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The lash extension industry is expensive — and exploding in popularity

Kristine Dellaria had eyelash extensions applied by Erin Burke at Lash L'Amour in Newton.
Kristine Dellaria had eyelash extensions applied by Erin Burke at Lash L'Amour in Newton. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

The beauty industry has struck again. No sooner had they convinced women that having the perfectly styled brow was the key to happiness than they changed the game and deemed better eyelashes the new true path.

Now, women (and a smattering of men) are paying as much as $400 to have a full set of extensions glued on, lash by lash, in appointments that can take hours. Then they’re returning every few weeks for fill-ins. (Which can run over $100 if procedures that professionals call proper “lash aftercare” have not been followed, but more on that later.)

If right about now you’re getting all Must be nice to have that kind of time and money, you should probably face an unpleasant truth: The beauty industry understands something about human nature, that the better others look, the worse the rest of us do — or at least think we do. And sooner or later, it’s going to convince a lot of us we need new lashes.

Just listen to the self-confidence flowing from Melissa Moles, a 43-year-old senior director at a Cambridge biotech firm who got extensions and says people now stop her on the street to compliment her lashes.

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“People think I’ve been blessed by God,” she said.

Kline & Company, a New Jersey-based consulting and research firm, estimates the US lash extension industry grew 8.3 percent from 2017 to 2018, from $808 million to $875 million.

We’re now living in a world with lash studio memberships, lash consultants, lash stylists, and lash menus. (Hmm, let’s see . . . Do I want the “Bambi” or “Cat Eyes”?)

In Back Bay, lash studios are threatening to outnumber lattes. There’s Lash L’Amour, Elite Lash, Eyestarr, Rise Beauty Studio, Brow and Lash Boutique at Salon Monet . . . and more.

Kristine Dellaria before (left) and after (right) receiving eyelash extensions at Lash L’Amour.
Kristine Dellaria before (left) and after (right) receiving eyelash extensions at Lash L’Amour.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

On Wednesday, in Coolidge Corner, when the Amazing Lash Studio held its grand opening, it became the second lash studio on a two-block stretch.

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It’s steps away from LashExpert, where founder Iryne Zgurskaya is literally a global lash extension champion. Standing in front of her trophy case on a recent afternoon, and looking at a reporter through lashes that should not be tried at home, she talked about what it takes, in part, to win over judges in a lash competition.

“There can’t be any lashes stuck together,” she said. “And they have to be going in the right direction.”

If you’re not a makeup person, lash extensions are strictly in the expense category, since they’re not replacing mascara or anything else. But extension customers do a friendlier math. Semi-permanent lashes, they figure, are time and money savers.

Moles, who goes to Eyestarr for her extensions, says her lashes make her eyes look so open and awake that she no longer needs eye shadow or liner — or even lipstick. “I can just put on some Burt’s Bees” lip balm, she said.

Alas, extensions do have their limits. Asked if they make her look thinner, Moles allowed herself a rueful laugh. “If that could happen I’d be eating them.”

False eyelashes aren’t new, but as Cosmopolitan explained in an extensions 101 story in April, “Eyelash extensions aren’t the same as falsies.”

Those are strips of temporary lashes a user glues onto her own lash line, or maybe something applied by a makeup artist before a big event.

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In contrast, lash extensions are painstakingly applied, with semi-permanent glue, to individual lashes. They are made of mink, faux mink, sable, silk, cashmere, or synthetic fibers.

Depending on the desired look, the extension-to-host-lash ratio can be one-to-one, or, for the full Kardashian, as many as 10 extensions can be glued to a single real lash.

Erin Burke applied eyelashes at Lash L'Amour in Newton.
Erin Burke applied eyelashes at Lash L'Amour in Newton. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Why are we so obsessed with lashes, anyway? Healthy lashes can be a sign of overall health, as some diseases can cause lash loss, and long lashes have even been associated with chastity, according to a 2018 investigation into everything lashes by New York Magazine’s fashion blog, the Cut.

“[A]ncient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder suggested . . . that women’s eyelashes could fall out if they had too much sex,” the Cut reported.

More recent research suggests long eyelashes are valuable for the illusion they create of wide, gazing eyes, according to the Cut. “Throughout the 20th century, studies by behavioral scientists found that “neonates in a wide range of species share such features as large eyes and forehead,” and these features “seemed to elicit protecting and caretaking responses from adults.”

Alas, with lashes, as with so many good things in life, one can go too far.

Anastasia Kaloyanides, the triathlon coach at Boston University — who doesn’t feel like her real self unless she’s wearing lash extensions — says sometimes lashes are all you can see on a person.

“It’s almost like their eyelids are too heavy,” she said.

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Some extension problems are more than cosmetic. The American Academy of Ophthalmology lists risks that include: trauma to or infection of the eyelid or cornea; allergic reaction to the glue; and permanent or temporary loss of eyelashes.

Infection can come from inadequate hygiene in the shop or damage to the eye during application. “Remember that a sharp object is being used very close to your eye,” Rebecca Taylor, the group’s clinical spokeswoman, says in a statement on its website

Now let’s return to the subject of “lash aftercare,” and associated lifestyle adjustments.

Amy Kaye co-owner of Rise Beauty Studio, suggests users avoid adhesive-unfriendly hot yoga, vigorous eye-splashing while in the shower, or sleeping with your face buried in your pillow — sacrifices she says are well worth it.

Perhaps, but at least the non-lash-enhanced among us have something to lord over them, even if it’s just the freedom to sleep how we darn please.


Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.