hard to argue with Latisse’s impressive clinical results. As board-certified dermatologist and senior director of product strategy at Ro, Toyin Falola, M.D., explains, “In order for Latisse to gain FDA approval, they tested the product in a 16-week clinical trial, during which they found that 78% of patients experienced more prominent eyelashes after nightly application. These patients also found that their eyelashes were 106% fuller and 25% longer than those who didn’t use it.”

Per RealSelf, an online healthcare marketplace, 69% of users would recommend Latisse, with fans citing how quickly it works to lengthen and increase lash density, and naysayers arguing that the roughly $145/month price tag isn’t worth it for the results. However, to date, this is still the only FDA-approved option for addressing eyelash growth.

When it comes to over-the-counter options, cosmetic chemist and BeautyStat founder Ron Robinson is slightly wary of their efficacy, especially compared to prescription formulas. “I don’t know if any OTC options can match the results you can get with a [prescription] treatment, but I think that the options are getting better and better,” he says. “Many contain [ingredients like] biotin, botanical extracts, amino acids, collagen, and ceramides,” all of which have plenty of research behind them for helping to promote hair growth and strengthen hair fibers. However, if your new lash serum boasts some of these in its formula it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see thicker, longer lashes by the time the tube is empty. “Consumers should look for products that have independent clinical and/or consumer testing to make sure the claims have been validated,” says Robinson.

In terms of safety, Lazar explains that many of these popular OTC ingredients, like peptides, vitamins, and botanical extracts, have a relatively low risk of eye irritation or side effects. But reading the label of your new purchase is still crucial to keep your eyes safe and healthy. “Chemical irritants and preservatives like parabens, formaldehyde, phenoxyethanol, and fragrance are occasionally seen in OTC lash serums,” says Lazar. “They may provoke allergic reactions or ocular surface irritation in some.” Plus, when you’re dropping, on average, $50-$150 dollars for a product that doesn’t have FDA approval to support its claims, you want to be sure you’ll see some real results. Luckily, some brands continue to invest in clinical testing to ensure both safety and efficacy for a product that lives so close to your eyes.

Says Lavinia Popescu, chief scientist for OLAPLEX, “Olaplex Lashbond Building Serum targets [consumers’] five top lash concerns: length, volume and density, loss and shedding, dry and brittle lashes, and lack of natural lift and curl.” She adds that after the brand conducted a third-party consumer perception study (as well as ophthalmologist-led safety testing), participants reported seeing longer, fuller lashes in four weeks. At the end of the 12-week consumer perception study, 97% of people reported improvement in the appearance of longer lashes, and 100% reported improvement in the appearance of thicker lashes, all without a prescription product that requires a trip to the doctor.

Still, the plethora of newcomers to the lash serum game, like Olaplex, Vegamour, Augustinus Bader, The Ordinary, and more, will inevitably face fierce competition from more established brands that have enjoyed years of customer loyalty.

“I used to solely use GrandeLash MD Lash Enhancing Serum,” says Xue. “It's still the best in my opinion — I swear I saw results after just two weeks. Part of it could've been my lashes’ natural growth cycle, but I saw a noticeable difference in length.”

Adds Becker, “Results started in one month with the Obagi serum but it took at least three months to become noticeable to others. The entire eyelash growth cycle takes about four months, so you do want to be really patient. My lashes were definitely longer and thicker with fewer lashes falling out, but thickness wasn't the main benefit. Really it was the length and [increased] number of hairs.” She quit using the serum once she became pregnant since prostaglandins are hormone adjacent, and the difference in her lashes was apparent after only a month. “I got pretty obvious lash fall-out and my lashes were thinner than they’ve ever been.”

While the abundance of first-person testimonies and rave reviews from shoppers speak to more options and increasingly effective (and safer) lash serum formulas, the people taking care of your eyes have a few words of caution. “To use lash serums safely for both eye health and lash health, it's essential to recognize that lash health starts from within,” says Lazar. “This involves maintaining healthy eyelids and oil glands, which play key roles in supporting lash growth.” She suggests adopting a diet rich in omega-3, like salmon, anchovies, nuts, and plant oils, to nourish your lashes from the inside out.

And although it’s tempting to use your favorite product for months on end, especially when your eyelashes start resembling a cross between RuPaul and a cartoon deer, there is too much of a good thing when it comes to lash serums. “When using these products, particularly those containing prostaglandins, it's advisable to take breaks of three to six months between treatments to minimize potential side effects and maintain the overall health of your eyes and lashes,” says Lazar. Because, as deliciously full and flirty your eyelashes may look post-serum, keeping your eyes healthy should always be beauty priority number one.

The Best Lash Serums To Shop

Faith Xue’s go-to formula for years, this best-selling product has millions of fans around the world.

With robust clinical data and impressive before-and-after photos, it’s no wonder this serum has been a longtime beauty editor favorite.

One of the newer growth serums to hit the market in the last few years, this bond-building serum promises more lash retention and growth in a matter of days.

For a double dose of lash and brow growth, this formula utilizes vegan keratin and peptides to condition and strengthen hairs.

By focusing on better hair follicle health, this lash and brow serum promises denser, healthier lashes over the first four weeks of use.

Keep this industry-standard formula in stock to slow down eyelash aging and protect against hair breakage.

Like a deep conditioner for your lashes, this serum will leave you with darker, longer, and lengthy lashes (with the clinicals to prove it).

If short, brittle lashes have you down, try adding this polypeptide-rich serum to your daily routine.

For the past 70 years, this serum has wowed consumers with increased lash curl, length, and pigmentation.

The cult favorite hair growth serum is now formulated for your lashes, with phyto-actives to revitalize the roots for more lift and length.

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Inna Lazar, O.D., optometrist based in Greenwich, Connecticut

Dr. Toyin Falola, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and senior director of product strategy at Ro

Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and BeautyStat founder

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