everything guide

A Guide to Eyelash Extensions

Photo: Giulio Fornasar/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Eyelashes have the impressive ability to transform your face. The Everything Guide to Eyelashes is a week of stories on the Cut about lashes, from all the mascaras we’ve obsessively tested to our personal feelings about why eyelashes matter.

So you weren’t born with gorgeously lush lashes, or you can never get the falsies thing right no matter how hard you practice? Welcome to the club. A more permanent shortcut to amazing lashes, eyelash extensions have gained in popularity over the years.

They can last for weeks at a time (some places claim they can make them last over a month), and when you’re someone, like me, who tries out every makeup trick in the book to make her eyes appear larger, they can be a godsend. Instead of elaborate cat-eye liner tricks or smoky eye shadow to brighten my eyes, the extensions virtually do all that for me. They also don’t feel heavy against your eyes like falsies or look clumpy, as with dozens of coats of mascara.

You maybe be wondering: Can they really make a difference? Are they really worth the money? The short answer is yes. But as amazing as extensions can be, there’s a few things to watch out for whether you’re a vet or dipping your toe into the world of extensions for the first time. We spoke with celebrity lash artist and founder of Envious Lashes Clementina Richardson to discuss the ins and outs of the process.

Things to Know Before Your Appointment

They’re an expensive habit. Before joining the cult of eyelash extensions, I too was dubious about spending almost a hundred dollars a month on such a habit. Even when I tried to be more money-conscious and learn how to expertly apply false lashes without failing miserably, the convenience of waking up with instantly beautiful extensions was enough for me to bite the financial bullet.

There’s really no way to sugarcoat it, eyelash extensions can be costly, especially if you plan to do upkeep on a regular basis. Past the initial full set, extensions require visits to your lash technician on an at least biweekly basis. Going into debt over eyelashes is never a good idea, so if you intend on getting them refilled, set aside extra out of your paycheck as a monthly expense.
Be choosy about where you go. Although the risk of a bacterial or fungal infection is minimal, they are still very real factors that can affect where you go.
Read the reviews. The demand for eyelash extensions has reached a fever pitch; now you can walk into just about any nail or hair salon and walk out with a full set of lashes. Needless to say, not all of them do a great job, which is why sites like Yelp can be good resources if you’re starting from scratch. While reviews can be useful to narrow down your search, keep in mind that lashes are, as Richardson says, “not one size fits all,” so don’t put too much stock into another person’s experience.
Look for deals. When I decided that I wanted eyelash extensions, Groupon was the first place I looked. If you’re visiting a new place for extensions, plenty of discounts exist for first-time customers, even at fancier or more expensive spots. But never go to a place just because they’re cheap. From sloppy application to unsanitary tools, there are things you don’t want to compromise on, because, as Richardson says, “Lash extensions are a lot easier to mess up than they are to get right.”

So You Booked Your Appointment, Now What?

Know what you want. Natural, cat-eye, wispy: believe it or not, there are TONS of ways to apply extensions. Do you have smaller eyes and want them to appear larger? Or maybe you have deep-set eyes and want them to be more prominent? Most salons offer at least three curl patterns: J curl (a straight lash), D curl ( a completely curved lash) or C curl (which is the Goldilocks of D and J curl).

More specialized lash salons tend to have even more curl patterns to choose from. You can also customize thickness and length, which usually ranges between 7 mm (for a very subtle) to 15 mm (think spider lashes you can see from a profile). If you have no idea what you need, a consultation might come in handy. When in doubt, a good old picture on your phone is always the easiest way to communicate what you want.
Come with a bare face (or at the minimum, no eye makeup). Which means no eye shadow, eye liner, and ESPECIALLY no mascara. Richardson emphasizes that her clients particularly don’t wear any oil-based eye makeup, as it prevents the extensions from adhering as strongly.
You may have to plan your activities strategically. You can’t get your extensions wet for 24–48 hours, so if you’re intent on getting in an workout or have a trip to the beach, plan it before or take a rain check.

And Now You’re at the Salon

A good lash technician is like a “stylist.” Whereas most technicians will have you choose between a standard set of options like curl, length, and material, during my appointment with Richardson, she analyzed my eye shape for a good few minutes before deciding which style would best address my concern about narrow eyes. “Everyone has a different face shape and bone structure, so it’s important for women to understand that lash extensions are an enhancement of your own natural lashes,” she said. For a full set of extensions Richardson uses between three and five lengths, two different curvatures, and a range of 80 to 130 lashes depending on the client’s requested effect.
Not all lashes are created equal. This is where the thickness of your natural lashes really comes into play. When I asked Richardson for a dramatic cat-eye look, she only agreed after taking a long hard look at my natural lashes. “You have nice, dense lashes!” she told me. In the end I had fluttering 13 mm seductive lash extensions, but it was only after she concluded that my natural lashes could take the weight.

Too heavy of an extension applied on thin lashes can lead to premature shedding and breakage of the natural lash. Don’t have naturally thick lashes? That doesn’t mean you’re doomed. Lash conditioners when applied consistently for a few weeks leading up to your appointment can help strengthen them.

Don’t fall into the mink vs. synthetic trap. Salons like to exploit the debate of mink versus synthetic lashes and for good reason: It allows them to charge more premium prices for lash materials dubbed “mink.” But as Richardson told me, most lashes marketed as mink aren’t genuine. True mink lashes are thinner and wispier, which means they’re not necessarily ideal for that jet-black mascara look. Unless you want a barely-there look, save yourself the money and go with synthetic extensions.
Application is key. There’s a reason eyelash extensions experts can cost up to hundreds of dollars. From my own experience: The lashes applied by Clementina lasted a robust three-plus weeks, while my similar experience at a Koreatown shop left me with sad, falling lashes after a week. Application plays a key role in whether your lashes stick or fall off like leaves. A good application will have the extensions attached firmly to the base of the natural lash with the smallest amount of glue. Too much glue will leave your eyes looking clumpy.

How to Care for Them

Don’t get them wet for the first day or two. This point was already addressed, but it’s so crucial, its worth mentioning twice. Yes, that includes sweat. If you’re a person who likes to work out, schedule your appointment after your sweat session or during a rest day. The same goes for plans that include the beach or the pool.
Brush them consistently. Following your appointment your technician will probably give you a spoolie to brush them every few days. This will keep from clumping, should they become twisted or bend, and keep them looking neat.
Facial wipes are your friend. Washing your face becomes a little bit more precarious now. You don’t have to keep your lashes entirely dry during your wash routine (which is nearly impossible!), but to extend the life of your extensions it’s good rule of thumb. I usually follow up my regular cleanse with a face wipe to thoroughly and gently remove the makeup around my eyes without being too harsh and exposing them to excessive amounts of water. A Q-tip dipped in micellar water can also do the trick! Oil-based skin products should be avoided around your lashes, as they can break down the bonds of the glue.
Never, EVER tug at your extensions. That can also lead to damaging your natural lashes. A few more things to remember: “Never EVER use a mechanical eyelash curler,” says Richardson, and opt for a silk or satin pillowcase which will provide more slip, and won’t dry out or snag your extensions.

Everything You Need to Know About Eyelash Extensions