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Everything You Need to Know about Eyelash Extensions

Your natural lashes will remain intact. Your wallet? Not so much.

Chances are you've noticed women on the street, at the gym and at the office with the kind of natural, fluffy and long eyelashes that you can't get from drugstore falsies. Indeed, eyelash extensions, a process by which artificial lashes are bonded directly to natural ones and lasts several weeks, are no longer a privilege reserved for the Insta-famous. You too can wake up feeling wide-eyed and bushy-lashed on a daily basis, thanks to the explosive popularity of this specialty salon service. "They're very addicting, so be warned," says Kim Jaynes, founder of Borboleta Beauty, a company that provides lash training and has its own artificial lash product line. "Once you have those lashes on, you want them on forever." 

But the increased interest in luscious lashes has also given rise to a market for unlicensed eyelash aestheticians, who can end up damaging real lashes — the number one concern for prospective clients. "We will have girls who go to a nail salon, or somewhere that's not as experienced, before coming in to our studio," says Haylee Harrison, a lash technician and co-owner of Treat Yourself Studios in Los Angeles, about encountering clients with misconceptions about the process. "But if they are done properly and well taken care of, [the natural lashes] won't be damaged at all."

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Clear and open communication with the lash artist is key. "They should be wanting to brag about the brand they use," says Megan Tandberg, Borboleta's VP of sales and owner of Tandy Lash Lounge in Roseville, CA. She advises finding a lash artist who will talk you through the process in detail and adjust the application to your eyes' distinct shape. "We stress the health of the natural lash, so if your lash artist is giving you these crazy, thick lashes that are one-length-fits-all on every single eye, they're not protecting the health of the client." 

But with the right salon, and an ample budget, eyelash extensions can streamline your daily makeup routine or give you an extra beauty boost for special occasions, like weddings. I spoke with Borboleta's Jaynes and Tandberg and Treat Yourself Studio's Harrison about how to find the right salon, the different eyelash extension options and everything you need to know before, during and after your appointment. 

It's not painful and your natural lashes won't be damaged

But that's if — big if — your technician is skilled and certified. (More on that later.) The trickiest part of eyelash application is the isolation technique: bonding each lash extension to only one natural lash, and making sure that no small fuzzy baby lashes get caught in that adhesion. "What [unskilled technicians] are not doing is making sure they have a proper light, and that they're really seeing all the baby lashes that are next to the lash that they want to place that [artificial] lash on," says Tandberg. Why is that a problem? Because the bonded pair of fake and real lashes will fall off together, naturally, at some point — and you don't want them to take a baby lash down, too.

In addition to the classic individual lash application, many salons offer "volume" lashes, in which three thinner artificial lashes are applied to one natural lash. The artificial lashes are first made by hand into a tiny fan. It's a shorter, fluffier, fuller look that is more dense at the lash time, as opposed to the longer, piecey look of the classic option. The volume approach doesn't add extra weight to each natural lash because the length and diameter of the artificial lashes is smaller. 

Regardless of the skill of the lash artist, you do, however, want to give your eyes an occasional break. Harrison recommends pausing every 6 to 8 months to clean your lashes thoroughly and let them retain the natural curl that gets flattened by the weight of the artificial lash over time. 

Research the salon and technician online

Everyone I spoke to stressed the important of checking out lash studios through their websites and on Instagram to see how long they've been applying eyelashes, how other customers feel and what exactly their work actually looks like. Then, inquire further about certification: Jaynes says the technicians should be talking about the kind of products they use and their training. Look for someone using clean, quality products and formaldehyle-free adhesive. If a salon charges by blocks of time, rather than by service, that's a red flag.

"I know a lot of girls are trying to do extensions nowadays because it's so popular now, and you're seeing all these random lash [Instagram] accounts pop up everywhere," says Harrison. Research pays off, and trust your gut: if a place looks sketchy or the price is radically lower than that of other salons, keep looking.

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It's a time-consuming and expensive habit 

A full set might take two hours to apply (during which, FYI, your eyes are closed) and a refill application ranges from an hour to 90 minutes. Jaynes says classic lashes generally cost between $150 and $200. Harrison's Treat Yourself Studios charges $135 for the full set and $55 to $65 for refills. As for the volume technique, Jaynes says the average price ranges from $200 to $300. Treat Yourself Studios charges $180 for the full set and $85 to $95 for refills.

Your eyelashes won't fall out at a faster rate, it will just feel that way

We all lose three to five lashes per day, but it's going to be more noticeable on your pillow in the morning with an extension attached. There are three phases of the lash cycle: growing, shedding and dormant. "We don't know which lash is on what [phase] and each eye has it's own cycle and they're all kind of doing their own thing," says Tanberg. "So you are going to lose lashes, that is normal." You were losing them anyway. 

Which means you'll need to return to the salon every 2 to 3 weeks

Once you have about 40 percent of your artificial lashes left, which Harrison says happens after 2 to 3 weeks, return to the salon for a refill if you want to keep the extensions going. Wait any longer and you'll need to repeat a full initial application. On the plus side, if you don't like the look, the artificial lashes will probably be all gone in about 4 to 5 weeks. However, do not try to remove them yourself! A removal is a quick (10 to 20 minutes) and inexpensive ($25 to $35) at the salon. 

Don't wear mascara and choose the right eyeliner

"Mascara is heavy and weighs down the natural lash more than 100 times what the natural lash weighs," says Tanberg, so wearing it on artificial lashes is a very bad idea. "It's going to dull them, clump everything together." Jaynes recommends water-based liquid eyeliner (not to be confused with water-proof eyeliner, which is a big no-no) because the easier it is to remove, the better. You don't want to be excessively rubbing the lash line, and it's essential to keep the area very clean. Harrison thinks you don't even need to wear eyeliner with a fresh set of lashes, and certainly not daily, and recommends removing it with the gentle scrub of a Q-tip soaked in oil-free makeup remover. 

Being clean is key: wash your lashes twice a week

Not only should you arrive at the first appointment completely makeup free, but you'll then need to be militant about using a lash-specific cleanser or baby shampoo to very gently massage the lash line twice a week, removing any dead skin or buildup. If not, you might develop a scaly skin condition called blepharitis. 

Don't let your lashes air dry after cleansing or exiting the shower or pool — it results in clumping. Harrison recommends patting them gently with a towel instead. Otherwise it's totally fine to get them wet after the first 24 hours have passed. (Another tip to avoid clumps: don't sleep on your stomach.)

The best artificial lashes are made from faux mink

Besides the animal rights questions raised by use of real mink, the fur causes an allergic reaction for many people and doesn't retain a curl — which is important because you shouldn't use an eyelash curler on artificial lashes either. Faux mink is the best way to go because it's also lightweight. Beware anything that resembles drugstore falsies: they will be way too heavy. 

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Homepage photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images