How Do I Maintain Healthy and Strong Lashes As I Age?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

This column first ran in Valerie Monroe’s newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

I have no idea why it happens. One morning I’ll wake up, look in the mirror, and instead of seeing the familiar face I know and love, I see a strange old dog, who, looking back at me, seems as bewildered as I am. I wonder if the most recent transformation was residue from the Barbie movie; I saw it last week. It’s possible that staring at Margot Robbie’s doll-like face for nearly two hours made an unfortunate impression, which somehow got translated into me resembling a spaniel. I saw Golda not long after Barbie, and I believe it (a) rekindled my love for Helen Mirren and (b) helped me refocus my distorted perception.

But the experience makes me think about context — and how difficult it is to free yourself from the disappointment, yearning, and self-abnegation resulting from idealized notions of beauty when they’re constantly in your face. In the Barbie scene where Robbie, having escaped into real life, turns to an old woman at a bus stop and says, “You’re beautiful,” I wondered at the old woman’s response: “I know!” she declares with aggressive surety. I thought, What is she, a witch? Had that been me, though I might have loved my 80-something-year-old self, I’d be doing a mirror meditation for the rest of the day after that exchange. At least till I’d recovered my equilibrium.

I’m always saying comparison is the death of happiness and it is. But when we’re surrounded by idealized (and manipulated) images everywhere, on mainstream media and social media and in advertising campaigns, it’s human to think, Why don’t I look like that? Should I look like that? Can I? And, It’s too late to even dream of looking like that. It isn’t logical. We know better. But those thoughts, powerful and unsettling, can distract us from what really makes us feel beautiful: looking life right in the face and seeing all its magnificence reflected in our own.

And what do you need for the looking? Only a pair of working eyes, (she said gratefully, after cataract surgery). Below, a couple of experts offer excellent advice about lash serums, mascaras, fake lashes, and why your sclera might be fading. Your sclera? Read on!

Q: Lash serums: Are they safe? Worth the effort?

A: “Some lash serums are more effective than others,” says optometrist Inna Lazar. “But the effectiveness might come at a price. Prostaglandin-based serums (like Latisse) promote lash growth but can cause side effects like eyelid and eye irritation, hyperpigmentation, and fat loss around the eyes, which can result in a sunken look.” (I’ve seen this in person; it’s strange.)

Also, if these serums are overused or misapplied, they can cause hair growth in unwanted areas — the most common being below the lower eyelid and the inner corners of the eyes, says Lazar. Peptide-based lash serums, on the other hand, work by supporting the eyelash follicle and the lash, which promotes the life of the eyelash, says Lazar. They’re less likely to cause side effects and can be used long-term, though they take longer to produce noticeable results. Lazar likes You & Eye Lids, Love & Lash Enhancing Serum, Olaplex Lashbond Building serum, and Get Growing Lash & Brow Serum from 20/20 beauty.

Two lash serums Heidi Waldorf, M.D., recommends are Nulastin and Revitalash. She uses Nulastin (both the lash and eyebrow formulations) with excellent results. Revitalash is less drippy and easier to apply, she says. And she offers these good suggestions about how to avoid unwanted hair growth:

Don’t apply more product than recommended.

Apply only above the upper lash line.

Apply once a day before sleep when the product will also benefit lower lashes.

After application, blot excess product from the surrounding skin and under-lashes to avoid serum getting into your eyes. Blinking on a folded tissue works well.

Q: What are the best mascaras for short lashes? Is waterproof mascara a good idea?

A: “Eye doctors generally prefer tubing mascaras because they don’t require vigorous rubbing to be removed,” says Lazar. Tubing mascaras! Who knew? Lazar likes Blinc Original Tubing Mascara and Merit Clean Lash Lengthening Tubing Mascara.

As for waterproof mascaras: Don’t. “They contain potentially carcinogenic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ because they remain in our bodies indefinitely,” says Lazar. They may also contain chemicals that can irritate the eye’s surface, which can lead to allergic reactions and significant dryness. Lazar reminds us to chuck mascara after three months; the longer you use it, the more likely it’ll be harboring bacteria.

Q: Fake lashes: Should I get them?

A: Lash extensions might seem like a fine way to abbreviate your makeup routine, but Lazar points out that they require maintenance. Daily washing with a foaming cleanser and water is essential, she says. This may not seem like a lot and it really isn’t. But most of her patients don’t do it because they’ve been told not to wet the lashes and only to use a small spatula to brush them out occasionally, says Lazar. (Wrong!)

Another reason most folks skip this step: It takes five to seven minutes to properly wash the lashes. So it might seem reasonable to do it only occasionally rather than daily. (Again, wrong!) Also, the glue often used for extensions releases fumes that contain formaldehyde when exposed to air, which explains why some women experience eye irritation, says Lazar. And if you suffer from dry eyes, longer lashes may exacerbate your symptoms because they can divert air into the eye instead of away from it.

Wait a minute, how does that work?

We’re born with a perfect ratio of lash length and curl to our eye size, which protects our eyes from physical damage — including diverting air away from the eye to prevent it from drying out, says Lazar. When we change the length and curl of our lashes, the aerodynamics don’t work the same way.

Q: I’ve noticed the whites of my eyes have faded and gotten kind of beige-ish/yellow as I’ve aged. Is it okay to use whitening drops?

A: Like aging skin, eyeballs are affected by similar extrinsic and intrinsic consequences of aging, says Lazar. So it’s essential to protect them from UV radiation and to manage chronic inflammatory conditions, as these can result in redness, discomfort, and dryness. Chronically irritated and dry eyes can age prematurely, the same way skin does, she says.

About the whites of your eyes (a.k.a. the sclera) specifically: As it ages, it becomes thinner and denser — shifting from a bluish-white to a yellowish hue, which is likely due to the accumulation of fat within the scleral tissue. Once that tissue changes, there’s no reversing it; drops won’t help. Prevention is key.

If your eyes are simply red and irritated, lucky you. While there are several kinds of whitening drops, you should avoid any containing tetrahydrozoline, a vasoconstrictor that works by shrinking blood vessels, says Lazar. Those drops may offer initial relief — but when the effect wears off, they can cause rebound redness, making eyes appear redder than before. Preservative-free artificial tears are a better choice, she says. Lazar recommends iVIZIA Sterile Lubricant Eye Drops for Dry Eyes because they contain hyaluronic acid to attract moisture. You could also try Lumify, which works by targeting a receptor in the veins responsible for carrying blood away from the eye. But don’t use it long term; if redness persists, it’s a signal something’s not right. In other words, time to see the doctor.

Originally published October 5.

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How Do I Maintain Healthy and Strong Lashes As I Age?