Brooke Shields beams into the camera, her sea-green eyes framed by long, dark lashes, doing the cha-cha and helping a friend blow out birthday candles. In the ubiquitous commercials for the lash-growing product Latisse, the actress and model is saying what everyone wants to hear: have long, fluttering lashes, and your life can be gorgeous too.
It's a premise that seems to be taking hold. In an otherwise lackluster beauty industry -- according to research company the NPD Group, retail sales of U.S. prestige beauty products were down 7% in the first half of this year -- lash enhancers are all the rage.
Allergan began marketing Latisse, the first FDA-approved lash-growing product, which is available by prescription only. Even before Shields' television and print campaign started in May, sales of Latisse were skyrocketing. The product grossed $25.4 million in sales in the first half of this year, and the company says it anticipates doing $60 million in total by year's end.
"Eventually, we estimate global peak sales of Latisse could exceed $500 million per year," a spokeswoman said.
Since Latisse launched, it has been joined by some competitors, including Dr. Simon Ourian's Epione Lash RX, which came out at the end of August and sold 1,000 units in its first couple of weeks. Lamas Beauty's overnight lash serum will bow toward the end of the year. Even lash products that have been around awhile are being reformulated with additional ingredients to boost growth: Jane Iredale's Pure Lash Extender & Conditioner was relaunched last year, while DermaQuest's year-old DermaLash now comes in four colors so it can be worn during the day, doubling as an eyeliner.
For the most part, the products are billed similarly. Contained in slender, mascara-like tubes and applied like an eyeliner, the formulas are designed to be brushed close to the upper and lower lashes before bedtime. Within a few weeks, say both makers and those who have used them, lashes appear thicker and longer. Stop using the product, and lashes revert to where they were before. Unlike Latisse, most of the products are sold over the counter, and are priced from $16 to $160, depending on the brand, the ingredients and how many applications are supplied.
As can be the case with anything that is used close to the eye, there have been some instances of sensitivity and allergic reactions -- and Latisse warns that its formula can cause permanent increased brown pigmentation in the eye. But long lashes never go out of style, so the products remain popular because they are more affordable and convenient than in-salon lash extensions, which can cost up to $300 and last just a few months. The products can be used on brows as well.
Many of the products are selling well at beauty boutiques and department stores. NeuLash was picked up in early August by select Neiman Marcus stores around the country, including those in Beverly Hills and at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, and it is also available at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Lash enhancement is "a big category and it keeps on growing as new technology is created," said Shawn Tavakoli, chief executive of the Beauty Collection boutiques. Tavakoli added that Revitalash and French brand Talika are among his top sellers. "Lash growth products have been a bright spot because of the new technology, and consumers are looking for innovative products in general."
For several years, doctors have been aware of certain ingredients that help grow lashes. Glaucoma patients who were being treated with special eyedrops containing prostaglandin found that a surprising and positive side effect of the treatment was that their lashes grew; prostaglandin is known to stimulate hair follicles.
"It wasn't a very jealously guarded secret," said Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon Simon Ourian, who estimates the lash-enhancement product category to be worth about a billion dollars annually. "I'd have patients come in here who had lost all their lashes and brows in chemotherapy, which was such a shock for them," Ourian said. He knew that prostaglandin could help stimulate regrowth, but says that pantry items like garlic have also shown similar effect by helping stimulate hair follicles.
"But most people will not want you to get close enough to notice the improvement," he said of the garlic treatment.
Still, dermatologists warn about potential sensitivity. Jessica Wu, a dermatologist in private practice and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC, says that though she is asked constantly by her patients to recommend something to help grow lashes, she is cautious.
"If you're going to be using anything around your eyes that could get into them, you have to be very careful -- especially if it's a product [that's] supposed to grow lashes," she said. "People have underlying conditions, so you need to talk to an ophthalmologist before starting treatment. I have patients come in here after trying something they bought over the counter at a beauty supply store and their eyes have swollen shut."