Are lash lifts or eyelash perms safe?

YouTube DIY videos and advertisements promise beautiful results in under an hour and often for less than $20

Emma Jones 5 minute read May 10, 2021
lash lifts

Should you perm your eyelashes? Getty

With much of the country in lock down, beauty DIYers are getting good at their craft. However, one try-it-yourself beauty trend might not be worth the risk: lash lifts.

Also known as lash perms, lash lift kits are similar to a perm for the eyelashes, in that the bonds between the hair molecules are broken down with a specific chemical compound, then reformed around a mould placed on the eyelid. The result is perfectly curled lashes, all day, every day, until the lashes fall out naturally.

YouTube DIY videos and advertisements promise beautiful results in under an hour and often for less than $20. However, kits that promise to permanently alter the shape of the hair can contain dangerous ingredients and carry risk of burns on both the skin and the surface of the eye.

“The stuff that is in perming solution is not recommended to be anywhere near your eye at all,” says Dr. Shanine Lafreniere, an optometrist and member of the Alberta Association of Optometrists. “…We think a lot about pH when it comes to chemical burns and if it’s a basic pH, those are very serious. They’re going to penetrate into your eyes super easily and they just keep burning.”

Lafreniere warns that when it comes to over the counter niche cosmetics, especially those ordered online, there aren’t many regulations – meaning consumers are at risk. Even if a kit includes an ingredient list, depending on where it is being shipped from there is no guarantee that is what is in the solution.

Lash lift kits bought online may also contain ingredients that are now banned for cosmetic use in Canada, warns Lauren Spencer, the owner of Lashforever Canada. These chemicals, like sodium bromate, can cause problems even if you are careful that they don’t reach your eye.

“The problem with the DIY [kits] that you see is the chemical fumes are still reaching into the eyes and can cause very strong irritation,” says Spencer. “[If] you’re not doing it properly, you can [also] burn all your lashes off, which I have seen before.”

Professional kits will contain ingredients that are safer to be used around the eye, she explains. A reputable professional will also ensure that the top and bottom eyelids are adequately protected before starting and ensure the solution never touches the skin during application.

“It’s kind of discouraging, because you can really sell anything on Amazon,” Spencer explains “For Canadian brands…we go to the extent to make sure all the manufacturing labels are done properly, you have the batch numbers, you know where it’s made and it follows all the proper ingredients and their guidelines.”

If a consumer does choose to go with this treatment, they should be aware that there is always risk, including an allergic reaction to the adhesive placed on the eye pad. Before you go, it’s a good idea to talk to the service provider ahead of time to ensure they follow Health Canada guidelines for salons, are aware of what is in the lift solution they are using and carry the proper insurance.

Regardless of the safety precautions taken, however, Lafreniere doesn’t believe that putting any chemicals close to the eye is worth the risk.

“If this is something you’re really dedicated to doing, go the professional route,” she says. “But in all honesty, I think across the board, optometrists are going to tell you it’s just a bad idea. The consequences are very serious.”

Why do we have eyelashes?

Eyelashes are more than just a decorative feature and are fine-tuned to play several very important roles in protecting our eyes, including acting as a defence against airborne particles, as mechanical sensors so we can tell if something is pressing against our eye before it touches, as well as a rudimentary sunshade.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of the Royal Society also showed that the eyelashes of many mammals function as sort of an aerodynamic defence against airflow. To function eyes must stay moist, and so constantly encountering light breezes poses a major risk to drying out the eyes. Straight, medium length eyelashes, however, function to redirect airflow around the eye so it is not buffeted by lighter breezes. This means we don’t have to blink as often as we would if our eyes were exposed directly to the air and also has the added benefit or re-directing any airborne particles away from the delicate surface of the eye.

To get at this information, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology measured the eyelashes of 22 different mammals, ranging in size from an opossum to a giraffe. Regardless of the size of the animal (or their eyeballs), eyelash length hovered at about one third the length of the eye. They then put a model of an eye in a wind tunnel to stimulate the gentle breeze that mammals feel when walking at an average pace and found that medium-length eyelashes do better at protecting the eye from airflow. Interestingly, both very long lashes and short lashes seemed to be worse at directing airflow away form the eye, indicating that eyelashes hovering at about a third of the length of the eye seem to be an “optimal” length.


Anatomy aside, Lafreniere realizes that some consumers may be tempted to try lash lifts and other beauty treatments at home. If ever there is an issue, she recommends that you immediately flush the eye with cool water and call your optometrist or local emergency number. When coming for your emergency appointment, Lafreniere also recommends you grab whatever it was that caused the burning sensation so the optometrist can evaluate how to neutralize the chemical.

“I’ve had some emergencies come in where they’re like, ‘I’m so dumb. I did this at home,’” she says. “It’s okay. I’m here to help you. Just grab your perming kit, flush and phone and get yourself to our office.”


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