I've tried an eyelash growth enhancer and it's irritated my eyes

I have very sparse eyelashes. A friend recommended a cosmetic eyelash growth enhancer, which is available over the counter. It works, but it has made my eyelids extremely red and they look horrible. What should I do? First, with my Beauty Bible hat on, I can report that our panel of independent testers trialled the same product (for legal reasons we can’t name it, so let’s call it ‘Eye Lash’) which you apply to the base of your lashes. Five out of ten had such marked sensitivity reactions to it that we discontinued the trial. I started researching and alarm bells began to ring.

Although these topical cosmetic products are widely available, the key ingredient in several eyelash growth enhancers is a molecule used in glaucoma drugs. Known as prostaglandin analog, it reduces pressure in the eye and is also recognised as helping eyelash growth but only while you use the product.

With glaucoma, doctors have to balance the risk-to-benefit ratio as there are known side effects, which may affect some people, according to consultant ophthalmologist Professor Charles Clark.

Patient information for Lumigan, a glaucoma drug that contains a prostaglandin analog called bimatoprost, warns patients of redness, swelling, itching or pain in or around the eye, also oozing or discharge, increased sensitivity to light, and vision changes. Less serious side effects include mild eye discomfort, dizziness, the feeling of something in your eye, dry or watery eyes, stinging or burning after using the drops. Eyes may also change colour, not always evenly. There may also be uneven loss of supporting fat around the eye.

These side effects may also occur in low ‘cosmetic’ doses of bimatoprost. In 2007, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates drugs, recalled another over-the-counter eyelash growth enhancer because it ‘may cause adverse effects in certain people due to the [low-dose] bimatoprost, including macular edema (swelling of the retina) and uveitis (inflammation in the eye), which may lead to decreased vision’.

The FDA has, however, approved a bimatoprost ophthalmic solution called Latisse, which is available on prescription for hypotrichosis (eyelash deficiency) in the US. As it’s a prescription product, patients will be monitored.

In the UK, all eyelash growth enhancers are currently classified as cosmetics. This means they don’t need regulatory approval and are available over the counter. However, the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is now reassessing the status of ‘Eye Lash’, which contains a similar active ingredient to bimatoprost. Following a legal judgment in California, ‘Eye Lash’ has been ruled a drug, and the company has suspended sales there.

Professor Clark advises caution: ‘These products may have significant side effects. It would be safer if they were used under medical supervision.’



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