Lash Serums: Enhancing Your Eyelashes Safely

In recent times, achieving longer, fuller eyelashes has gone beyond traditional methods such as mascara and false lashes. Today, treatments including eyelash extensions, perms, and specifically formulated growth serums are taking center stage. Lash serums, in particular, are a significant advancement in eye beauty, catering not just to lashes but eyebrows too. However, their safety and effectiveness are subjects of frequent inquiries.

How Do Lash Serums Work?

Lash serums primarily function by nurturing the lash follicles to promote growth and strength. The active ingredients in these serums vary, but they commonly include:

  • Prostaglandins: Like Bimatoprost in prescription-only Latisse, these chemical compounds with hormone-like effects are potent growth stimulators. However, due to their strong effects and potential side effects (such as iris discoloration, eyelid drooping, and even vision changes), they are regulated as drugs. You need a doctor prescription to buy Latisse. See Safety Considerations below for more details. 
  • Peptides: These are chains of amino acids that support lash growth by stimulating the follicles. Common peptides used in lash serums include Myristoyl Pentapeptide-17, Myristoyl Hexapeptide-16, Octopeptide-2, Biotinoyl Tripeptide-1, Acetyl Tetrapeptide-3, etc. They are safer but might take longer to show results compared to prostaglandins.
  • Natural Extracts, Oils and Vitamins: The most common are pumpkin seed, red clover, ginseng, biotin (Vitamin B7), niacinamide (Vitamin B3), nettle, rosemary, pea sprout, and plants containing caffeine such as green tea.
Castor Oil
You will often find 'Castor Oil' in lash serums, either alone or combined with other ingredients. Castor Oil doesn't come from beavers; it comes from the Ricinus Communis plant. Castor oil is rich in fatty acids and vitamins, which may potentially help nourish eyelashes and hair. However, its actual effectiveness has not been scientifically proven. Furthermore, applying an excessive amount of oil in the eye area can cause milia, obstruction of the tear ducts, and even lead to infections such as blepharitis. It is also not compatible with eyelash extensions, as some glues are easily weakened by oil.

Safety Considerations about Prostaglandins

While lash serums can be transformative, it is crucial to choose products wisely. Prostaglandin derivatives like isopropyl cloprostenate, though effective, have not been approved by regulatory agencies such as the FDA or Health Canada and may cause undesirable side effects.

About Bimatoprost, even if it is FDA and Health Canada approved, it is considered a drug and needs a doctor prescription. A doctor can assess your suitability for this product, ensuring it aligns with your health status, and provide ongoing support to ensure your well-being and eye health are maintained. As an example, you can't use bimatoprost if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. If your lash serum contains prostaglandin and you bought it without a doctor prescription, this is illegal and risky. 

In April 2018, Rodan + Fields encountered a class-action lawsuit wherein customers alleged that the brand neglected to disclose detrimental side effects associated with isopropyl cloprostenate found in their popular. R + F Lash Boost. The court documents outlined various side effects of isopropyl cloprostenate, including iris and lid discoloration, eyelid drooping (also known as ptosis), thinning and loss of eyelashes, or vision impairment.

Prostaglandin Possible Bad Side Effects

  • Eyelid drooping (ptosis):
  • Increased brown pigmentation of the iris:
  • Other side effects may include: eyelid skin darkening, vision problems (such as deteriorating eyesight, blurred vision), or even outright opposite effects to those desired, such as thinning and loss of eyelashes and eyebrows.

How to Spot Prostaglandins?

They are listed on the label as: Bimatoprost, Isopropyl cloprostenate, Dechloro Dihydroxy Difluoro Ethylcloprostenolamide, Isopropanol Phenyl-hydroxyl-pentene Dihydroxy-cyclopentyl-heptenate, Trifluoromethyl Dechloro Ethylprostenolamide.

Regrettably, numerous lash growth serums produced in Asian countries, like China, may not adhere to the same regulatory standards as those in our region. Consequently, they might include prostaglandins without disclosing them on the ingredient list. Determining whether this is the case typically requires laboratory testing.

Here's a sample of a lash growth serum from China (sold online in the US) that provides a warning against use during pregnancy or breastfeeding but doesn't disclose the inclusion of prostaglandin in its ingredients. However, the absence of prostaglandin from the ingredient list isn't the sole concern with this product. Another noticeable issue, easily discernible without lab analysis, is the lack of any preservatives, which is impossible in a water-based product.

For a safer approach, serums based on peptides and natural extracts are recommended. These ingredients, while slower in showing results, offer a gentler and risk-free way to enhance your lashes. 

Moreover, if you're uncertain about a product manufactured in other countries such as China, opting for a serum produced in North America or the European Union is generally preferable, given their significantly stricter regulations and laws. And just because the company selling the serum is located in one of these countries doesn't necessarily mean it was manufactured there. It's important to check the product packaging. Products made in North America or a European Union member country will typically state this on the box. For products manufactured in Asia, for example, you may sometimes only see "Imported by," without any indication of origin. If the country of manufacture is not indicated on the box or tube, it's best to avoid it, as in this case, you can never be 100% certain about the composition.

Your eyes are so precious. It's not worth taking unnecessary risks just because you want longer lashes quickly. With a little patience, you can achieve the same results over a longer period of time, but without any risk.

My Recommendations

Lash and Brow Serums that are safe, effective, made here and eyelash extension compatible

Brow Serums that are safe, effective and made here.

Hair Serums: Boosting Hair Health and Growth

Achieving long, healthy hair doesn't have to be a waiting game. With the advent of hair serums, alongside supplements and other hair enhancements like extensions and wigs, gaining that perfect mane has become easier.

How Do Hair Serums Work?

Hair serums are designed to improve hair health and density while stimulating their growth and preventing their premature loss. Some of the most popular ingredients in these serums include:

  • DHT Blockers: Ingredients like Minoxidil (like Rogaine) and Finasteride are known for their ability to block DHT, a derivative of testosterone linked to hair loss. These ingredients are available over-the-counter and may help in reducing hair thinning and loss if the cause is related to a hormonal issue (androgenic alopecia).
  • Natural Oils, Extracts and Vitamins: Similar to lash serums, hair serums also frequently contain natural components/extracts like caffeine, pumpkin seed, red clover, ginseng, nettle, rosemary, pea sprout, etc. For the vitamins, the most common are A, Biotin (B7/H), Niacin (B3), Folic Acid (B9), C, D and E. See the section "Are natural ingredients truly effective" below. 
  • Peptides: Certain hair serums may include peptides like Copper Tripeptide-1, Acetyl Tripeptide-3, etc., but they will be more costly as peptides are usually pretty expensive themselves.

Are Natural Ingredients Truly Effective?

The answer is both yes and no. It varies for each ingredient, and it also depends on the quantity used compared to clinical studies. For instance, if a study demonstrating the efficacy of a plant extract was conducted with a concentration of 10%, but the product contains only 1%, it's likely that the expected results won't be achieved. Unfortunately, some low-quality or inexpensive products claim to contain various extracts, but the concentration is so low that there will be no effect. See "How to Spot a Cheap Hair Serum below". 

It's also important to verify which method of using the extract has been demonstrated effective in studies. You might hear that plant 1234 has incredible effects, but the only studies conducted were for ingestion in large quantities (internal use). This is the case with biotin (vitamin B7). Regarding its topical use for hair, scientific evidence is limited. There are few clinical studies conclusively demonstrating the efficacy of topical application of biotin to promote hair growth or improve their health.

For rosemary oil, on the other hand, significant results were obtained in recent studies. One of the most interesting, conducted in 2015, tested pure rosemary essential oil compared to the active ingredient minoxidil. Results showed that rosemary essential oil was just as effective as minoxidil. During the process, it helped the side effect of itchy scalp more successfully than minoxidil.

Lastly, some studies test a combination of extracts simultaneously, making it impossible to determine if each plant is effective individually or if it's rather the synergy of these plants that yields results.

What About Animal-Derived Ingredients?

Understanding the jargon of ingredient lists on packaging can sometimes be quite a challenge! Consumers are increasingly seeking products that are 100% vegan and cruelty-free. But how do you recognize what is truly vegan? Here's a summary of the most commonly found animal-derived ingredients in serums for lashes, brows, and hair. Of course, this list is far from exhaustive. These are the most frequent ones.

  • Biotin: If the product does not claim to be 100% vegan, it's difficult to know the origin of biotin. It could be of animal, plant, or synthetic origin. In the ingredient list, you'll see "Biotin". If you see "Vitamin B7" or "Vitamin H", that's incorrect labeling.
  • Collagen: If the ingredient list mentions "collagen", it always comes from animals. Most often, it comes from pigs. There's also marine collagen derived from fish. Examples include Hydrolyzed Collagen, Potassium Cocoyl Hydrolyzed Collagen, Marine Collagen, etc. There are "plant-based collagens", but they'll have a different name in the ingredient list, typically specifying the plant source. For example, Active Concepts' PhytoColl is a vegan alternative to collagen. Its official INCI name is "Yeast Extract & Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate".
  • Keratin: Similar to collagen, if you see 'Keratin" in the ingredient list, it's always from animals, mostly sheep. Examples include Keratin Amino Acids, Hydrolyzed Keratin, Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Keratin, etc. Just like collagen, you won't find "Vegan Keratin" in the ingredient list. If you do, it's not an official designation and is therefore prohibited. Manufacturers and distributors are required to use the official INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Ingredients) designation. Unfortunately, some products from unregulated countries, such as Asia, for example, may sometimes have errors, intentional or not, in their INCI list. Here are examples of plant-based keratin replacements: Tri-K's Fision Keraveg 18 with the INCI "Wheat Amino Acids, Soy Amino Acids, Arginine HCl, Serine, Threonine", Croda's KeraMatch V with the INCI "Aqua (and) Hydrolyzed Pea Protein (and) Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein".
  • Silk: It's the same situation as with collagen and keratin. Silk is made from the cocoon of the Bombyx Mori caterpillar (silkworm). Unless you are certain it's ethically and cruelty-free sourced, the caterpillar is boiled alive to avoid damaging the cocoon. In the ingredient list, you'll see "Silk" or other variants like "Silk Amino Acids", "Hydrolyzed Silk", or silk components like "Sericin" extracts.

    How to Spot Cheap Hair Serums?

    As consumers, we usually seek the best quality and quantity for our money. It can be tempting to purchase a cosmetic product at a very low price, but on the other hand, we don't want to pay for nothing. The secret is to become a savvy consumer and learn how to read ingredient lists.

    Here's an example of a cheap hair growth serum from China, sold on Amazon. Firstly, we notice spelling mistakes: "Extroct" instead of "Extract", and there are two instances of the same ingredient, Biotin, followed by Vitamin H which, indeed, is Biotin. Additionally, it contains no preservatives, which is impossible in a water-based product. I doubt this omission is unintentional. Logically, if an ingredient is avoided from disclosure, it may be problematic. I have no proof here, so I'm purely speculating, of course. I suspect the presence of parabens or methylisothiazolinone.

    Finally, the product front states "5% Minoxidil Biotin". The combination of these two ingredients is not an existing active in itself. Therefore, it's impossible to know the amounts of Minoxidil and Biotin present since they are listed together as if they were one ingredient. It's like a kinda dishonest way to imply a higher percentage of Minoxidil when there isn't 5%. I suspect there may be 2% Minoxidil and 3% Biotin. Again, this is speculation.

    A product manufactured in a regulated country must list the ingredients in order, from the highest concentration to the smallest. That's why you often find water listed first. The INCI name for water is "Aqua". So, when you look at a serum ingredient list, try to see if the main active ingredients mentioned in the product marketing are listed towards the end. If they are, it's possible that the quantity is small, although some potent actives, like peptides for example, don't always need a large quantity to be effective.

    My Recommendations

    Hair and Scalp Serums that are safeeffective (for growth, fortifying or densifying) and made here


      In conclusion, when selecting hair and lash serums, it is essential to understand the active ingredients and their effects. While the desire for quick results is understandable, the safety and health of your hair and eyes should always come first. Opt for products with proven, safe ingredients and consult with healthcare professionals if in doubt, especially when it comes to products containing potent active substances.

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