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29 March 2021

Over-the-counter eyelash serums can come with nasty side effects

Eyelash serums promising lush lashes are heavily promoted but people buying these products aren’t getting good information about the risks, Consumer NZ says.

Some eyelash serums contain ingredients called prostaglandins, which have the potential to cause nasty side effects.

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said the European Commission recently launched an investigation into the safety of prostaglandins in cosmetics after reports of “serious undesirable effects”, including swollen eyelids and burning eyes.

The use of prostaglandins in over-the-counter serums became popular after the discovery that glaucoma medication containing these ingredients could make eyelashes longer and darker.

“Ads for lash serums promise luscious-looking lashes in a matter of weeks and claim products are 'non-irritating' and 'physician formulated'. 'Guaranteed happiness' is also on offer on the box of Flash Eyelash Serum. However, information on the risks of using these products is much harder to find,” Duffy said.

Consumer NZ reviewed the ingredients in and labelling of several popular serums. There were no warnings on the packs of Flash Eyelash Serum or LiLash about the side effects of using the products. The only information about the risks was in small print on leaflets inside the sealed boxes.

Another product, Revitalash, claimed on its website “there is no potential for the serum to have a significant effect on those breastfeeding, pregnant or undergoing chemotherapy”. The company didn’t provide evidence to Consumer NZ to support these claims.

"These products aren’t cheap and consumers may be forking out for them unaware of the risks. Companies selling lash serums with prostaglandins should be putting clear warnings on the boxes."

Since 2009, the Ministry of Health has received three complaints about LiLash and one about Revitalash growth serums.

Prostaglandins are a prescription medicine but there’s an exception for lash serums (and other products) that contain low levels of the drugs– 10mg per litre or less. They can be sold over-the-counter, provided they don’t make therapeutic claims.

Any moves to further restrict sales of these products are likely to depend on the results of the investigation being done by European regulators. The Ministry of Health said Medsafe “will consider any European recommendation for application in New Zealand”.

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