Should We Be Rethinking Our Lash Serums? Here's What To Know

It seems that everyone and their mother want long, fluttery lashes. The false eyelashes market was valued at a whopping $1.33 billion in 2022, and is expected to double by 2030. It's not hard to understand the appeal, really, since having voluminous eyelashes adds a dramatic effect to your overall look, even if you're not wearing makeup elsewhere. People have so much love for eyelashes that there's even a National Lash Day that we celebrate every February 19.

If you can't be bothered to wear false eyelashes or have eyelash extensions installed but still want wispy or voluminous lashes anyway, there's a growing assortment of eyelash serums in the market that claim to accelerate the growth of your existing lashes. "Eyelash growth serums work to hydrate and condition your lash hair as well as stimulate the lash hair follicle to grow by keeping the follicle in the anagen (i.e. growth) phase," Michigan-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Fatima Fahs explained to Forbes. The idea is to apply them religiously with the hopes of expecting them to grow fuller and thicker, so you can do away with the mascara and lash appointments altogether.

Now most of us are no strangers to applying products around (or sometimes even on) our eyes, but with eyelash growth serums making bold claims, it's only normal to approach it with a degree of skepticism. How do they fare in terms of efficacy? And are they even safe for use?

What to know before using eyelash serum

Not all eyelash serums are created equal. A good number of them only promise to moisturize and strengthen your lashes, but there are also a considerable number of them that claim to aid in elongating and volumizing the cilia. As of writing, the only eyelash treatment approved by the FDA is Latisse, which the American Academy of Opthalmology notes contains bimatoprost, a form of prostaglandin. Bimatoprost was initially used to treat patients with glaucoma, but considering how its side effects include longer and darker lashes, it's been used to develop Latisse to help people who have a hard time growing eyelashes. After all, we all know how crucial eyelashes are in protecting the eyes.

"[Latisse] is beneficial for people who may have a genetic disorder that causes thinner eyelashes by helping stimulate hair growth through the specially created formula," Dr. Anna Guanche, a board-certified dermatologist and celebrity skincare expert, explained to Byrdie. "The active ingredient in Latisse, bimatoprost, mimics the natural chemical within our body that stimulates hair growth for our eyelashes to assist people who have a deficiency in the natural chemical, prostaglandin."

Latisse is not readily accessible to the masses as it's only available through prescription, so as a workaround, cosmetic manufacturers opted to use other prostaglandin derivatives, primarily isopropyl cloprostenate. Unlike bimatoprost, it's not been greenlit by the FDA. "Keep in mind that because these ingredients aren't regulated by the FDA like prescription-strength bimatoprost is, they may be stronger, and the risks of side effects could be even greater," board-certified ophthalmologist and founder of Twenty/Twenty Beauty Dr. Diane Hilal-Campo, told Vogue.

Use eyelash serums with caution

Even those people who were prescribed to use Latisse report unpleasant side effects, which include redness and irritation around the eyes, hyperpigmentation, and in some cases, iris color change, which is irremediable. If you insist on using a lash serum with prostaglandin content, make sure to use it sparingly and properly.

"It is important to avoid getting the serum in the eyes and perform a small patch test if there is a history of sensitivity or allergy," Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist, shared with Shape, but noted that the benefits of eyelash serum shouldn't be ignored. Aside from fluffier lashes, she explained that most serums "contain nourishing and hydrating ingredients to promote healthy hair and follicles, helping to reduce damage, breakage, and hair loss." In other words, eyelash serums' pros outweigh the cons, but users should not discount their possible side effects, either.

Meanwhile, Nicola Alexander-Cross, optometrist and co-founder of Peep Club, suggested to Refinery29 that if you plan on using eyelash serums, it's in your best interest to give your lashes a breather once in a while to help avoid the side effects. "The best way to use [lash serums] is only for three months a year and then take a break," she said.