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The beauty industry has seen it all when it comes to lashes—magnifying mascaras, “miracle” growth serums, heated curlers—you name it. But no trend is quite as polarizing as eyelash extensions. When extensions first hit the mainstream market, it seemed like a relatively painless way to achieve wispy, fluttering lashes without the inconvenience of falsies or mascara. But as with any new beauty service, lash extensions quickly revealed their drawbacks. For starters, some states haven’t placed regulations on the service, consequently leading to cases of irritation, infection, and damaged natural lashes due to poor hygiene and technique.1 The process is also fairly expensive, setting you back hundreds of dollars and hours of your personal time.

But is it worth it to wake up with a flawless set of semi-permanent lashes every day?

What Are Lash Extensions?

Eyelash extensions are semi-permanent fibers that are attached to your natural eyelashes in order to make your lash fringe look longer, fuller, and darker. Individual lash extensions are applied to each of your individual natural eyelashes (one extension per natural eyelash) using a semi-permanent glue. The material varies from studio to studio, but lash extensions can be made of synthetic, mink, faux mink eyelashes, or silk fibers. Most studios offer a variety of extension lengths, curl patterns, and tints so clients can customize their look.

Types of Eyelash Extensions

Lash artists use three different kinds of eyelash extension materials: mink, silk, and synthetic. Some studios also carry "faux mink eyelashes" extensions, which are technically just synthetic extensions that mimic mink extensions. Most lash studios have their preference for the type of lash extension they use and won't always ask you if you have a preference. So if you're vegan or allergic to cats, be sure to specifically request that mink eyelash extensions are not used on you. No lash extension type lasts longer than the other, but mink and silk flat eyelashes tend to have a more natural look, while synthetic lashes can be thicker and darker, which is better suited for those who want a bolder look.

Within these three categories (mink, silk, and 3D synthetic eyelashes), there are varying degrees of length and curl to choose from. Typically your lash artist will use multiple lengths and curl strengths to create a wide-eyed effect, with longer lashes being placed towards the outer corners of the eyes and shorter lashes placed on the inner corners.

What’s the Application Process Like?

“[Lash extensions] are carefully applied one at a time (typically 80-140 per eye) using a specially-formulated, semi-permanent glue that will not irritate or damage the natural lash,” says Richardson. “The lash is only applied to an existing lash, not to the skin.” While the exact process varies from salon to salon, here’s what you can expect:

Evaluation: “Prior to application, the technician should go through all the risks and benefits of having eyelash extensions before applying them, and also ask about any conditions you may have that would make eyelash extensions unsuitable for you,” says Richardson. They'll also ask you to remove your contacts if you wear them.

Decide on Extension Length and Curl Strength: Your lash artist should start the process by asking you what kind of look you’re going for, whether that be more glamorous or more natural. Based on your desired look, you’ll choose an ideal length and curl strength for the extensions. Keep in mind that your artist may decide to use up to 3-4 different extension lengths, concentrating longer extensions on the outer corners and shorter extensions on the inner eyes.

Cleansing the Eye Area: Your lash artist will have you lie down and ensure that you are in a comfortable position. Then, they will cleanse the area to remove any makeup, oil, and germs from the area. It’s helpful to your artist if you arrive makeup-free to your appointment.

Applying the Tape and Eye Gels: Your eyes are closed for the duration of the process, which typically takes 1-2 hours, depending on the number of extensions your lash artist is applying. To prep for the actual application, you lash artist will apply an under-eye gel to your lower lash line to keep your lower lashes out of the way and provide a contrasted background to work against (it’s easier to see your lashes against a crisp white background). Then, the eye gels will be secured with medical-grade tape on both sides of the eye (this tape doesn’t touch your lashes, and it doesn’t hurt once it’s removed later).

Application: Using tweezers, your lash artist will dip the end of each extension in the lash glue and then apply it to your individual circular eyelashes. In most cases, one eyelash extension is applied per natural lash, however, more voluminous looks can require multiple extensions per individual natural lash. The application isn’t painful, although you may feel anxious having tweezers operate so close to your eyes while they’re closed.

Drying: The lash glue dries very quickly, but your lash artist will likely have you sit for around 10 minutes once all of the extensions have been applied. Some lash artists like to point a small, handheld fan at your extensions to speed up the drying time, while others prefer to let the glue air dry. During this stage, your eyes are still closed.

Potential Damage to Natural Lashes: Even if you see the best lash artist and execute your aftercare perfectly, it’s still very possible that you’ll see damage to your natural human hair eyelashes. As your natural lashes grow, your extensions get farther and farther from the root of the lash. This makes it harder for your natural lashes to support the weight of the extension, which can cause breakage. Rubbing or itching your lashes in your sleep (either with your hands or against your pillow) can also cause damage to natural lashes. 3

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