Popular eyelash treatments linked to rise in eye infections and emergency procedures

Experts are warning that eyelash treatments are causing a surge in emergency eyelid procedures and serious infections. One of the most commonly reported problems is a condition known as blepharitis; a chronic inflammatory disorder of the eyelids that arises due to bacterial overgrowth on the eyelashes, explains Consultant Ophthalmic and Oculoplastic Surgeon Elizabeth Hawkes in a recent article.

Woman having eyelash extension procedure carried out.Aliaksandr Barouski | Shutterstock

Eyelash treatments are very popular in Britain

Research carried out by Huda Beauty demonstrated just how committed British women are to ensuring they enhance the appearance of their eyelashes. It revealed that as many as one in six women would prefer to give up chocolate or dating apps than give up their false eyelashes.

However, it seems that the glues, chemicals and dyes used to extent, tint or even perm the lashes soon begin to take their toll on eye health.

Eyelashes are there to protect the eyes

Hawkes suggests that women remember that eyelashes are there to protect the eyes from exposure to dust and chemicals and that a build-up of bacteria and debris on the eyelids can lead to "irreversible eyelash loss." The red swelling that often affects the eyelid could even require an emergency procedure.

Eyelids are the guards of your vision and are lined with eyelashes which protect against dust and chemicals entering. With all of the eyelash enhancing treatments, it is very important to take good care of the eyelids to protect against this damage.”

Elizabeth Hawkes, Consultant Ophthalmic and Oculoplastic Surgeon

What is causing the damage?

The answer is quite simple. It basically comes down to a lack of care and hygiene when taking care of the eyelids while they are at increased risk for infection.

Eyelashes play a crucial role in the aesthetic appearance of the eyes and have a life cycle of approximately 4 months, but chronic build-up of biofilm and debris on the eyelashes and eyelids can also cause irreversible eyelash loss."

Elizabeth Hawkes, Consultant Ophthalmic and Oculoplastic Surgeon

Keeping on top of removing the biofilm and debris is the only way to prevent infection. One medical device called BlephEx, which removes biofilm from the eyelashes and eyelids, can be used twice a year to help people keep their lashes clean.

Maintaining good eyelid and lash hygiene

People who suspect they have developed blepharitis will need to seek help from a professional who can recommend treatment. However, to minimize the risk of any further infections, it is essential to maintain general lid and lash hygiene.

Hawkes recommends using a cotton pad to gently remove any eye make-up. Contact lenses should be taken out first and the pad should be placed over a closed eye so that the cleaning product has time to soak into the eyelashes. Hawkes also advised against rubbing the eyes repeatedly since this can harm the cornea and potentially damage the structure of the eye.

More detail about the recommendations is given below:

Remove eye make-up before going to sleep

Hawkes says she is frequently asked how eye make-up should be removed and  which products it is best to use. Her advice is that it is not necessarily about which specific cleansing product you use, but more about the technique used.

For the upper lid, she recommends that the gentle pressing of the cotton pad over the closed eye is repeated two to three times, depending on how much make-up there is to remove.  

For the lower lid, she recommends placing the pad on the under eye whilst looking up. “Be mindful that our eyelid skin is the most delicate skin on the face, so a gentle approach is key,” she says.

Failing to clean the eyelids properly can cause chalazions (styes) to develop. “Management involves hot compresses and massage four times a day, but persistent ones often need surgical removal,” says Hawkes.

Avoid rubbing the eyes

Rubbing the eyes can affect the cornea and eyelids and doing so repeatedly can even cause irreversible structural changes to the eyes, such as eyelid laxity. This can lead to various  problems, including excessive periocular lines, where the eyelid turns inwards or outwards. This can accelerate the ageing appearance of the eye region, warns Hawkes.

Remove contact lenses before cleansing

Contact lenses should be taken out before cleansing the eye. “Whilst most of the eye makeup remover products state they are safe with contact lenses, I always recommend removing your lenses first.”

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.


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