It's purported to grow longer, stronger lashes, but does Latisse really make mascara a moot point?
Photo: Getty Images / Javier Sánchez
My experience with Latisse all started with an unfortunate toilet mishap. While hurrying to get ready in a cramped hotel bathroom on a business trip, I knocked my go-to eyeliner off the counter and right into the toilet. Shit. After thoroughly scrubbing my hands, I made a pit stop at the drugstore for a replacement. While perusing my dozens of options, I considered this a good opportunity to try a new product. I handed over $15 for a fun metallic bronze liquid liner, skipped off to work, and popped into the bathroom to draw it on before my first meeting.
As I hustled through the rest of the week, I gave little thought to the slight tingling that came along with my new liner. I gave it little thought, that is, until I woke up about a week later and saw a chunk of my eyelashes had disappeared. The entire middle section of my top right eyelashes had gone MIA. (Pro tip: Don't Google "causes of unexpected eyelash loss" unless you want to freak out.)
I immediately emailed my doctor. "Is female pattern eyelash baldness a thing? Will my eyes soon be as bald as Mr. Clean?" His email response came quickly, and with a laugh. "Ha! Karla, take a deep breath. There's a slight chance this could be endocrine-related, but have you changed your makeup routine lately? This response is most often linked to an allergy to some cosmetics...." Huh. So that's what the tingling was about.
I tossed the trouble liner and the mascara I was using—just to be safe—and stopped by my local medical spa to stock up on Latisse, which my doc had recommended as a safe and speedy solution for eyelash growth. (Related: Will Eyelash Extensions Make Your Real Lashes Fall Out?)
How Latisse Works
First approved in December 2008, "Latisse is only sold with a prescription because it is a true medication that has a real effect on your eyelash growth according to research," says Nancy Swartz, M.D., ophthalmic plastic and cosmetic surgeon at Drs. Cohen and Swartz Cosmetic Surgeons in the Philadelphia area.
Latisse, scientifically known as bimatoprost 0.03 percent, was originally used as a glaucoma treatment. Optometrists of patients using Latisse noticed their eyelashes looked pretty damn fierce too, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration performed a trial with nearly 300 participants to see if it could be sold to help strengthen, lengthen, and regrow eyelashes. Eyelash length was boosted by about 25 percent (compared to 2 percent for those receiving a placebo treatment) and thickness increased by 106 percent (versus 12 percent for the Latisse-free crew). Since then, research has proven Latisse to be effective at supplementing eyebrow growth, too. As a result, it's been reported that one package of Latisse is sold every 30 seconds.
It makes sense, considering how much emphasis women put on their lashes, says Ivy Boyd, a makeup artist in Des Moines, IA. "I find that every client, regardless of how much or how little makeup they wear, still seem to wear mascara and lament to me about how they wish they had longer lashes," she says. To the tune of Americans spending $1.1 billion each year on mascara alone—not to mention the fact that lash extensions have become as normal as a bikini wax for many women over the last few years.
After hearing that Dr. Swartz herself swears by and used the product, I felt safe investing in it as well. Whether or not it would be worth the $180 price tag for a 5-milliliter bottle...TBD.
My Experience with Latisse
I took the bottle home, washed my face, peeled open an applicator (this resembles a Q-tip with a thin brush on one end), and applied a drop to my upper right lid, per the package instructions. I repeated this strategy each night after my shower and before bed, and would eagerly flip on the bathroom light the next morning, expecting lash sprouts. Two weeks? Nothing. Four weeks? Nada.
Was I wasting my time and money? Well, maybe. "I have personally seen improvement in both my lashes and brows by applying $15 organic castor oil on them at night," Boyd says. She suggests giving it a try before pricier alternatives, and if anything, it will strengthen and nourish what you have," she adds. She also suggests some other cheaper, non-prescription options that clients swear by. Some options include Rodan + Fields Lash Boost ($150, rodanandfields.com), GrandeLashMD ($65, sephora.com), and RevitaLash ($98, dermstore.com).
I was now face-palming for not trying castor oil first (at one-twelfth the price!), but Swartz inspired me to stick with the Latisse. "Eyelashes grow from hair follicles in our eyelids. Just like the follicles on our head, eyelash hair follicles go through cycles of growth and rest. "At any one time, approximately 90 percent of your 100 to 200 eyelash follicles per eyelid are in the growth phase," she explains. "Latisse works by lengthening the time the follicle stays in the growth phase, so the lashes grow longer and thicker. In addition, there are more follicles in the growth phase at the same time, so you have more lashes growing."
Perhaps my follicles were just hibernating for a spell after the liner trauma? To find out, my science nerd-self fell down a rabbit hole of research, which taught me that it may take up to 12 to 16 weeks for noticeable results. (I also stumbled upon a handful of scary-sounding side effects, which include darkening of eyelids around the application site that eventually fades—gulp, yep—and in rare cases, permanent eye color change—eeks, not yet and hopefully not ever!).
Slightly freaked out but undeterred, I forged ahead with nightly use. About four months after starting, I finally saw more than baby sprouts. Now, five months post–T Day (toilet day), my lashes are back and better than ever. I only used Latisse on my right, semi-bald eye to save cash, and now can spot a noticeable difference between my two eyes. In fact, my right eyelashes are so long they sometimes stick together! And even without any mascara application, friends have been lauding my lashes. Since I stopped using Latisse 10 days ago, my eyelid color is fading back to normal, too.
Would I bankroll a round of Latisse if I could do it all over? Perhaps, for the almost-guaranteed results. But I'd probably try Boyd's organic option first—especially if I was just seeking longer and stronger lashes rather than brand-new sprouts.