Eyelashes looking a little sad or stubby? Staring enviously at every baby you see (How, baby? What are you doing with all those long lashes?!) Welcome to the club of, uh, basically everyone. If you've already tried all of the lengthening mascaras, eyelash extensions, and lash lifts, you may be ready to get to the literal root of the problem and figure out how to actually grow your eyelashes, not just fake them.
But before messaging that old high school friend on Facebook to buy whatever lash serum they're selling, you need to consider a few very important factors, first (we are talking about your precious eyes, after all). Below, Ilyse Haberman, assistant professor of ophthalmology at NYU-Lagone, shares all of her expert knowledge for growing your eyelashes both quickly and safely—so you can finally stop hatin' on babies.
How long does it take to grow your eyelashes?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to get extra-long eyelashes, let's revisit the basics that you probably never even learned. The growth cycle of your eyelashes consists of three phases: catagen (dormant stage), telogen (shedding stage), and anagen (the growth phase). So, realistically, your lashes spend most of their time chillin' and falling out, not actually growing, which is why results aren't instantaneous.
In fact, Dr. Haberman says it can take three months for your lashes to naturally grow. But, because I know you're impatient and want your eyelashes to grow overnight, you'll be happy to know that there is a way to extend the growing phase.
How can I stimulate my eyelashes to grow?
If you've ever watched TV or opened a magazine, you've likely heard of a product called Latisse—the only FDA-approved eyelash growth serum on the market. It was originally created as eye drops for glaucoma (high eye pressure), when doctors noticed its other benefit: the ability to grow longer, thicker eyelashes.
After a few iterations and ingredient refinements, Latisse was born, using the active ingredient bimatoprost to help grow your existing lashes and stimulate the growth of new hairs in four to six weeks. Pretty cool, huh? The only little hurdle is that it's prescription only, so you gotta go to a derm or doctor to get it.
Which brings us to your next thought: What about the random eyelash serums I see on articles and Instagram? And, ahem, right this way...
Do OTC eyelash growth serums really work?
Not to further complicate a topic that's already complicated enough, but this question is a loaded one. If your friends have been using OTC lash serums and *swear* they've gotten longer, thicker lashes, it's very possible they're using a product that contains an ingredient comparable to bimatoprost.
"There are some non-prescription lash serums that contain similar growth ingredients, like isopropyl cloprostenate, but these aren't FDA-regulated or approved," says Dr. Haberman. So just because you can buy them from your mom's best friend, it doesn't mean these lash serums are totally harmless to try. As with any medication, there are side effects to take into consideration before painting your whole eye with the stuff.
Are lash serums safe?
Yes, no, and possibly. There's good reason (well, actually, reasons plural) why you need a prescription to get your hands on Latisse: It's an actual drug (for glaucoma!), which means an actual doctor needs to make sure it won't interfere with other medications you're taking or have a negative side effect on your eyes.
And you know all those rumors about someone's eye color changing from using an eyelash serum? Yeah, that's a possibility if you're using a formula with growth ingredients. According to Dr. Haberman, if the serum gets inside the eye, those with lighter eyes could notice a change in the color of their irises after repeat exposure. In other words, your baby blues could end up brown if you're not applying the product carefully, thinly, and only to your lash line.
Other risks: A growth serum can also cause discoloration of the skin and/or irritation and puffiness of the lid if it seeps into your eye. Of course, like all side effects, these are a possibility, not a guarantee—some people can use lash serums without any issues, but this is still a good reminder to always read the ingredients list and talk to your doctor, first.
Do lash conditioners or DIY serums work?
A safer alternative to a non-prescription lash-growth serum is an eyelash conditioner. These moisturizing formulas typically contain emollient ingredients, which work to make your existing lashes look and feel healthier. "Lash conditioners may help strengthen lashes, prevent them from breaking, or lightly swell them so they look a little thicker," says Dr. Haberman, but they're not actually causing them to grow longer." Womp.
So all those at-home remedies involving coconut, castor, and olive oils? As far as growing your lashes, don't expect any miracles. At most, you'll see some extra shine and strength.
What should I avoid when growing lashes?
When growing your lashes, you want to avoid anything that can stunt or damage the hairs. So, you know, all the usual things that can damage your lashes, including false lashes, eyelash curlers, and not washing your face.
Whaaa? Yup. False eyelashes might be tempting to play around with while you're waiting for growth, but because they’re so heavy, they could actually cause the lashes to break or even fall out, especially when removing them. Meanwhile, being overly aggressive with an eyelash curler can also damage lashes by causing breakage and mechanical trauma. As for not removing your makeup, some people might develop inflammation around their lashes called blepharitis (yikes), which, if left untreated, can cause lash loss.
So, is it possible to grow eyelashes?
If you avoid false lashes, go easy on the lash curler, remove your eye makeup every night, strengthen your current lashes with a conditioning serum, and see your doctor for a growth serum prescription, then, yes, it's actually possible to grow longer lashes. But you have to be consistent and patient: These treatments take months to work, and once you stop, so does the growth, so it's up to you if all the work is truly worth it.