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Extended Eye Appeal

Originally published by timesunionPLUS

"You have beautiful eyes," said the cashier, scanning my stack of greeting cards and a container of Tums.

Her compliment almost - almost - made me forget my heartburn. While there's nothing wrong with my eyes, they're "meh" at best, even when I'm all dressed up with someplace to go.

My peepers are the color of an angry storm cloud right before the weather breaks, and my (short) eyelashes a mousy blonde with light tips.

Pair that with serious dark circles thanks to allergies and a husband who is a restless sleeper, and you'll understand why my eyes are not a physical feature that garners "oohs" and "ahhs."

Today was different.

That morning, I'd spent two hours lying prone on a massage-style table with my eyes closed and my lower lashes "taped" down while Vanessa Torres, a certified makeup artist and lash stylist at Spa One in Albany, applied lash extensions.

Faux lashes that last as long as a month have been around for about 10 years, but thanks to technology and science, the lashes now look real enough even to fool a professional stylist at another salon.

"Those can't be fake," said my manicurist, clipping my cuticles and calling her colleagues over to check them out. "Close your eyes again."

They were good, in part, because I didn't go to someone in a back room at a strip mall who was a sous chef by day.

Just like you want the person changing your brakes to be properly trained and certified in what they do, the man or woman applying your lashes should be certified or licensed, according to Consumer Reports. The application process is something of an art.

The professional lash tech or stylist selects the length, color and thickness, which certainly helps toward making the end result look natural. Due to my fair complexion and fine lashes, I had shorter extensions (primarily size 10). Someone with a darker skin tone and more prominent, natural lashes would get longer, thicker extensions.

I figured if I could fool professionals who make a living beautifying clients no one would likely be able to tell my lashes were imposters.

And that was true. My co-workers agreed the lashes looked like they were mine. Both my super-unobservant husband and his super-observant mom thought I was wearing some fantastic new mascara (well, to be more accurate, my husband just said "what is wrong with your eyes? Are you wearing makeup to work outside?" My mother-in-law, on the other hand, described the end result as "beautiful.") My sister, who has had lash extensions for years, was envious of how natural the application looked.

Some women, say stylists, make the lashes part of their regular beauty routine, getting scheduled "fills" as regularly as they'd go in for a manicure or to have their roots done. Others opt for lash extensions for special occasions - holidays, a reunion or their wedding day.

While the lashes are generally considered safe, some people are allergic to the ingredients in the adhesive. The adhesive is often formaldehyde-based and can cause an adverse reaction, says Dr. Robert Brass, an ophthalmologist and owner of Brass Eye Center in Latham. In addition, cosmetic eyelash enhancers carry a risk of bacterial and fungal infection, especially if the tools the tech is using have not been properly cleaned.

My skin is not terribly sensitive, but my eyes are. I experienced no complications.

The extensions require a serious commitment - in both time and money. Sets can cost upward of $500, although prices from $275-$400 are more common. As with any beauty regime, you can find someone or somewhere that will do it for less (say $100-$150), but the glue is likely subpar and the lashes can fall off in a matter of days, if not hours, say stylists on TheLashe.com, a company specializing in professional application products and training for eyelash extension stylists.

At Spa One, they charge $390 for the set and $100 for fills, if you go every two weeks. Fills are necessary because the natural growth cycle of your lashes means they fall out (just like the hair on your head), taking a false lash with them, at times.

My lash extensions looked best on days one through three. On the third day, a small clump (maybe three lashes) detached from my left eye leaving a gap. I had followed the rules - not letting the shower stream hit me square on the eyelids, avoiding eye makeup remover (I didn't wear any makeup) and not rubbing my eyes. The latter was tough, due to the aforementioned allergies combined with pesky contact lenses.

After that "shedding," I was good for just about two weeks. In general, I didn't know the lashes were even there, except in the morning. Most days, when I woke up, my lashes would almost "catch," with the top and the bottom feeling like they were sticking together. Also, the left side definitely thinned out sooner than the right. I attribute this, in large part, to the fact I'm a left side sleeper. Once I noticed what was happening with the lashes, I tried catching some ZZZs on my back, but I kept ending up on my left like a newborn who just can't stay propped up in a chair.

As much as I love the lashes (they're probably the best beauty enhancement I've ever had), I can't help but think of all the things I could do with the $100 fill price - lunch at my favorite Thai restaurant for two weeks, a killer pair of jeans, put that C-note in savings ...

So, for now, I'll likely hold off till I have a big event where I want to wow others the way I did the grocery cashier, but I'll long for those lashes each time I look at my tired eyes in the mirror.

kbarlette@timesunion.com

What should you check for before you invest in eyelash extensions?

Ask if your lashtician is certified and how long they have been applying lashes.

Be sure your lashtician uses pharmaceutical-grade glue made in an FDA regulated facility.

Look at the lashes before they're applied. If they are made of plastic or feel heavy, ask for the most lightweight lash they have.

The majority of nail salon techs are not legally qualified to apply false eyelashes. They have simply not been trained to work around the eyes with a pharmaceutical grade adhesive and may not follow basic sanitary regulations.

Source: Vanessa Torres, certified makeup artist and lash technician at Spa One in Albany

Other tips:

The extensions are tailored to individual needs.

The initial application process usually takes between 90 and 120 minutes, with routine touchups every two to four weeks.

Swimming, showering or sweating won't harm the lashes and while mascara isn't necessary, if it's used, it needs to be water-based. Lashes will typically remain in place until the natural lashes on which they are attached naturally shed.

What are the risks?

Eyelash extensions can lead to eye problems in some cases. Most are self-limiting, but some can be serious.

The glue or adhesives for eyelash extensions typically contain formaldehyde, a chemical some people may be allergic to. The adhesive that attaches the lashes to the eyelid could cause irritation to the eyelids referred to as contact dermatitis; to the conjunctiva (the skin around the eye), a form of "pink eye," or to the cornea "keratitis" if the glue was to contact those areas. Typically, these would be self-limiting, i.e. they typically would resolve on their own, or with eyedrops and/or ointments. Long-term use of the eyelash extensions can, on rare occasions, cause a localized inflammatory response to the eyelid, causing thickening of the skin in the area contacted by the adhesive and even small cysts on the eyelid.

Another possible complication is the loss of eyelashes in the area of the application of the eyelash extensions. This may be related to the adhesive causing the lashes to be pulled off when the extensions are removed or fall off, or from chronic inflammation caused by the adhesive ultimately damaging the hair follicles.

Long-term use of the eyelash extensions can allow for the growth of bacteria or fungus on the eyelashes and eyelids. In most cases, this is of no major concern. However, If the eye was to get scratched, in theory, this could predispose someone to a vision-threatening corneal ulcer. Source: Dr. Robert Brass, an ophthalmologist and owner of Brass Eye Center in Latham

Source: Dr. Robert Brass, an ophthalmologist and owner of Brass Eye Center in Latham

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