Eye Spy: An Inside Look at Eyelash Manufacturing
Written by Nicole Flevaris
Eyelash extensions began taking hold about 15 years ago. It is safe to say they are not just a fleeting trend, but a beauty service that has taken hold and is here to stay. Application and product quality have a very wide range. Though inferior products exist, the eyelash extension industry has made huge strides in improving quality and techniques. Still, it has a long way to go. This article will attempt to demystify, debunk, and educate on manufacturing, product origins, and techniques.
The adhesive used for eyelash extension application is the most critical component of the eyelash extension product selection process.
There is a difference between glue and adhesive. All products are not created equally and great care must be taken when selecting this product. All products used as adhesives fall under an umbrella term called cyanoacrylate. The way they break down is by the complexity, number, and quality of components. Adhesives can be ethyl-, methyl-, octyl-, or butyl-based.
Place of Origin
Where they are made is a determining factor of quality, as well. There are only a handful of adhesive manufacturers in the world, making products for the beauty industry.
Glues that fall under the cyanoacrylate umbrella are: super glue, nail glue, and some hair extension glues. About 75 percent of the glues used in the eyelash extension industry are made in China or are made of mainly Chinese components and short chain molecule formulas akin to nail glue. In some cases, they may even be nail glue or super glue with a carbon black dye in them.
Many adhesives say, “made in Korea.” While South Korea is a very respected nation when it comes to their skin care and makeup, glues do not follow this path. Often, Chinese components are acquired by Korean companies and assembled in Korea.
As far as Asia is concerned, in general, they have very relaxed quality controls in their manufacturing, and quality of ingredients sometimes is of little importance. Often, the philosophy is what is the cheapest way that something can be made that gets the job done. Minimal side effects may be seen as acceptable. More often than not, various Asian manufacturers even use ingredients that are banned in the United States that may be dangerous to human health, such as methyl methacrylate (MMA), an industrial adhesive.
Another reason to avoid these adhesives, besides questionable production and lack of quality control, is timing, meaning when the product was made. For the beauty industry, glues in Asia are made in a few large batches a year. They are not continually produced or coming off an assembly line daily. Some may be mixed throughout the year, or may add carbon black dye, but the main components are produced only a couple of times a year. Chemically, for a product that is going to be used around the eye, this should raise a huge red flag. Why? Chemicals degrade over time and can have byproducts produced that are harmful to humans in high doses. One such chemical is formaldehyde. In low doses, this is not a harmful substance and is naturally-occurring. It occurs when chemicals break down, which begins right after chemicals are mixed. This is why beauty products have shelf lives and why most products should be thrown after a year or so. Formaldehyde is a big scary word, but even dish soap contains it and it is found in nature. Also, all organic life forms produce formaldehyde as a byproduct of metabolic processes. That said, formaldehyde in production is important and the timing question comes into play. Formaldehyde production happens as a product gets old and its production is exponential. For instance, after one month a product might produce one molecule of formaldehyde as it breaks down; after two months, 10 molecules might appear; in three months 100 molecules might be produced; and after month four, 1,000 molecules. This is why the date that a glue is made is so important.
Avoid glues made in large batches. Look for a company that only produces in small batch runs for the eyelash extension industry. Such a company should only produce what it sells in one to two months to ensure the freshest products. At 120 parts per billion (ppb) and up, formaldehyde is an eye and respiratory irritant, per the World Health Organization (WHO). With glue produced in little or no quality control, one has no way of knowing how old it is – even if it is purchased directly from the manufacturer. Some companies sell products even if they are two years old.
To make matters worse, there are distribution channel issues with age of glue. Many of these glues often have prolonged shipping when being sent from China for international distribution. They are labeled (and then often relabeled) by other lines purchasing from these distributors. Take, for instance, the example of Chinese wholesalers located in California. They order, when needed, from the manufacturer in China or Korea; then, it takes a few months for the products to arrive to the United States, where they can sit on shelves for prolonged periods of time. When working by the eyes, an open organ, for the safety of the client and stylist, it is best to purchase products from countries with higher standards in manufacturing, such as those in the United States or Europe.
Buyer beware, though, as there is quite a bit of confusing labeling occurring in the industry. Many products state on their labels “assembled in the United States.” This means that they are either mixed, or labeled, in the United States. Beyond that, some labels state they are made in the United States when they are only assembled there. For Canadian products, “approved by Health Canada” does not mean “made in Canada.” The best way to find out more information on adhesives is to ask for a material safety data sheet (MSDS). Somewhere, the origin of the components of the adhesive should be stated. If a company is not willing to release this information, which is required by law in the United States, move on. Do not be afraid to call the company and ask questions.
All adhesives are temperature-sensitive. If an adhesive can be refrigerated or put in the freezer to stay “fresh,” know that it is an Asian component product and a basic molecular structure akin to nail glue. These refrigeratable glues also have questionable dates of manufacturing. Some re-sellers also state that the adhesives can be frozen for up to a year in the freezer.
Packaging of the adhesive is an important factor. Look for a clear bottle. Most adhesives that are in a solid plastic bottle, irrespective of their label claims, are coming from Asia. If a professional cannot see the chemical they are working with, especially with something that is applied near the delicate eye area, it should make them uneasy. Opt for a bottle that is transparent. This will allow visibility to see if the product is separating, breaking down, or otherwise transforming.
A QUICK NOTE ON PRIMERS
These products are typically add-ons. They are a mixture of baking soda, alcohol, water, and preservatives. Their intended purpose is to remove oils and dehydrate the eyelash to make adhesives grab faster. Alcohol-based products should not be used by the eye, as they can irritate the skin and the eye if the product gets into the eye. It will burn, but also the chemical residue left behind can react with the adhesive. To dehydrate the eye in a pH-balanced way that is safe, use a saline solution that is free of lubricants.
There are many claims to materials, but the basic fact is that eyelash extensions fall into two categories: synthetic or natural fiber materials. The industry has come a long way in manufacturing advancements. What was available in the early years was stiff, thick, shiny synthetic eyelashes with minimal bend or curvature. Because of advancements, genuine mink fur eyelashes exist, as well as various synthetics within the 10s of curvatures and lengths. There are also ultra-fine synthetic eyelashes now. The advancements in materials available has led to multiple new techniques and improvement in the stylist’s ability to create eye-enhancing looks, even with color and ombre-colored eyelashes.
When the eyelash extension industry started gaining real traction 10 years ago, stylists were applying only one thick, stiff, often too long extension that would last only a couple of weeks. Today, stylists have the ability to attach the appropriate thickness to one eyelash – known as classic eyelash application – or to layer on multiple ultra-fine eyelashes that can be one-fifth the thickness of a natural eyelash. They can be attached classically, one at a time – to vary material length and curvature on one eyelash – or attached with multiple at once – in the newer technique referred to as volume lashing. Volume lashing is a technique that involves picking up multiple eyelashes in one motion and creating a fan on one eyelash, typically done with synthetic eyelashes.
Synthetic eyelashes are referred to by different names, such as silk or mink. All synthetic eyelashes are made of a polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) material and begin their life surprisingly in powder form. The additives will determine their flexibility and shine.
Many eyelashes claim to be perforated for adhesive absorption or have flat, or elliptical, bases to grip a natural eyelash. This is all marketing magic, though. Many synthetic eyelashes claiming to be real mink are labeled either as faux mink or made of premium synthetic materials. What makes the genuine mink fur extensions superior to a synthetic extension is the look and hold. Because they are a natural fiber, the adhesive absorbs through the extension and natural eyelash to make a seamless bond that holds better than a bond that wraps around a solid synthetic. As far as the appearance goes, natural fiber eyelashes have less of a shine, especially when one is looking down and the light hits them. They are fluffier and more natural looking and feeling. Having said that, this is ultimately up to the personal preference of the eyelash extension wearer.
When it comes to eyelash extensions, stylists are only limited by their own creativity. Often, the best-looking sets are those featuring more than five lengths and two curl patterns that use multiple materials and techniques. If the client is adventurous, try color. What is most important in selecting an extension, beyond look and feel, is if the natural eyelash can support the length and density. Do not harm the natural eyelash, because if it is overweighed, it will start growing downward, crack, and experience permanent damage.
After-care products are important in maintaining the longevity of the eyelashes. It is important to note that what the client does at home is as important as what the stylist does during the application process. Oils break down the bond of the adhesive. As long as the extensions were attached properly, and with the use of a quality adhesive, the eyelash extensions last indefinitely, until the natural eyelash sheds out naturally.
According to the FDA, a product can have up to 20 percent oil included and still be called “oil-free.” This is evident just by looking at some popular brands of eye makeup removers that are clear liquids, where a clear separation of the suspension is visible at the top. These types of oil-based ingredients help dissolve makeup, but also break down the bond of the eyelash extensions. Remind clients to read the ingredient list and avoid products containing oils. When choosing an after-care line, look for one formulated to be hypoallergenic, with no parabens, petrochemicals, fragrances, dyes, GMOs, or alcohols and that is gluten-free. These quality products are out there. However, some post-use serums or sealants should be avoided, especially when they are manufactured in Asia. These typically have relaxed quality control and also contain oils, alcohol, and teflon that break down the bond or create buildup.
LASH TINTING AND PERMING (LIFTING)
For those clients who are not a candidate for eyelash extensions or do not want to go to the expense, they can try tinting their eyelashes. Eyelash tinting is about 20 years old and is used to create darker eyelashes. It lasts about a month or so, depending on how an individual’s natural eyelashes grow and shed. It is a great alternative for those wanting to forgo mascara. Daily mascara use retards the growth of natural eyelashes, causing thinner eyelashes. A great example of this is comparing a 13-year-old girl and boy who both have fabulous eyelashes at that age. However, when they are 18, the boy often still has full eyelashes, while the girl’s eyelashes do not look as great. What happened? Mascara. When an eyelash has to expend energy pushing through mascara and residue, it does not grow as thick or as long as it can. This is why after a few months of wearing proper eyelash extensions or having eyelashes tinted and forgoing mascara, clients often start growing better eyelashes. For those who have blonde or blonde-tipped eyelashes, tinting is a great solution.
Some of the better eyelash tint products come from Europe, are vegetable dye-based, and have higher quality control standards. Some states do not allow eyelash tinting.
Eyelash perming – or its newly marketed name, lash lifting – is a process that is questionable at best. It uses a diluted perming solution used for the hair on one’s head. It can create a chemical burn if it gets in the eye. Additionally, most stylists only take a three-hour hands-on class, or less, to learn the process. When applied to the eyelashes, perming will damage thinner eyelashes, or new growth found throughout the eye, and damage the inner and outer corner eyelashes, as they are the most delicate. When the permed eyelashes grow out, the bend is through the tips of the eyelashes and looks very unnatural. Unless someone has super thick eyelashes that grow downward and affect their vision, lifting or perming is not a long-term solution for enhancing natural eyelashes.
There is much to navigate when it comes to eyelash enhancements. In addition to choosing quality products, stylists also need to be concerned about product safety. Read the labels and become educated when using chemicals, especially around the eye area. Short-term, low-cost options may sound like a good idea for the bottom line, but they are not a long-term strategy when stylist and client health is considered.
Nicole Flevaris is the founder and president of The Lashe, an eyelash extension products company. Flevaris graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and international business and with a master’s in business administration, with specialty in finance and entrepreneurship. She also has a background in biology, chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and pharmacognosy. Flevaris founded The Lashe in 2007 and completed the line in 2009. The cornerstone is the much-acclaimed adhesive she formulated especially for eyelash extensions. She later founded Salon Lashe in 2011, a premier salon for eyelash extensions.