Friday, July 26, 2013

Eyelash Extensions

I was born with my mother's fine, thin hair, but my father's genes gave me thick, sooty eyelashes long enough to touch the lenses of my sunglasses. People used to ask if my eyelashes were real, and I took my gift for granted until advancing age and declining hormones caused a significant hair loss, about a third of the total volume everywhere, including my eyelashes.

A couple months ago, I was reading articles on Beautypedia, and I noticed one on lash extensions. Paula is clearly a fan but admits that maintaining extensions is time consuming and expensive. I cringed at her estimate of up to $500 for the first set with fills required every 2-3 weeks, but I was curious enough to look around. I found a place about an hour away that had solid 5-star reviews on Yelp, and when I found out the initial full set would cost $225, I decided to try it.

Before the procedure

It's important to arrive for your appointment with zero eye makeup or eye creams. You don't want anything to affect the bonding of each false lash to a natural lash. Go easy on caffeine! You don't want to be jumpy while someone is working on your (closed) eyes, and you will be in that chair for more than an hour (up to 2) with no bio breaks.

At the start of my appointment, Gail, a registered nurse and licensed esthetician, had me fill out forms and list all skincare and makeup products I use daily on and around my eyes, including the brand. The brand would help Gail identify "problem" products; for example, anything that contained oil.

After reviewing my completed form and telling me which products I can continue to use, Gail asked what I wanted my lashes to look like. I confirmed that I wanted black eyelashes (some people want brown), and I said I prefer a soft, natural look, more volume than length but nothing clumpy.  I wanted the end result to look like hairs, not makeup.

During the procedure

I sat in a zero-gravity chair, which Gail tilted all the way back. She put a soft wedge under my knees and a neck roll under my neck, applied collagen patches to my undereye area and then taped my bottom lashes onto the patch with surgical tape. My eyes watered for a few seconds, but they got used to their new half-mast position and soon calmed down. Gail then went to work, using thin tweezers to apply single lashes to the roots of my own eyelashes. Gail also applied "volume builder" lashes halfway up some of my natural lashes.

Though I was present for 2.5 hours, I'd estimate that the lash procedure took somewhere between 60-90 minutes.

New lash care and maintenance

When Gail had almost finished, she described how I should take care of my new lashes. Some places insist that you never get your eyelashes wet at all (e.g., wear goggles in the shower). Luckily, Gail's system is much more in tune with real life—either that or she uses better glue.
  • Keep eyelashes bone dry for the first 24 hours.
  • Wear oil-free eye makeup only, such as powder eyeshadow. Long-wear products are not recommended if you want your lashes to last.
  • If you want to wear eyeliner, use something water-based, like Laura Mercer cake eyeliner or Chantecaille Le Stylo. Gel eyeliners, such as those by Bobbi Brown and MAC, are strongly discouraged. Tightlining is fine, as long as you avoid oil/gel products and can easily remove the liner with oil-free cleanser and water.
  • If you wear mascara, apply it to the tips only. (Mascara seems redundant with a full set.)
  • Use oil-free eye makeup cleaners only, like The Body Shop Chamomile Eye Makeup Remover.
  • Use an oil-free facial cleanser. Gail gave thumbs up to the Paula's Choice Hydralight cleanser I've been using. Cleansing oils, creams, lotions, and milks are out.
  • Except when showering or washing face, always keep lashes dry as possible. The more heat +  humidity you expose them to (e.g., daily hot yoga), the more quickly the extensions can fall out. 
  • After you wash your face, dry your lashes using the cool setting on a blow dryer. I could not find mine, so I held a mini fan up to my face and blinked until my lashes felt dry.
  • Sweat carries skin oils, so after strenuous exercise, rinse, gently blot, and dry with cool air. 
  • Never use an eyelash curler when you have lash extensions. You won't need to.
  • Three times a week, mix a solution of Baby Shampoo in lukewarm water in a sterile bowl, and use a clean foam eyeshadow applicator to apply the foam to the lashes so it can dissolve natural oil buildup. Let the foam sit for a few minutes, rinse, and dry lashes with cool air.
  • Plan to come back for fills every 2-4 weeks, depending on how quickly the falsies shed.
  • Refills (with Gail) are $80.


Do I like the extensions? Was it worth the expense? Yes and no.

What I first noticed after Gail removed the patches was that my eyes stung and watered, probably from products she used to remove oils and maybe also from glue fumes. That feeling lasted about a half hour, and my eyes felt dry and clear. I also noticed the weight of my new lashes—the same feeling as if I had just applied a few coats of mascara. The lashes felt a bit sticky, but that feeling diminished slightly by the end of the first day. This is possibly expected; I have never worn false eyelashes of any kind, and I wear very little mascara, so the weight on my eyelashes was something I was unused to and now barely notice.

When I first looked in the mirror, my undereye area was extremely puffy. Perhaps it was the collagen pads, which plumped up my skin, combined with being tilted back that caused fluid to build up. Though initially distracting, the puff disappeared within an hour of being upright, but it was disappointing to first see ugly instead of the wow I was expecting.

So how did the lashes look, you might ask? The eyelashes on my right eye looked very pretty, natural, lush, lifted, and separated, completely meeting my expectations. The lashes on my left eye, however, looked somewhat clumpy and tangled, as though I'd slept in 2+ coats of mascara. I also ended up with more length than volume, which was disappointing. I suspect the bad side could be corrected if I decided to go back for a fill, but I was honestly expecting a more powerful WOW factor on my maiden eyelash voyage—on both eyes.

Here's a before-and-after picture of NOT me, though typical of the results of a full last-extension set that goes according to plan:

Maintenance and cost—the real deal

Consider lash extensions much like going platinum blonde, where you'd need to get your roots touched up every 2-3 weeks. As the individual false lashes fall out, because either the glue loosens or a natural eyelash falls one (one an extension is glued to), you can expect to lose up to half the falsies within 2-4 weeks. If you go back for a fill before you lose half, the cost should be less than half the cost of the initial fill—$80 with Gail, but the appointment will still take 45-60 minutes. If you wait too long, and you lose more than half your falsies, expect to pay for another full set.

Also, if the business is a significant distance from where you live or work, maintenance will become a serious commitment in both time and expense, including car wear and tear. Based on Gail's prices, the yearly cost of lash procedures, plus tip, comes close to $2,000. That's roughly the same annual cost of 8 trips to the hair salon for cut and color. Except I don't color my hair, so my yearly salon costs are more like $780, which includes cut and tip for both my hair and Mr. Zuzu's hair. So yes, lash extensions are pricey.

What I wish I'd known beforehand

You might want to ask, in advance, if there will be forms to fill out and if appointments run on time—especially if you are booking your appointment over a work lunch break. You might also request that the lash artist call you if she's running late—something she should definitely know if her appointment before yours arrives late. I arrived on time, but my appointment started a half hour late, even though Gail's last customer left as I arrived. As far as I could tell, she and I were in her house alone, and I have no idea what she was doing while I waited. I might have felt less frustrated if Gail had apologized for keeping me, but she did not. She also could have managed my impatience by giving me the forms to fill out while I waited, which would have given me something to do and allowed her to start the procedure sooner once she finally joined me.

If you are visiting an establishment where the owner will perform the work, you might also want to know, in advance, if tips are expected. It is customary to not tip owners, but Gail wanted to be tipped, which added 20% to the cost of the procedure.

A suggestion

If you are considering lash extensions, whether for your everyday look or for a special occasion, I'd recommend that you test the procedure a few weeks in advance of the event to make sure you aren't sensitive to any of the products used. I've read that some people never get used to the glue and their eyes continually water, which will greatly decrease the life of the false lashes. You certainly don't want to show up at an important event with red, irritated, and watery eyes. I suspect sensitivity is rare, but it's possible. Note that you will have to absolve your operator of all such maladies when you sign the forms.

Bottom line

It's sort of nice to wake up with lashes that look ready to face the world, and not needing mascara or an eyelash curler is a perfect time saver for summer. Overall, I like the look, but I don't love it as much as I thought I would, and I really really dislike how my eyelashes feel, sort of sticky and dirty—and that's with me wearing almost zero eye makeup (powder eyeshadow once or twice a week only). Most of all, I don't like feeling like I slept in my eye makeup. So no, it's not for me, and I won't go back.

I'd love to know if you've had lash extensions and what you think of them.