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Beauty

Do Lash Serums *Really* Work? Experts Weigh In

Want long, fluttery eyelashes? Here's what you should know before you shell out on a serum.
By Brett Tryon
Do Lash Serums *Really* Work? Experts Weigh In

(Photo: Courtesy of Lashfood)

If you weren’t born with a fluttery fringe and don’t want the fuss of falsies or lash extensions, you may be tempted to try a hair growth-boosting serum. Designed to strengthen, lengthen and pump up the volume of lashes, serums are having a moment and more brands than ever are offering the product as part of their line-up.

There are plenty of rave reviews and celebrity endorsements to be found on Instagram, but do lash serums work? And more importantly, are they safe for your delicate eye area? Before you take the plunge, read what an ophthalmologist and a dermatologist have to say.

What are lash serums?

Lash serums are lightweight, concentrated treatments that promise healthier, fuller lashes. Some are applied along the upper lash line with a fine-tipped applicator, and others are combed through the lashes like mascara.

While many lash serums claim to make your lashes longer, over-the-counter products typically act as lash conditioners. They may keep lashes healthy (and help them grow longer by preventing breakage), but they don’t contain active pharmaceutical ingredients proven to enhance lash growth.

The only clinically-proven lash growth serum available in Canada is called Latisse and it requires a prescription.

What’s the deal with Latisse?

Latisse is an eyelash growth serum (as opposed to an over-the-counter lash conditioner) formulated with a synthetic hormone called bimatoprost, which was originally developed to treat patients with glaucoma. Early on, ophthalmologists noticed that bimatoprost had the surprising—and welcome—side effect of boosting lash growth. Along came Latisse, a bimatoprost solution created specifically for eyelashes.

Because bimatoprost is a pharmaceutical ingredient, you need a prescription for Latisse—usually from a dermatologist or an ophthalmologist.

“While Latisse is a clinically proven eyelash serum,” says Dr. Monica Li, a board-certified dermatologist and member of the Canadian Dermatology Association, “it is a prescription product that should be discussed with your physician first, as there are potential risks.”

Latisse was approved by Health Canada in 2010, after undergoing clinical trials. (In the US, it was FDA-approved in 2008.) Studies showed that Latisse was effective at lengthening and thickening eyelashes, but some patients experienced side effects like irritation, dry eyes, redness, blurry vision, darkening of the eyelids and permanent darkening of the iris. That’s because bimatoprost can increase melanin, the pigment that gives eyes, skin and hair their colour.

“Though changes in iris colour can happen to anybody,” says Dr. Setareh Ziai, an ophthalmologist based in Ottawa, “patients with hazel eyes are the most likely to get darkening of their irises [when using these products].”

How do lash serums work?

“Many over-the-counter eyelash serums work by hydrating and strengthening lashes so they appear a little fuller and are less likely to break,” says Li. Less breakage means that your lashes have a change to grow longer and fuller.

The formulas vary considerably from brand to brand, but some common active ingredients found in lash serums are amino acids (to build healthy hair follicles), ceramides and hyaluronic acid (to lock in moisture), panthenol (to hydrate and protect lashes from breakage), peptides (to nourish and strengthen lashes) and biotin (to improve hair's health by strengthening keratin).

Are lash serums safe to use?

You can’t be too prudent with your peepers—eyes are your most sensitive organ, and the eyelids have the thinnest skin on the body.

If the idea of using a lash serum makes your eyes twitch with anxiety, you can rest assured—Li says that lash serums are safe if used properly. But like any skincare product, she says, a lash serum could have ingredients that provoke an allergic reaction in some people.

“It depends on the person,” says Li. “Some people can react to certain peptides, oils or other vitamins, whereas others will not.” Symptoms can include redness in and around the eyes, itchiness, inflammation and irritation. To be on the safe side, you can check with a physician before trying a lash serum—especially if you have sensitive skin, are prone to developing allergies or have a pre-existing eye condition.

You can also do a patch test; before trying a serum on your lashes, dab some on a test spot (away from the eyes) for several days to rule out an allergy. If you do have an allergic reaction at any point, stop using the product immediately and consult an eye care provider.

Can I use lash serums on my brows?

Most over-the-counter lash serums are perfectly safe for eyebrows. (Make sure to check the label and instructions.) Just as there isn’t scientific evidence that these serums grow lashes, there’s no data on how they affect eyebrows. But if nothing else, they’ll leave your brows well-conditioned and, like lashes, less prone to breakage.

What kind of results can I expect to see?

Over-the-counter lash serums will produce variable results, says Ziai, “given the plethora of ingredients found in the different products.” They may improve overall lash health and appearance, but don’t expect these products to make your lashes grow longer overnight.

How long should I use a lash serum for?

“The effects of most skincare products are typically visible after at least two months of use,” says Li, “and lash serums are similar as well.” She says that to see results, it’s important to use the product consistently—usually every day—according to the directions or a physician’s advice.

The effects are not permanent; when you stop using a serum and the growth cycle and anagen phase have run their course, your lashes will return to normal.

The best lash serums to shop for 2024

The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Lash and Brow Serum, $19

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A tube of The Ordinary Multi-Peptide Lash and Brow Serum for an article that asks do lash serums really work?

Formulated with four peptide complexes as well as natural extracts, this affordable lash serum is suitable for all skin types, even sensitive. When used twice a day, it nourishes eyelashes and brows and makes them appear fuller.

Benefit Cosmetics Whoop Lash Serum, $70

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A tube of Benefit Cosmetics Whoop Lash Serum for an article that asks do lash serums really work?

In this lightweight serum, hibiscus flower, safflower extracts and rice protein work together to make lashes appear fuller, thicker and longer. It also contains provitamin B5 and biotin for shine and health. We love the silicone brush applicator, which makes it easy to get right to the root of the lashes.

RapidLash Eyelash and Eyebrow Enhancing Serum, $60

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A tube of RapidLash lash serum for an article that asks do lash serums really work?

This bestselling serum is made with polypeptides, biotin, panthenol, amino acids, soybean oil and pumpkin seed extract to nourish and rejuvenate lashes and brows. This eyelash-enhancing serum is cruelty-free, fragrance-free and made without parabens.

Olaplex Lashbond Building Serum, $92

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A tube of Olaplex Lashbond Serum for an article that asks do lash serums really work?

Formulated by the makers of the OG bond-repair haircare line, this lash serum contains the brand's patented repairing technology to keep lashes strong, as well as a peptide complex, biotin and hyaluronic acid.

Indeed Labs Peptalash II, $25

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A pen containing the Indeed Labs Peptalash II lash serum for an article that asks do lash serums work?

Made in Canada, this affordable lash serum promises three times the lash volume in only 15 days. Formulated with apple stem cells and two types of peptide blends, it strengthens and nourishes lashes to make them thicker, while repairing and preventing lash breakage.

Vichy Liftactiv Serum 10 Eyes & Lashes, $67

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A tube of Vichy Liftactiv Serum 10 Eyes & Lashes lash serum for an article that asks do lash serums work?

This serum works double duty, fortifying lashes and fighting signs of aging at the same time. The formula boasts 10 percent rhamnose (a birch tree extract that’s purported to fill wrinkles and firm skin). It also contains ceramides to nourish lashes, making them thicker, shinier and more supple, as well as illuminators to give your eyes an instant glow.

Luna Nectar Moon Boost Lash & Brow Enhancing Serum, $79

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A tube of Luna Nectar Moon Boost Lash & Brow Enhancing Serum for an article that asks do lash serums work?

This Canadian-made brand is 100 percent natural, vegan, organic and cruelty-free. It’s formulated with a blend of organic oils, herbal extracts, vitamins and proteins to nourish lashes and brows and seal in moisture.

Plume Lash & Brow Enhancing Serum, $112

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A tube of Plume Lash & Brow Enhancing Serum for an article that asks do lash serums work?

Plume is the brainchild of Lauren Bilon, a Calgary woman who suffered from hair and eyelash loss after the birth of her first child. After having an allergic reaction to other lash products, she decided to create her own—a lash serum formulated with natural ingredients that strengthen hair at the root, keep follicles in the growth phase and prevent breakage.

Milk Makeup Kush Lash + Brow Serum, $71

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A tube of Milk Makeup Kush Lash + Brow Serum for an article that asks do lash serums work?

This unique formula includes cannabis seed extract to condition and strengthen hairs, plant peptides to make lashes and brows appear thicker and quinoa to support healthy follicles. The serum is also vegan, gluten-free and cruelty-free.

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