KIM Ballesty was recovering from cancer treatment last year when she heard about a serum that could help her eyelashes regrow quickly.

“I just finished a round of chemo and radiation and I was given LiLash (a popular eyelash growth serum) as a gift to try and help everything regrow,” Ms Ballesty, from Sydney, told news.com.au.

“You try to do anything to make yourself feel back to normal and prettier again.”

LiLash, like most eyelash growth serums, is supposed to be applied once a day to the eyelids, along the upper lash line.

The brand claims it takes three months of consistent daily use to see results. One 2ml tube or “three month supply” costs $108.

Online reviews are mixed. The internet is littered with horror stories about irritated, red eye infections contracted after using LiLash.

But for every negative comment there is a ringing endorsement from a woman thrilled with her new long, thick lashes.

Ms Ballesty stopped using LiLash after the recommended three month period because her eyes became red and irritated.

“I looked like I conjunctivitis. I had big dark circles under my eyes. It looked like I had been crying. My husband would come home and say ‘What’s wrong, have you been crying?’ I had big red puffy eyes that were often stuck together in the morning if I used the serum the night before,” she said.

Four days after Ms Ballesty stopped using LiLash, her eyes returned to normal. “It all cleared up and I never touched it again,” she said.

Sarah Antolik noticed her eyes became red and swollen after using a different eyelash serum, EyEnvy, for just two days. EyEnvy is only available through professional salons.

“I persevered, thinking, ‘No pain, no gain’, and while the swelling went down after a week my eyes remained red and were constantly itchy. It was like you’d been in a swimming pool with too much chlorine” Ms Antolik said.

“I felt like I had hay fever in the middle of winter. It was only after I developed permanent black rings under my eyes that I became so alarmed that I consulted my doctor who said I should stop using it immediately.

“These weren’t bags like you get with normal sleep deprivation, it was like I had smudged mascara under my eyes.”

When contacted by news.com.au, EyEnvy’s co-founder Jennifer Sandy said the brand takes reports of infections “seriously”.

LiLash is sold online and until recently was available in many beauty salons around the country.

In May, the Department of Health stepped in and banned the product from being sold in salons.

An email sent to the “LiLash Pro Community” and obtained by news.com.au informs stockists that some of the ingredients in LiLash require a prescription.

“Dear LiLash Pro Community. We have been in communication with the Department of Health in Australia, and I am crushed to inform you that we will no longer be shipping LiLash and LiBrow to our salons/spas in Australia,” read the email from LiLash head office.

“While there is nothing harmful in our products, Australia’s categorisation of some of our ingredients requires a prescription. Please remove all LiLash and LiBrow (eyebrow growth serum) from your shelves,” the email said.

“The Health Department in Western Australia has visited a few accounts and has removed product from some salons. Rest assured, I have not provided them a list of accounts or any information regarding who is stocking our products.

“At this time, I don’t know how they determine who they contact and when. Other territories will follow eventually, so I am notifying all Australian accounts.”

THE INGREDIENT CAUSING ALL THIS FUSS

Australian Society of Ophthalmologists president Dr Peter Sumich said the growth hormone in eyelash serums was commonly found in many prescription eye products.

“Prostaglandin is the growth hormone used to treat glaucoma (a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve). It lowers the eye pressure,” Dr Sumich told news.com.au.

“I have patients who have been put on prostaglandin and their lashes start to grow just from using the eye drops. It definitely causes the lashes to grow longer, thicker, darker and curl upwards.

“I’ve seen patients with long curly lashes start to curl back on themselves. They end up having to trim them because they get so long,” Dr Sumich said.

“One of my patients was a beautician and she said ‘I want the drops that make your eyelashes grow’, because one of her clients at her salon had glaucoma and all of a sudden she had incredibly long lashes.”

While prostaglandin is definitely an effective ingredient, Dr Sumich said it should only be prescribed by a medical professional.

“I wouldn’t advise (people use eyelash serums). I understand why they do it, but we have strict regulations in this country and with good reason,” he said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) told news.com.au products containing prostaglandin should only be obtained with a prescription. It classifies prostaglandin as a Schedule 4 substance under the Poisons Standard.

“Cosmetic products containing ingredients that are listed in the Poisons Standard need to comply with concentration, labelling restrictions and other requirements as set out the relevant schedule of the Poisons Standard,” a TGA spokeswoman said.

A Department of Health spokesman said salons who stock products containing prostaglandin are breaking the law.

“Beauty salons storing LiLash eye serum are considered to possess an unapproved Schedule 4 medicine without the requisite State/Territory permits/authorisations,” he said.

WHAT THE BRANDS SAY

LiLash CEO Scott Wasserman said his company “did not realise” that prostaglandin was a prescription-only ingredient in Australia. In the US, where Mr Wasserman and LiLash are based, there are no restrictions on prostaglandin.

“We were notified by the TGA that the ingredient could not be sold and we complied right away. For all the years we have been selling in Australia we have not had any complaints,” he said.

“Our product in its present form has been on the market for 11 years and we’ve not had any reports of untowards effects. These are very safe ingredients. When you put anything around the eyes you’re going to be prone to a greater degree of sensitivity or irritation.”

Jennifer Sandy said EyEnvy’s serum does not contain prostaglandin and that it wasn’t uncommon for makeup and skincare products to cause eye reactions.

She also confirmed that EyEnvy has not been banned in Australia.

“With skincare and makeup, you can put an eyeshadow or mascara on your eyes and have a reaction. We have an under one per cent rate of adverse reactions,” Ms Sandy said. “We’re not going to pretend it doesn’t happen to us, but most of our customers won’t have a reaction.”

She advised customers who experience infections to consult their doctor.

THE BUSINESS OF BIG LASHES

In the same way Cara Delevigne made natural, fluffy brows trendy, the Kardashian sisters and their long, luscious lashes have created a new beauty ideal.

The rise of lash lifts, lash extensions and lash serums show many women are desperate for big lashes.

Sydney mates Belinda Robinson and Felecia Tappenden saw an opportunity in the market and decided to launch their own product. They both experienced adverse reactions after using various eyelash serums.

Ms Robinson and Ms Tappenden wanted to create an eyelash serum that worked without the side-effects, and launched Long Lashes last year.

Their product retails for $89 and is available online as well as in 50 salons around the country.

“My husband used to always think that I’d been crying because my eyes were red and they were stinging. Felecia jokingly suggested we should create our own one. We thought surely we can make one that works better,” Ms Robinson said.

“She researched every eyelash serum and googled every ingredient to find out what it did and she said ‘I know why it was causing our eyes to be red’.”

Last October, the pair raised $20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to help fund their first manufacturing run. The first product was shipped in November and by January they were making a profit.

“We will turn over $500,000 within the first year,” Ms Robinson said. “We are vegan and a lot of people like that. We’re not organic and we’re not 100 per cent natural, but it’s about having a safe product and people not have adverse reactions.”

Do you know more? Email rebecca.sullivan@news.com.au



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