If you weren’t born with fluttery lashes and don’t want the fuss of falsies or extensions, you may be tempted to try a lash serum. Designed to strengthen, lengthen and pump up the volume of lashes, serums are more popular than ever—especially since the regular use of face masks has shifted our beauty routines to be all about the eyes.
There are plenty of rave reviews and celebrity endorsements to be found on Instagram, but do these products actually 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 about lash serums.
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 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 help 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 requires a prescription.
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What’s the deal with Latisse?
Latisse is a lash 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. 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 a dark hue.
“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 ingredients found in lash serums are amino acids (to build healthy hair follicles), ceramides (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).
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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, 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 really 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.
Related: How To Shape And Groom Your Eyebrows At Home
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 in order 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, however; when you stop using a serum and the growth cycle has run its course, your lashes will return to normal.
Ready to try a lash serum? We’ve rounded up some of the best over-the-counter options to shop in Canada.
Made in Canada, this super 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. It even moisturizes the eye area to smooth skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines.
Indeed Labs Peptalash II, $25, indeedlabs.com
This serum does double duty, fortifying lashes and fighting signs of aging at the same time. The formula contains ceramides to nourish lashes and make them thicker, shinier and more supple, and it 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.
Vichy Liftactiv Serum 10 Eyes & Lashes, $49, shoppersdrugmart.ca
This Canadian-made brand is 100 percent natural, vegan, organic and cruelty-free. It’s formulated with a special combination of organic oils, herbal extracts, vitamins and proteins to nourish lashes and brows and seal in moisture. It even comes in a fair trade bamboo tube, packaged in a box made from recycled paper.
Luna Nectar Moon Boost Lash & Brow Enhancing Serum, $76, lunanectar.com
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.
Plume Lash & Brow Enhancing Serum, $95, thedetoxmarket.ca
LashFood is made only with natural ingredients derived from renewable resources. It’s the only lash serum certified by Ecocert, an international organization that certifies organic farms, textiles and cosmetics. Dermatologist tested and approved, LashFood claims to deliver longer, fuller lashes in as little as four weeks.
Lash Food Phyto-Medic Eyelash Enhancing Serum, $87, tradesecrets.ca
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. Stamped with the coveted Clean at Sephora label, the serum is also vegan, gluten-free and cruelty-free.
Milk Makeup KUSH Lash + Brow Serum, $68, sephora.com
This bestselling serum is made with polypeptides, biotin, panthenol, amino acids, soybean oil and pumpkin seed extract to nourish and rejuvenate lashes and brows. Plus, it’s cruelty-free and made without fragrances or parabens.
RapidLash Eyelash and Eyebrow Enhancing Serum, $75, shoppersdrugmart.ca
Originally published in 2020; updated in 2023.