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Those eyelash extensions you love wearing may have bacteria and fungi

Some might cause allergic reactions or infections. Here’s how you can still put them on without further irritating your eyes or worse – causing an eyelash fall-out.

Not every woman is blessed with long, fluttery, luscious eyelashes. So, it’s no wonder many go to great lengths to, well, lengthen theirs. 

There are two ways: Semi-permanent extensions that you get at the salon, and lash strips that you glue onto your lash line yourself. 

The first method involves attaching the extensions, strand by strand, to each of your natural lash hair. It is a laborious process but fans swear by its natural look and feel.

Removing them will require an appointment at the salon, or if you can put up with patchy lashes, letting them fall off with your natural lashes at the end of their growth cycle.

That can take about eight weeks or so, and for this reason, about half of your extensions will be gone after about a month, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

Then, there are the single-use lash strips or tufts that you attach to your lash line yourself using tweezers, eyelash glue and very steady hands.

These can be bought at makeup stores and even online, and come in varying degrees of fullness, length and even embellishments.

But whether you’re getting professionally fixed extensions or fiddling with those lash strips in front of the mirror, eye experts are cautioning: Watch it.

According to the AAO, the risks involved include “trauma to or infection of the eyelid or cornea, allergic reactions to the glue, and permanent or temporary loss of eyelashes”.

Here’s a look at why eyelash extensions may not be a pretty sight for your eye and eyelash health.


Whether it’s for home or beauty salon use, the usually-white glue that dries to a clear finish is typically made of latex and cellulose gum, according to Healthline.

However, check that it doesn’t also contain ingredients such as formaldehyde and cyanoacrylate, said Dr Lana Kashlan, an American board-certified dermatologist, who was in Singapore to speak about hair restoration.

READ: Want naturally luscious lashes without using falsies? Clarence Lee shows us how

Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer, while cyanoacrylate’s fumes may irritate and burn the eyes and skin. To this point, it is important to look at the glue’s ingredient list.

This is also why it pays not to buy from cheap but dubious sources as the ingredients may not be listed sometimes. You don’t want to save money but pay with allergies.

“Allergic reactions can be mild; ranging from burning and stinging sensations to swelling and even contact dermatitis,” said Dr Kashlan.

“Bacteria and fungi, which thrive in Singapore’s warm and humid tropical weather, can also be trapped under the glue and cause infection, swelling, redness, discomfort and even pain around the eyes.”


False eyelashes, which can be made of silk, mink or synthetic material, can amp up your eyes like Lady Gaga’s or enhance your natural ones.

But while fuller extensions look fabulously dramatic and let you forgo mascara and eyeliner, there’s a catch: The denser they are, the more likely they are to trap dust and debris, and harbour bacteria and fungi, said Dr Kashlan.

Longer extensions aren’t good news for the eyes either. According to Dr Deepinder Dhaliwal, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, lashes that are too long may increase your chances of developing dry eyes. 

In his research, Dr Dhaliwal found that there is an optimal length for eyelashes to protect the eyes from wind, dust and other debris: One-third the width of the eye.

Eyelashes that are longer than that create a fan-like effect with each blink, and increase air flow on the surface of the eye that can lead to dry eye symptoms.

(Photo: Pexels)


That’s not all. Eyelash extensions have also been reported to cause irritation to the conjunctiva (the clear, thin membrane that covers part of the front surface of the eye) or cornea, according to Consumer Reports’ medical advisor Dr Orly Avitzur.

“The irritation can be caused by the lashes themselves or hypersensitivity to the substances used to attach them.” Even the temporary falsies can cause trouble. Pulling these fake eyelashes off can sometimes remove natural lashes if those hairs get in the way, said Dr Avitzur.

READ: Makeup and bacteria: Ranking the dirtiest product testers at the cosmetics counter

Then, there’s the issue of lash breakage or fall out. “Similar to the hair on the scalp, eyelashes also go through growth cycles, said Dr Kashlan.

They can grow to about 0.8cm or 0.9cm over about six weeks before falling out. “Shedding a few every now and then is no cause for concern,” she added.

But if your lash hairs are thin and brittle, skip your lash appointments for at least six weeks to allow them to grow out; gluing false eyelashes onto weakened eyelashes increases the likelihood of breakage, she said.

“For those wearing DIY falsies, I highly recommend that you remove them at the end of the day and cleanse the eye area thoroughly, just like I would recommend my patients to remove their makeup thoroughly before going to bed,” said Dr Kashlan.

As for reusing those single-use extensions (you might be tempted to if they cost you a pretty penny), Dr Kashlan would not recommend reusing them, unless you want to run the risk of developing eye infections.

Speaking of hygiene, Dr Kashlan advised falsie users – both semi-permanent and DIY – to be vigilant about regularly cleaning the area around the eyes.

READ: Letting your child use makeup, hair dye or nail polish might lead to skin and hair problems

“Many women take for granted that semi-permanent eyelashes applied at the salon need little care. This encourages bacteria and fungus to accumulate, causing redness, irritation and even infection in the area.

"This is compounded by the fact that many beauticians, who apply the false eyelashes, discourage women from over-cleaning the eye area to prevent them from falling out prematurely.”

Instead of using tissue or cotton pads, she suggested cleaning the lash line with cotton buds to avoid tugging at the semi-permanent eyelashes and causing them to drop out in clumps.

Source: CNA/bk