Once upon a time, I had a brief (but passionate) love affair with eyelash extensions. I was hooked on waking up with full, fluttering eyelashes, but not without paying the price (literally). Not only was I shelling out $75-$100 every other week for touch-up appointments, but the service made over half of my eyelashes fall out—and the ones that survived were left brittle and broken.
After a month or two of skipping mascara and using a lash conditioning serum, my lashes did eventually grow back, but by then, I had sworn off lash treatments for good. That is until an esthetician told me about keratin lash lifts (often referred to as a lash “perm”)— a service that lifts, lengthens, and curls your natural lashes without damage. Skeptical, I booked an appointment myself at Envious Lashes in New York City and asked the studio’s founder all of my burning questions. Ahead, everything you need to know about getting a keratin lash lift—plus, a brutally honest recount of my personal experience.
Meet the Expert
Clementina Richardson is an esthetician and the founder of Envious Lashes, with locations in Manhattan, NY, Long Island, NY, and Miami, FL. She has more than 10 years of experience in lash artistry, with celebrity clientele including Naomi Campbell, Mary J Blige, and more.
What Is a Keratin Lash Lift?
A keratin lash lift is a cosmetic service where an esthetician uses a chemical solution to “lift” and curl your lashes from base to tip. This process lets you see the full length of the lash, creating the appearance of longer, fuller, more curled lashes without extensions—it’s 100 percent your natural lashes.
Keratin lash lifts are also commonly referred to as “lash perms,” but these terms aren’t as interchangeable among lash artists and established studios. That’s because a lash perm technically uses an alkaline solution to push the lashes into a curled position, while a keratin lash lift uses, well, keratin. Both services typically produce a similar (if not identical) result, but a keratin lash lift should be less damaging than a perm. Your hair, including your eyelashes, is made of keratin, which means this formula is meant to help protect the integrity of your lashes while undergoing the treatment. Most lash studios no longer offer traditional “perms” using alkaline, so if you make an appointment for a lash perm, you’ve probably been booked for a keratin lash lift. While undergoing the lifting treatment, most clients also opt to add in a lash tint, which darkens your lashes for a more noticeable effect.
What’s the Process Like?
On average, the entire process—which usually includes a lash tint in addition to the lift—lasts between 45 minutes to an hour. Your keratin lash lift will be performed by an esthetician or lash specialist (I had mine done by Tina at Envious Lashes). The exact process varies from location to location, but the below steps explain the basic process of what you can expect. Tip: Make sure to take your contacts out before this treatment.
- Evaluating Your Lashes: Tina started the process by inspecting my lashes. She took note of how long they were, how much they curled naturally, and general lash health (Did some lashes look broken? Did my lashes look frail and damage-prone?).
- Deciding on a Rod Size: To create the curl, your esthetician essentially “paints” your lashes with the keratin solution up onto a small, flexible rod that sits on your eyelid for the duration of the treatment. But first, your esthetician should talk to you about the end result you’re looking for so he/she can determine the best rod size. Tina asked me a few questions, like if I planned to wear mascara on top of my lift each day, if I liked a stark curl or a more natural lift, and if I wanted to also tint my eyelashes to a darker shade (yes, please). I let her know I liked a more natural curl, one that I could dramatize with mascara when I wanted, but one that would look normal if I didn’t wear any other makeup that day. Based on my description, she chose a larger-sized rod to produce my desired look. The smaller the rod, the more dramatic your curl will be.
- Prepping the Eye Area: After determining the right rod size for me, my esthetician applied an under-eye gel to my lower lash line to keep my bottom eyelashes out of the way during the process, securing it with medical tape on each side. She then attached the flexible rod to my upper lash line and told me to close my eyes (your eyes remain closed for the duration of the treatment, and it’s extremely important that you don’t try to open them).
- Applying the Keratin Formula: After brushing my lashes evenly onto the rod with a spoolie brush, Tina started applying the keratin lash solution. She used a small brush and painted upwards from root to tip. This part was super relaxing, and your esthetician should continue to check in with you to make sure you’re not feeling any discomfort. Personally, I almost fell asleep.
- Letting the Formula Set: Once your lashes are “painted” onto the rod, you’ll sit tight for about 10 minutes while your lashes absorb the keratin formula. For most people, this is a 100 percent painless process. Although few people experience a (tolerable) burning sensation towards the lash line during this step. I was lucky enough to be someone who experienced sensitivity during this step—more on that later.
- Applying the Tint (Optional): If you opt for the tint—which I recommend—your esthetician will apply the dye the same way she applied the keratin formula (using a small brush and painting upwards from base to tip). Most lash studios, including Envious Lashes, offer a variety of tint shades to choose from, from natural browns to dramatic blacks. Since I have extremely fair skin, light eyes, and requested a more natural look that could be amplified by mascara, Tina used a brownish-black tint shade. The tint sits for about five to 10 minutes before the area is cleansed.
- Removing the Patches and Tape: Once my tint was finished, Tina removed the under-eye patch and medical tape from my eye area. This is completely painless. Your esthetician will then gently cleanse the area with water or a gentle makeup remover to clear away any residue. Then, you’ll slowly blink your eyes open and et voila--completely transformed lashes.
When my esthetician handed me the mirror after my service was complete, I was genuinely shocked. My blonde, sparse, short lashes were completely transformed in just 45 minutes. See for yourself:
Does It Hurt?
The short answer: Not usually. “We rarely have clients complain about stinging,” says Richardson. “It’s crucial to keep your eyes closed during the process and not let the formula get in contact with the eye itself, as that could cause a reaction If you open your eyes.” If you read reviews of keratin lash lifts online, you’ll see that most people don’t experience any pain at all (although it can be a different, non-painful kind of discomfort to sit with your eyes closed for up to an hour).
But with that being said, I turned out to be one of a few people who found the process to be slightly painful. After the keratin formula had been applied and my esthetician was letting my lashes absorb it (step five above), I felt a burning sensation along my upper lash line and eyelid. It was tolerable, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable either. I liken it to the feeling of getting a little bit of moisturizer in your eye on accident (the keratin formula wasn’t actually in my eyes, I just have a sensitive lash line). I told my esthetician that I was experiencing this pain and she helped soothe the area by cleansing my eyelids with a cool, damp tissue, which really did help ease the pain. My lash line also only felt this stinging sensation for the last two minutes of the setting time (which is around 10 minutes total), so even if you do experience discomfort (which, according to Richardson, is more common for people with fair skin, light eyes, and a history of having a sensitive eye area), it doesn’t last long. The most important thing is to communicate with your esthetician, who is specifically trained on what to do if you feel pain.
A week before your appointment, stop all use of topical retinoids, chemical exfoliators, spot treatments, harsh cleansers, and facial scrubs around the eye area, as these formulas can make your skin more sensitive to the keratin formula. The more sensitive your skin, the more likely you are to experience a stinging sensation during your treatment.
Who Is a Candidate For a Keratin Lash Lift?
Almost anyone can get a keratin lash lift, although we recommend getting the go-ahead from your dermatologist before booking an appointment. Some studios (like Envious Lashes) require your lashes be a minimum length of four millimeters to receive the service, a rule that’s all in the name of protecting your lashes.
If you’ve had lash extensions before, you shouldn’t expect a lash lift to produce the same dramatic, fluttery result. “Lash Lifts are ideal for those who don’t want the maintenance or added volume of extensions,” says Richardson.” You don’t need to come in as frequently for touch-ups as with extensions.” With that being said, a keratin lash lift looks much more natural than extensions (it’s your natural lashes, after all), so if you want the look of falsies, this likely isn’t the right service for you.
How Long Does It Last?
Results vary based on the length and porosity of your lashes, but generally speaking the results from your keratin lash lift lasts for four to six weeks before your lashes will start to lower (and the tint begins to fade). Personally, I’m four weeks in since my lash lift and haven’t noticed a difference in the curl or tint. My bare lashes look exactly the same now as when I walked out of Envious Lashes a month ago, although I wear mascara when I’m going for more of a glam look. Here’s what that looks like:
Aftercare & Extending The Life of Your Treatment
- Keep Them Dry For the First 48 Hours: This is the golden rule. During the first 48 hours after your appointment, don’t get your new lashes wet at all. That means no mascara, no makeup remover, and no water or cleanser touching your lashes.
- Avoid Oil-Based Products: Oil breaks down the keratin formula over time, expediting the deterioration process. Avoid cleansing oils, cleansing balms, and facial oils to extend the life of your lash lift. If you wear eye makeup, micellar water makes for a great oil-free makeup remover.
- Skip the Eyelash Curler: Even though keratin may be good for your lashes, they’ve still been through a lot. You shouldn’t even need an eyelash curler after your appointment (since they’ll be lifted from the keratin formula), but try to skip the lash curler even once your curl has started to fall to protect the integrity of your lashes.
- Try Not to Touch: The more you touch your eyelashes, the more the oils from your fingers are breaking down the keratin formula. It’s tempting to touch your new lashes, but avoid contact at all costs. Side note: this includes mascara (although I still wear mascara over my lash lift when I want to dramatize the result).
- Research Your Esthetician: “Safety should be your number one concern,” says Richardson. “Finding someone who is certified to apply the lashes is a must. Depending on the state, the stylist also needs to be licensed, not just certified.” Do your homework to find a well-reviewed lash studio and stylist and the result will be better, safer, and longer-lasting.
- Use a Lash Serum Between Appointments: The closer together your appointments are, the weaker your eyelashes may become over time. Richardson recommends leaving a buffer of 7-8 weeks between appointments to keep your lashes in optimal condition To give them a strengthening boost before your next lash service, try applying a lash conditioning serum every night for two weeks before your appointment. Richardson recommends her in-house formula: “Our Luxuriating Lash Conditioner contains a unique blend of natural and botanical ingredients to help your lashes reach their full potential, creating both density and length.”
In New York City, a keratin lash lift will set you back anywhere between $100-$200. If you’re paying less than that, you should be skeptical of your salon. Elsewhere in the country, the service costs around $75-$150. (And in full transparency, Envious Lashes gifted me my treatment so I could write this story.)
Although the terms are interchangeable among clients, traditional lash “perms” don’t really exist anymore, and have taken new life as “keratin lash lifts.” For most people, a keratin lash lift is a fast, painless way to completely transform your lashes in under an hour, making them appear longer, fuller, and curled. Most lash studios offer the option to tint your lashes during the process, which produces a more noticeable effect than a lash lift alone (the lift curls your lashes, and the tint dyes them a darker brown or black).
With proper care, you can go mascara-free for an average of four to six weeks. But the most important thing is to research your lash studio and esthetician, looking for lash artists who are licensed, not just certified. (I recommend Tina at Envious Lashes if you’re in New York City). When in doubt, search for salons that focus on lash services to get the best, safest result possible. And as always, you should talk to your dermatologist before receiving a lash service.