Everyone wants a thick fringe of Twiggy-esque eyelashes. For decades, people have been using mascara and falsies to enhance their natural lashes. But in recent years, a new product has emerged on the scene — eyelash enhancing serums. For those of us not blessed with movie star lashes, eyelash enhancing serums promise to deliver long, thick lashes. Whether you are looking to give your stubby, spindly lashes a boost, or are hoping to lessen your mascara dependency, an eyelash cleanser can seem highly appealing. But before you rush out to the beauty counter, here is what you need to know about these products

What Is Eyelash Extending Serum?

There are a wide variety of lash serums on the market, which make different claims and have different active ingredients.

Most lash serums are simply lash conditioners which help prevent lashes from breaking and falling out, resulting in fuller looking lashes. Moisture is key to healthy lashes, and our beloved mascaras tend to dry them out, causing breakage that results in shorter, sparser looking eyelashes. Eyelash serums replenish and condition lashes to improve their health and appearance. These serums are usually enriched with antioxidants and peptides like apple stem extract, biotin, and castor oil. Over the counter eyelash serums may improve eyelash health and make eyelashes appear fuller, but they will not actually increase eyelash growth.

Eyelashes are tiny hairs, and like hairs, are 90% protein. Many lash serums are packed with amino acids or peptides (a chain of amino acids), which are the building blocks of protein. Amino acids and peptides nourish lashes and repair damages.

Collagen also frequently pops up in serum ingredient lists. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and has been one of the hottest ingredients in skin and hair care in recent years. Collagen helps repair damaged strands and plumps skin, and can be used on eyelashes to strengthen and nourish them.

The only FDA approved lash serum that actually stimulates lash growth is Latisse. It requires a doctor’s prescription and uses bimatoprost as the active ingredient, which is traditionally used to treat glaucoma. Bimatoprost is a prostaglandin analogue that interferes with eyelash growth, which prolongs the eyelash growth cycle, resulting in longer and thicker lashes. The Latisse serum should be applied daily for six months, and twice per week afterwards.

Studies show that people using Latisse report having 25% longer lashes, 18% darker lashes and 106% fuller lashes after six months of regular usage.

Most over the counter eyelash foaming cleansers or wipes should be applied twice daily to clean eyelashes. The majority of the products come in a tube with an eyelash wand for easy application. Users will begin seeing results after 2 or 3 weeks.

Although lash serum has been proven to improve lash appearance, it will only enhance your natural lashes. Serums will not transform a sparse lash line into falsie style lashes, so be realistic with your expectations.

What Are the Risks?

Though all FDA approved products have been deemed safe for consumer use, there are risks associated with any type of treatment used near the sensitive eye area. The eyes are an extraordinarily delicate organ, and the skin surrounding them is exceptionally sensitive to chemicals and other products.

Eyelash serums, applied topically, have been deemed safe across the board, but some users may experiencesensitivities and adverse reactions to them. Potential reactions include itchy red eyes, the darkening of the eyelid skin, unwanted hair growth in areas the product touches, and reduced eye pressure. In rare cases, eyelash serum has been shown to permanently increase pigmentation of the irises, and can irreversibly turn light colored eyes brown. To avoid negative reactions, wipe away excess product from the skin after application so that the serum only touches your lashes.

Typically, 4% of users will experience adverse reactions.

If you have an adverse reaction to an eyelash serum, stop using it immediately. Most symptoms should fade away within a few weeks of ceasing usage. Eyelash serums have been known to exacerbate symptoms of dry eye and blepharitis, an inflammatory condition of the conjunctival area. If you suffer from either of these conditions, avoid these products.

Before using any new product, especially one so close to your eye, do a test patch. Apply the product to a small area of your skin such as your inner elbow and wait one or two days. If you break out into a rash or experience other sensitivities, do not proceed with the product.

On the whole, eyelash cleansers are a safe product that will help emphasize your natural lashes. Whether you choose a prescription serum that stimulates hair growth, or one of the peptide infused eyelash conditioners available in drugstores, eyelash serums may help give you the thick, healthy lashes you have always dreamed of. As always when using products close to your eyes, proceed with caution, and be on the lookout for any negative side effects that could harm your eyes.