I have always wanted long lashes.
It’s one of the few beauty standards that doesn’t seem to change over time. As an example, Honore de Balzac’s 1846 novel Cousin Bette is full of admiration for a nice set of eyelashes. From the aging beauty Adeline Hulot’s “still long lashes,” which frequently sport tears hanging from them, and the courtesan Josepha’s “eyes that flashed lightning under long brown lashes,” to the budding seductress Olympe Bijou’s “black eyes, with long lashes” in her lovely face, and the “close curling lashes like black feathers” adorning the eyes of yet another young temptress, long lashes act as shorthand for mystery, seduction, and beauty. No wonder I, and many others, crave long lashes.
For as long as I’ve cared about cosmetics, I’ve known my East Asian short-straight-stubby-lash genes prevent me from joining the long lash club. Of course, genetics never stop me from seeking out ways to get what I want. I’ve gotten by for decades with eyelash curlers and mascara, always looking for one that would create more length and volume while most effectively holding a curl. Eventually I progressed to having individual eyelash extensions professionally installed on my face. I figured I’d end my quest there. I love my extensions. They’re amazing. They give me exactly the lashes I’ve always dreamed of.
And then my lash artist started carrying lash growth serum.
I love my extensions. They’re amazing. They give me exactly the lashes I’ve always dreamed of. And then my lash artist started carrying lash growth serum.
Prostaglandin Analogues & Eyelash Growth
The serum I’m using is Borboleta Lash Serum, made by the professional lash extension brand Borboleta Beauty. We settled on this one for me because we felt confident that it would be safe for my extensions. The end goal for me isn’t ditching extensions (it would take a miracle for anything to give me the same amount of volume, curl, and drama naturally), but strengthening my lashes as much as possible under them to help boost retention. Here are the ingredients.
Water, butylene glycol, sodium hyaluronate, hydroxyethylcellulose, octapeptide-2, copper tripeptide-1, sh-polypeptide-1, cucurbita pepo (pumpkin) seed extract, glycine soja (soybean) oil, glycerin, hydrogenated lecithin, hydrolyzed glycosaminoglycans, rhizobian gum, biotin, dicalcium phosphate, panthenol, pantethine, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, allantoin, sea water, alcohol, isopropyl cloprostenate, polysorbate 60, disodium phosphate, sodium phosphate, phenoxyethanol, disodium EDTA, citric acid, chlorphenesin, sorbic acid, sodium oleate, potassium sorbate
You’ll notice several promising ingredients in there. Biotin appears in many hair growth products, both topical and ingestible, and there is some evidence that copper peptides may help increase hair growth as well. The real heavy hitter here, however, is near the bottom of the list: Isopropyl cloprostenate.
Isopropyl cloprostenate is a synthetic prostaglandin analogue used in over-the-counter lash growth serums due to its similarity in function and effects to the prescription lash growth product Latisse. Latisse’s active ingredient, bimatoprost, is also a prostaglandin analogue.
Bimatoprost was originally used as a glaucoma medication. Glaucoma patients using bimatoprost eye drops started growing longer, thicker lashes during treatment. Seeing an opportunity, Allergan developed a bimatoprost lash growth serum, and thus Latisse was born. Who said the intersection of medical science and capitalism couldn’t produce great things?
Latisse is expensive and available only by prescription or from shady overseas pharmacy sites that I wouldn’t trust to sell me a safe antacid, let alone anything that goes near my eyes. Luckily, these days you can find lash serums that use cheaper, OTC prostaglandin analogues, like isopropyl cloprostenate. No doctor visit or prescription needed, and less expensive, too.For some patients who might be candidates for plastic surgery, this could be thought of as a ‘blepharoplasty in a bottle.’” Since the results on me look like I had the classic East Asian double eyelid surgery, I have to agree.
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After using the Borboleta Lash Serum for several months, however, I do wonder if a doctor visit and prescription should be required for this and other products that use similar active ingredients, because the potential side effects are startling.
Lash Serum Effects (and Side Effects)
Let’s answer the main question first. Borboleta Lash Serum has given me longer, thicker lashes. I have some lashes now that are as long as my extensions. The results are beyond impressive—I had expected some growth, but not this much.
I had also expected side effects.
The side effects of prostaglandin analogues are known. It’s often advised that people with light eyes avoid using them, since they can cause darkening of the iris. Use of prostaglandin analogues can also darken eyelid skin as well as induce swelling, itching, and redness around the eyes.
My lash serum has given me longer, thicker lashes. I have some lashes now that are as long as my extensions.
Since I have dark eyes, I haven’t noticed any iris color changes. I have experienced mild color changes to my eyelid skin, however. My upper lashline has darkened slightly with prolonged use of the Borboleta Lash Serum. I actually don’t mind, since my lashline turned the same mauve-ish shade I usually reach for when I use eyeshadow. Less pleasant is the mild itching and irritation that sometimes hits immediately after I apply the serum. It isn’t unbearable, but it is noticeable.
There’s one other side effect that I wasn’t prepared for. Prolonged use of the lash serum gave me double eyelids.
Not kidding. Double eyelids.
I’ve had monolids all my life. If my face is more bloated, they’re more pronounced, but even when my face isn’t bloated, they’re still monolids. So I had no idea what was happening when I looked in the mirror one morning and found myself sporting an evenly matched pair of double eyelids.
The only thing I’d been doing differently was using the Borboleta Lash Serum, but I had no idea how a lash growth serum could have given me double eyelids. At first I wondered if the product contained some strong film former that was temporarily tightening up the eyelid skin so much it had retracted into a double eyelid, but after looking at the ingredients, I couldn’t find anything that would have that effect. I then wondered if the product was simply so sticky that it was acting like eyelid glue and pulling the skin up. Testing it on my hand revealed that it isn’t sticky at all.
Then I started talking to a cosmetic chemist friend about it and learned that prostaglandin analogues have an additional, sometimes dramatic side effect: periorbital fat loss, the shrinking of the fat cells around the eyes. For some people, this results in a more sunken and aged appearance over time. For others, apparently it results in larger-looking eyes and a double eyelid thanks to the reduction of fat in the upper eyelid.
While the opthamologist who authored the article linked above notes that this fat loss is often a negative, he also concedes that “If an individual has loose, puffy, baggy lids with fat prolapse and loose skin before treatment, this drug can make him look better. For some patients who might be candidates for plastic surgery, this could be thought of as a ‘blepharoplasty in a bottle.’” Since the results on me look like I had the classic East Asian double eyelid surgery, I have to agree.
For some patients, a lash serum could be thought of as blepharoplasty in a bottle. Since it looks like I had the classic East Asian double eyelid surgery, I have to agree.
Deciding Whether a Lash Serum Is Worth the Risks
Obviously, I did experience quite a lot of the known side effects of prostaglandin analogues. I certainly didn’t ask for accidental DIY double eyelid surgery. On the other hand, I am still using the product. I’ve cut my usage back to every other night rather than every night now that my lashes have reached their full potential, which Borboleta advises will happen at about the eight week mark. Reducing usage has dramatically decreased the minor irritation I was experiencing. According to the few accounts I’ve read of the periorbital fat loss effect, even that will resolve in time if I choose to discontinue use.
I didn’t feel any of the side effects were severe enough to convince me to stop using the lash serum. The fact remains that they are very real and very common, though. If you do want to try one of these serums, know that they can deliver very dramatic results, but also know that those results don’t come without a price, whether that’s temporary discomfort or, you know, apparently an entirely new eye anatomy. I’ve been obsessed with long lashes since I started taking an interest in beauty, so I guess the side effects are worth it for me.
The OTC prostaglandin analogues don’t require a prescription, but it may also be worth it to consult an opthamologist before you begin, and to have some idea of what your limit would be before the lashes aren’t worth the side effects anymore.
As for me? I’m happy with my results. I’ll keep going for the foreseeable future.