The beauty industry has seen it all when it comes to lashes—magnifying mascaras, “miracle” growth serums, heated curlers—you name it. But no trend is quite as polarizing as eyelash extensions. When extensions first hit the mainstream market, it seemed like a relatively painless way to achieve wispy, fluttering lashes without the inconvenience of falsies or mascara. But as with any new beauty service, lash extensions quickly revealed their drawbacks. For starters, some states haven’t placed regulations on the service, consequently leading to cases of irritation, infection, and damaged natural lashes due to poor hygiene and technique. The process is also fairly expensive, setting you back hundreds of dollars and hours of your personal time. But is it worth it to wake up with a flawless set of semi-permanent lashes every day?
Ahead, a lash tech, dermatologist, and plastic surgeon break down everything you need to know about eyelash extensions, from before and after photos, to tips to finding the right lash artist, to cost, risks (will your natural eyelashes grow back?), and everything in-between.
Meet the Expert
- Clementina Richardson is a lash stylist with over 10 years of experience and the founder of Envious Lashes in New York City.
- Dr. Rachel Nazarian is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She's also an assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology.
- Dr. Dara Liotta is a dual board-certified plastic surgeon based in New York City, where she specializes in facial aesthetics.
What Are Lash Extensions?
Eyelash extensions are semi-permanent fibers that are attached to your natural eyelashes in order to make your lash fringe look longer, fuller, and darker. Individual lash extensions are applied to each of your individual natural eyelashes (one extension per natural eyelash) using a semi-permanent glue. The material varies from studio to studio, but lash extensions can be made of synthetic, mink, faux mink, or silk fibers. Most studios offer a variety of extension lengths, curl patterns, and tints so clients can customize their look.
Types of Eyelash Extensions
Lash artists use three different kinds of eyelash extension materials: mink, silk, and synthetic. Some studios also carry "faux mink" extensions, which are technically just synthetic extensions that mimic mink extensions. Most lash studios have their preference for the type of lash extension they use and won't always ask you if you have a preference. So if you're vegan or allergic to cats, be sure to specifically request that mink lash extensions are not used on you. No lash extension type lasts longer than the other, but mink and silk lashes tend to have a more natural look, while synthetic lashes can be thicker and darker, which is better suited for those who want a bolder look. Within these three categories (mink, silk, and synthetic), there are varying degrees of length and curl to choose from. Typically your lash artist will use multiple lengths and curl strengths to create a wide-eyed effect, with longer lashes being placed towards the outer corners of the eyes and shorter lashes placed on the inner corners.
What’s the Application Process Like?
“[Lash extensions] are carefully applied one at a time (typically 80-140 per eye) using a specially-formulated, semi-permanent glue that will not irritate or damage the natural lash,” says Richardson. “The lash is only applied to an existing lash, not to the skin.” While the exact process varies from salon to salon, here’s what you can expect:
- Evaluation: “Prior to application, the technician should go through all the risks and benefits of having eyelash extensions before applying them, and also ask about any conditions you may have that would make eyelash extensions unsuitable for you,” says Richardson. They'll also ask you to remove your contacts if you wear them.
- Decide on Extension Length and Curl Strength: Your lash artist should start the process by asking you what kind of look you’re going for, whether that be more glamorous or more natural. Based on your desired look, you’ll choose an ideal length and curl strength for the extensions. Keep in mind that your artist may decide to use up to 3-4 different extension lengths, concentrating longer extensions on the outer corners and shorter extensions on the inner eyes.
- Cleansing the Eye Area: Your lash artist will have you lie down and ensure that you are in a comfortable position. Then, they will cleanse the area to remove any makeup, oil, and germs from the area. It’s helpful to your artist if you arrive makeup-free to your appointment.
- Applying the Tape and Eye Gels: Your eyes are closed for the duration of the process, which typically takes 1-2 hours, depending on the number of extensions your lash artist is applying. To prep for the actual application, you lash artist will apply an under-eye gel to your lower lash line to keep your lower lashes out of the way and provide a contrasted background to work against (it’s easier to see your lashes against a crisp white background). Then, the eye gels will be secured with medical-grade tape on both sides of the eye (this tape doesn’t touch your lashes, and it doesn’t hurt once it’s removed later).
- Application: Using tweezers, your lash artist will dip the end of each extension in the lash glue and then apply it to your individual lash. In most cases, one eyelash extension is applied per natural lash, however, more voluminous looks can require multiple extensions per individual natural lash. The application isn’t painful, although you may feel anxious having tweezers operate so close to your eyes while they’re closed.
- Drying: The lash glue dries very quickly, but your lash artist will likely have you sit for around 10 minutes once all of the extensions have been applied. Some lash artists like to point a small, handheld fan at your extensions to speed up the drying time, while others prefer to let the glue air dry. During this stage, your eyes are still closed.
- Removing the Tape and Gels: Once your lashes are completely dry, your lash artist will remove the under-eye gels and tape (this doesn’t hurt at all, but let your lash professional know if you tend to experience sensitivity in this area so they can practice extra caution). Once removed, your lash artist will likely brush through the lashes with a spooly, then you’ll be asked to slowly blink your eyes open. Et voila!
Where Should You Go For Eyelash Extensions?
One of the scariest things about eyelash extensions is that the process isn’t regulated in some states, as is the case in Alabama, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, and Wisconsin. A shocking number of states only require a cosmetology license in order to perform the service, and while these professionals are extremely skilled in their respective areas of focus (hair coloring, hair styling, hair cutting, makeup, and nails), they aren’t trained specifically to work on the eye area, which is extremely sensitive and delicate.
When booking your lash extension service, make sure your lash artist is a licensed esthetician (rather than a cosmetologist). Estheticians are specifically trained in skin-oriented treatments, like facials, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and—you guessed it—eyelash services. Ideally, visiting a licensed esthetician at a studio that focuses on lash services (like Envious Lashes in New York City) is your safest bet.
- It Works: With lash extensions, you’ll wake up every day with long, fluttering, gorgeous lashes.The process is extremely effective at enhancing your eyes, and looks incredible on everyone.
- Completely Customizable: Your look can be as natural or as dramatic as you’d like, just work with your lash artist to decide on the ideal length and curl of your extensions.
- Virtually Waterproof: While you can’t get them wet in the first 48 hours, you can still swim, shower, and sweat in your extensions (although the dryer you keep them, the longer they can last).
- Pain-Free: The entire process is 100 percent painless for almost everyone, from start to finish.
- It’s (Usually) Safe: Dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and estheticians agree that, for the most part, extensions are safe (although there are risks of irritation and infection...more on that below).
- Irritation and Infection Risks: “The major risk of eyelash extensions is irritation of the eyes. Eyelash extensions typically require a [glue] to attach the extension to the natural follicle, and eyes are incredibly sensitive to these chemicals,” says Dr. Nazarian. “Even many hypoallergenic ingredients can still inflame or irritate tissue by weighing them down or pulling on the hairs... hence the inherent problem with extensions.” She continues, “Anything around the eyes can irritate, either due to the chemicals or due to the friction and tugging forces around the lashes.” To prevent irritation and allergic reaction, it’s a good idea to do a patch test on your hand with the adhesive. Dr. Nazarian also recommends that you request your esthetician use a latex- and formaldehyde-free adhesive, since these ingredients are two of the most common irritants.
- Investment of Time and Money: Your initial set will cost anywhere from $100-300, with refills setting you back around $50-150 every 2-4 weeks. Getting your initial set can take up to two hours, with refill appointments lasting up to an hour.
- Potential Damage to Natural Lashes: Even if you see the best lash artist and execute your aftercare perfectly, it’s still very possible that you’ll see damage to your natural lashes. As your natural lashes grow, your extensions get farther and farther from the root of the lash. This makes it harder for your natural lashes to support the weight of the extension, which can cause breakage. Rubbing or itching your lashes in your sleep (either with your hands or against your pillow) can also cause damage to natural lashes.
- Uneven Fallout: Your lashes are at all different stages of growth at any given time, which means that some lashes are in a period of growth, while others are getting ready to shed. This means that a few weeks after your appointment, some extensions will fall out as lashes shed and are replaced with new, extension-free eyelashes, while others will remain in tact. This can create an uneven, scattered effect if you don’t get your extensions refilled every 2-4 weeks.
- Washing Your Face Is a Pain: Remember that you can’t rub your eyes when you have eyelash extensions, which means you have to work around the eye area when you’re washing your face.
Will Your Natural Eyelashes Grow Back After Extensions?
This is where things get a bit hairy. “Lash extensions alone will not ruin your lashes,” says Richardson. “Damage to the natural lashes is the result of improper application, or the stylist not selecting the correct type of lash for an existing natural lash. There are a few main factors that contribute to this problem: Applying extensions that are too heavy for the natural lash will result in premature shedding. Rubbing your eyes will also result in immediate breakage.”
That’s why visiting a properly licensed esthetician is crucial when it comes to lash extensions. But with that being said, you can do everything right and still find that eyelash extensions cause breakage to your natural eyelashes. There are factors that you have no control over (like if you rub your eyes in your sleep or if you genetically have a faster lash cycle than what is considered normal) that can compromise your natural lashes—including causing your natural lashes to fall out or break off.
Keep in mind though, eyelashes are hair—and unless you have a pre-existing condition or circumstance, hair grows back. Which means your eyelashes will grow back. While damage to your natural eyelashes is certainly not ideal (nor is it sustainable over time), any breakage or fallout should resolve itself in 1-3 months, as part of a typical lash growth cycle—more on that below.
How Long Do They Last?
As with the hair on your head, eyelashes follow a natural cycle of shedding and regrowth. All of your lashes are at a different stage at any point in time, which means that some of your lashes are getting ready to fall out while others are experiencing a period growth (this is true if you have eyelash extensions or not). Since an individual extension is applied to an individual lash, that extension will fall out on its own when the eyelash sheds from the lash line. If you aren’t exacerbating this shedding process by rubbing your eyes, applying mascara, or compromising the glue with oily eye products, your lash extensions should last up to a month before you need a “refill” appointment.
Unless you’re transitioning off of extensions, refills are necessary every 2-4 weeks to maintain the best result. Since each of your individual lashes is at a different stage in the growth cycle, you’ll start to see a more scattered appearance after 2-4 weeks as new natural lashes come in and lashes that had an extension attached begin to fall out.
While it varies from provider to provider (and the city that you’re in), a full set of lash extensions will set you back anywhere from $100-300, with refills costing around $50-150.
If your lash artist is charging you less than $100 for your initial set, you should be skeptical of the quality of extension fibers and glue being used. Perform thorough research of the salon, as well as the esthetician performing the service.
Preparing For Your Appointment
- Arrive Makeup-Free: Your lash artist needs a completely clean canvas to work with, which means no mascara, concealer, makeup, or skincare of any kind around the eye area. Expedite the process (and do your esthetician a favor) by arriving completely makeup-free.
- Skip the Coffee: While this isn’t a painful process for most people, it can be nerve-wracking to have to be completely still (with your eyes closed) for up to two hours. Coffee, energy drinks, and caffeine of any kind will only amplify the jitters.
- Come Cozy: While you can technically get this done before or after work, keep in mind that you’re going to be lying down for up to two hours. Dress comfortably in clothing that won’t require constant adjusting.
- Go to the Bathroom: Remember, this process can take up to two hours. Go to the bathroom before your lash artist starts the process, and avoid drinking for at least an hour before your appointment.
- Come With Photo Inspiration: What you might consider to be a natural look can be completely different from what your esthetician thinks is a natural look. A picture is worth a thousand words, so bring photo inspiration of eyelash extension looks you like.
- Make a Playlist: If you’re anxious ahead of your appointment or worried that you’ll be bored, most estheticians don’t mind if you want to listen to music or a podcast. Just let your esthetician know if it’s okay to remove your headphones for you if she needs to communicate.
- Stop Your Retinol: Retinol increases sensitivity for some, especially in an area as delicate as the eyes. It’s a good idea to stop use of all retinols, acids, scrubs, and acne treatments a few days before your appointment (and if you have concerns about sensitivity, talk to your dermatologist).
- Research Your Lash Artist: While the exact regulations for lash extensions vary from state to state, this process should be performed by a licensed esthetician, not a cosmetologist. Read reviews on the studio you plan to visit, as well as the esthetician you’re booking.
- Know Your Allergies: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that lash extensions are ‘not safe’, but the procedure does have some risks to consider, including allergy to the glue (which may contain common allergens like latex, formaldehyde, and various adhesives),” says Dr. Liotta. And if you’re allergic to cats, you might find extensions made of mink hair to be irritating, causing itchiness, redness, and/or dryness. Be 100 percent certain of your allergies before making an appointment, and ask what type of extension fibers and glue are used before your esthetician starts.
- Avoid Getting Them Wet the First 48 Hours: Avoid all contact with water and steam within the first 48 hours after having your extensions applied.
- Don’t Use Cleansers With Oil: Don’t use any oil-based products while you have lash extensions. This includes makeup removers, cleansers, facial oils, and oil-serum hybrids, as the oil causes the glue to dissolve.
- Don’t Stand Under the Showerhead For Too Long: “The weight of the water can lead to premature breakages,” says Richardson, recommending that you brush your lashes when you get out of the shower. “Lashes do need to be brushed every so often to remove access water and just in general with a spoolie brush.”
- Sleep on Your Side: If you’re a stomach sleeper, be forewarned that your eyelashes are likely being pressed into (and rubbed against) your pillowcase, which will expedite fallout and breakage.
- Avoid Rubbing Your Eyes or Touching Your Extensions: The more touching, tugging, and rubbing, the weaker your extensions become and the more likely they are to fall out or break off ahead of schedule (taking the natural lash they were attached to with them).
- Don’t Use an Eyelash Curler: “Never ever use a mechanical eyelash curler,” says Richardson. “If your extensions are starting to [lose curl], use a heated eyelash curler to gently lift them. Mary J Blige always has one of ours stashed in her makeup bag and never travels without it.”
Byrdie Editor Reviews
Most of the Byrdie editors have tried eyelash extensions at one point or another, and we have strong feelings. Ahead, our personal experiences with eyelash extensions, plus tips to keep in mind before getting your first set.
Hallie Gould, senior editor
“I tried lash extensions once because I was curious—and because the idea of full, thick, inky-black lashes 24 hours a day is undoubtedly dreamy. The process took an hour and a half (which is normal, I'm told), and I left with a natural-looking set of fluttery lashes. I was in love with them. They looked incredible. Plus, they made my morning routine so much easier (no mascara, no more removing little bits of mascara I'd inevitably smudge elsewhere on my face). However, the bliss lasted for about two weeks.
After that, the lashes began to crisscross and look sparse. I'd brush them, keep them dry, and do everything in my power to maintain them. But the fact that I couldn't properly wash my face and slather on eye cream began to weigh on me, and I ended up taking them off not soon after that. Once they were gone, I was relieved, but my eyelashes looked bald. They were definitely shorter and more brittle than before, but I continually conditioned and moisturized them until they were back to normal (it probably took a week or two). I'm not against lash extensions by any means; I just think they're not for me. I still dream about them sometimes, though, so who knows? Maybe I'll dip my toe back in the fluttery lash pond again at some point.”
Hallie's Editor Tip: “Use a disposable mascara spoolie to brush them out each morning—it'll help you maintain them longer and avoid the dreaded ‘criss-cross’ lash effect.”
Holly Rhue, associate editor
“I comfortably go foundation-free to work, drinks, and dates. But mascara is pretty much non-negotiable for me. While I have fairly long lashes naturally, they’re bleach blonde, which means I feel like a naked mole rat when I’m not wearing eye makeup. So when eyelash extensions first started getting popular, I didn’t take a breath before booking an appointment. I hurriedly booked one of the first lash artists that showed up on Google in my neighborhood, and did very little research before having them done.
The result was gorgeous (I woke up with a full fringe of eyelashes and went to work without putting on any makeup at all), but after a week I started waking up to my pillowcase covered in eyelashes—both extensions and my own natural lashes. My lash artist turned out to be a cosmetologist who specializes in nails, someone who definitely shouldn’t have been working on my eye area. I later learned that the 30 minutes it took her to evaluate my eye area, apply the extensions, and let them dry should have taken over an hour if done correctly. Operating this quickly meant she was pretty rough on my natural lashes, leading to the pillowcase massacre. Losing that many lashes scarred me forever, so I would only ever get extensions again if it were for a special occasion, like my wedding."
Holly's Editor Tip: “My tip for anyone interested in lash extensions is to thoroughly research your lash artist. See a licensed esthetician who specializes in eyelashes, rather than a cosmetologist. If you’re concerned about damage, try a lash lift and tint before you resort to extensions.”
Faith Xue, editorial director, trending
“I look back on my lash extension experience the same way I look back on my exes--I'm glad I met them and they certainly taught me a lot, but I'm ultimately better off without them. I first got lash extensions back in 2013 because I saw a deal for them on Groupon. Thus, began an almost two-year tumultuous relationship of love, loss (of lashes), and awkward in-between stages before I could go in for my fill. By the end of that time, my natural lashes had turned into little stubs. I was horrified. I was able to grow them back by religiously applying GrandeLash every night, but it was too late--the damage was done. I couldn't un-see the sight of my short, stubby lashes, and I vowed I'd never put them through that cycle again. I know every lash extension specialist tells you that they won't harm your natural lashes if done correctly, but maybe I just have really weak lashes--I would go to the top lash technicians and every time the last extension fell out, I was greeted with much shorter natural lashes than when I had started. Plus, by then I had discovered Lashify, which gave me the power to do my own natural-looking extensions at home that would last a few days with zero damage."
Faith's Editor Tip: “Make sure you know that eyelash extensions are a monetary investment, because you'll have to go back every two to four weeks for fills. And try to take breaks where you let your natural lashes do their thing (and use an eyelash conditioning serum to bring them back to health).”
Lash Extension Alternatives
Shop The Look
Lash extensions work, plain and simple. They can enhance almost anyone’s eyelashes, which means you’ll wake up with fuller, longer, darker lashes—but not without paying the price. Extensions are expensive, and even if you do everything you’re supposed to when it comes to aftercare, it’s still very possible that you’ll experience some damage to your natural lashes, including breakage and fallout. But with that being said, eyelashes are hair after all, and in most cases will grow back within a few weeks. When it comes to safety, dermatologists compare eyelash extensions to getting acrylic nails; they’re not necessarily good for you, but they’re not likely to cause any serious health concerns either, so you may decide that the aesthetics of extensions outweigh the potential side effects (which, most commonly, include irritation, infection, and allergic reactions). If you’re planning to get eyelash extensions, have them applied by a licensed esthetician to avoid these side effects.
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Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. Eyelash extensions safety tips. Updated March, 2016.