Is lash extension glue toxic? Dr. Anika explains

Is lash extension glue toxic - eyelash adhesive
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Lash extensions are a great way to look younger, bring extra emphasis to your eyes, and skip mascara—but is lash extension glue toxic or safe? It depends on what product you use. Some have chemicals that most of us wouldn’t want to put on our bodies, much less near our eyes.

What’s in lash extension glue that makes it toxic?

Many chemicals cause eye irritation, and some can lead to vision problems or loss. Whenever we’re thinking about putting something on or next to our eyes, we want to be careful about what that is and any negative effects it could have. That includes lash adhesives.

Lash adhesives aren’t all the same quality, and some are less prone to causing irritation than others. However, many eyelash adhesives contain cyanoacrylate. Cyanoacrylate dries fast and makes for a strong but temporary bond between your skin and lash extensions. But for some people, that ingredient in lash extension glue can be toxic.

What’s problematic about the ingredients in lash extension glue?

Cyanoacrylate is formed from cyanide and acrylates. Cyanide is used in manufacturing of lash adhesive but doesn’t exist in the end product. Acrylates, however, do. In general, acrylates have been labeled as a carcinogen. However, in the short term, they also cause allergic contact dermatitis (skin irritation) for many individuals. We see these localized reactions happen from many acrylate-containing beauty products, such as acrylic nails. We also see it occur around the eyes or on the eyelids due to lash adhesive application.

What’s the story with the new clear adhesives?

Styrene/acrylate copolymer is a newer adhesive used in the eyelash industry. This chemical exists in beauty products, such as many high-SPF sunscreens, as well as some shampoos, eyeliners, and nail polishes. When you look at labels, you may see it under any of these other names:

  • polystyrene
  • ethylbenzene
  • styrene butadiene copolymer
  • styrene resin
  • vinylbenzene
  • styrene copolymer

In general, styrene/acrylate copolymer receives a relatively good safety rating. It’s not a chemical that our skin readily absorbs. However, problems can arise with the purity of the product and raise safety concerns. Sometimes, styrene/acrylate copolymer can have residual amounts of styrene. This is a carcinogen, which are known for disrupting normal cell processes and leading to cancer.

So, can I get allergic contact dermatitis from lash adhesive?

Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) causes up to 74% of irritation and inflammation of the eyelid, regardless of what the offending substance is. But, yes, applying lash adhesive that contains cyanoacrylate to the thin, sensitive skin of your eyelids can result in ACD.

At its best, ACD on the eyelid(s) is uncomfortable. Some symptoms you might notice are dryness, redness, tenderness, and/or the appearance of scaliness. You might experience itchiness that ranges from mild to severe and also feel like your eyes are puffy or see small red bumps or oozing on the delicate skin. Sometimes, I see women who have ocular symptoms like dry eyes or the feeling that there’s a foreign object irritating the cornea. Eventually, untreated ACD can lead to thickening or leathery eyelid skin.

If I’m going to have an allergic reaction, will I notice it the first time I use lash adhesive?

It’s possible to have immediate discomfort after exposure to an ingredient in eyelash adhesive. We refer to this as irritant contact dermatitis. But many cases of eyelid allergic contact dermatitis occur after several uses of a product. You might see some changes in the skin around the eyelid but brush them off for a few days until they bother you more. Because your reaction isn’t immediate, you might not easily associate it with lash extension glue at first.

Will allergic contact dermatitis from lash adhesive hurt my natural lashes?

Allergic contact dermatitis can make you lose eyelashes, but it’s not permanent. That said, it takes lashes at least 6 weeks to grow back when lost naturally and more if there’s trauma or follicular damage. It’s important to have an eye exam and be treated for allergic contact dermatitis. There are topical medications that can resolve the issue, and there are things you can do at home along with taking your prescription correctly. If you know or have an idea of the offending product or ingredient, read labels diligently and try to avoid it.

Are there other lash extension options that don’t include glue?

Yes. Not all lash extensions use glue as an adhesive. As an ophthalmologist concerned with vision safety and also someone who loves lash extensions, I created a line of safe, high-quality eye cosmetics, OpulenceMD. All of the products are luxurious and have a high-end appearance and feel. The lash extensions don’t adhere with glue at all. Instead, we use a smudge-free, stay-proof magnetic gel or liquid liner and the lashes adhere to the liner. This lets you take off the lashes without pulling or hurting the delicate skin around the eyes.

Anika Goodwin, MD, FACS
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