Drug could help grow eyelashes

The real thing is hard to beat. But now there may be a way to get lashes to grow on their own, no matter what your age.

Never mind the fact that eyelashes have a real purpose - to protect the eye from dust and other foreign particles. Eyelashes, for many people, are also a symbol of beauty. But as we age, eyelashes seem to grow scarce.

So it's no wonder women are now batting their eyes at an anti-glaucoma medication with the unusual side effect of making lashes grow. But, how safe is it?

You can coat them with mascara, slather on the eyeliner, glue on false ones or even have a transplant. For so many women, long, thick, dark eyelashes are worth the effort because they're thought to project beauty, youth and sex appeal.

Sue Burns says she has what many women are going to want - the ultimate solution - a way to make eyelashes grow for real.

"I'm like, it can not be that easy," Burns said.

About two months ago, she started brushing on a medication called Lumigan. It's a prescription medication to treat glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness. One of the side effects - it seems to stimulate lash growth. Burns says within a month, hers were sprouting so much they were hitting up against her sunglasses.

"I'm like, oh my heavens this works," she said.

Burns does not have glaucoma. But she got the prescription for the medication at the Ritacca Laser and Cosmetic Center in Vernon Hills. Many staff members at the center are also using it. Once a day, they brush it on the base of their eyelashes. Many see results in a couple of weeks.

"When I feel like they are long enough, I stop using it," said Dawn Davidson, Ritacca.

The effect does not seem to be permanent.

"Definitely I noticed a difference, but I am the non-compliant patient so to speak. I really think it takes consistence for the product to work," said La Toya Norman, Ritacca.

Ophthalmologist Dan Ritacca says he has no problem prescribing the drug for an off-label use. And others are doing the same. Ritacca says even though he feels the medication is safe, he still requires patients to undergo an exam every six months.

"I'm seeing a lot of happy patients and a lot of excitement in the field," Ritacca said. "For people who don't have eyelashes who may have undergone chemotherapy or just weren't blessed with these long beautiful lashes."

This is the latest in the blurring of the line between cosmetics and drugs. The active ingredient in Lumigan is called bimatoprost. It's part of a class of drugs called prostaglandins. There are other glaucoma drugs with prostaglandins. They treat the disease by reducing pressure in the eye. But why they make lashes grow is still a mystery.

Loyola ophthalmologist Anad Mantravadi agreed the medication is fairly safe but says he would not prescribe the glaucoma drug just to help someone grow bigger lashes.

"I think people would be less tolerant of having inflammation inside the eye or swelling in the back of the retina when the intended use was just for lengthening eye lashes," Mantravadi said.

Doctors say the medication can cause darkening of skin around the eyes or it can change eye color. Much rarer side effects include swelling and inflammation.

Still, women who can find a doctor willing to order up the medication are more than comfortable giving it a try.

"This is wonderful to have your own lashes," Burns said.

Allergan, the company which makes the anti-wrinkle drug Botox also makes Lumigan. It has the exclusive patents on prostaglandins for use in stimulating eyelash growth and has stopped other companies from using them in their products. Allergan also stresses it does not approve of the off-label use of Lumigan. But the company is planning on coming out with its own eyelash product and expects Food and Drug Administration approval sometime next year.

Ritacca Laser Center
Daniel Ritacca, MD
230 center dr. Suite 101
Vernon Hills, Il 60061


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