Gentle Cosmetic Conditioners for Healthier Brows and Lashes

As we usher in another year, conversations naturally turn to the subject of New Year’s resolutions. Because all eyes are on future intentions, now’s the perfect time to inspire clients to make 2017 their year for healthier natural lashes and brows. By simply adding a gentle lash and/ or brow conditioner to their after-care routines, clients can help their extensions hold longer, expand their options for more dramatic eye looks and feel more confident every day. 

Primed to Condition

Lash and brow conditioners help address a very real problem, says Diane Madfes, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in New York City and a member of American Academy of Dermatology. “The problem with eyelashes is their growth cycle is very long—it takes about three months for an eyelash to grow naturally on its own cycle,” says Madfes. Meanwhile, normal wear and tear—rubbing, the effects of mascara and eye makeup removers, dry winter weather—creates nicks and cracks in those slow-growing lashes, leaving them thin, brittle and breakable. Add to that the effects of some medications and the natural slowdown of cell cycles as we age, and, well, most of us could use a little extra help.

When the prescription eyelash treatment Latisse hit the market in 2008, many thought they’d found the ultimate solution. Powered by a man-made prostaglandin with hormonelike effects, the treatment shortened the resting phase, extended the growth phase and made lashes grow like gangbusters. “There was a whole explosion with Latisse and lots of other prostaglandin antagonists a couple years ago. But those have fallen to the wayside because prostaglandin antagonists are a drug,” says Madfes.

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And that drug comes with side effects. Some Latisse users dealt with itching, redness, permanent darkening of the eyelids and/or permanent changes in the color of the iris. That’s why in March 2014, Consumer Reports included Latisse on its list of “10 Drugs You Should Avoid.” As of June 2016, sales of the prescription treatment had declined 22.7 percent over the previous year.

Meanwhile, cosmetics companies are filling the void with over-the-counter alternatives that deliver less dramatic results, but with virtually none of the risk. Whether you call them conditioners or serums or conditioning serums, the category has shifted toward botanicals, peptides, B vitamins and oils, says Madfes. “It’s anything you can do to increase the growth cycle of cells, whether you’re supplying lipids, peptides or essential fatty acids,” she says.

Safer Star Ingredients

Exactly what kinds of ingredients are doing the heavy lifting in these cosmetic lash and brow boosters? Let’s take a look.

Amino acids and peptides: Hair is mostly made up of protein. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of protein, and their levels decline as we age. Peptides are simply compounds consisting of two or more amino acids. “You see a lot of these peptide complexes in lash conditioners,” says Madfes. “They make the lash itself a little healthier. They’re filling in the normal cracks and crevices that arise in eyelashes and make them fragile over time.” Thus, peptide complexes work to make lashes thicker and stronger.

Nourishing oils: Soybean, castor and other oils contain vitamins and essential fatty acids that give the cell membrane what it needs for growth, says Madfes. “They’re feeding them, and they’re also making a barrier so that the lashes that you have appear thicker and aren’t as weak.” Nourishing oils also impart a glossy sheen to hairs, making them appear healthier. Unfortunately for lash extension wearers, oily formulas break down most extension adhesives, shortening the life of the extensions.

Panthenol: “Panthenol is a B vitamin, and vitamins are always helpful for making an optimal growth environment for dermal pappilla cells,” says Madfes. (The dermal papillae send growth signals to each hair follicle.) “Panthenol is also a great moisturizer.”

Botanical extracts: Extracts of sweet almond, pumpkin seed, algae and other botanicals offer rich concentrations of various vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, which help nourish the dermal papillae and bring moisture to lash and brow hairs.

RELATED: Jane Iredale on Creating Skin-Friendly Cosmetics

Consulting with Clients

When retailing a cosmetic alternative to a well-known prescription drug, your expertise and personalized advice makes a big impression on the client. Here are a few tips from pros in the field.

Talk up the safety angle. “What I normally tell people is that this is a cosmetic, not a drug,” says Andrea Dopico, vice president of the Lash & Brow Academy in Woodland Hills, California. “It has different ingredients, it doesn’t have any sort of hormones and it’s not going to change the color of your skin or eyes.”

Know your ingredients. When retailing to extension clients, watch out for conditioners with oily ingredients that can break down extension adhesive. For example, Narcissa Daytz, director of education for Billion Dollar Brows, recommends the company’s Brow Boost: Primer & Conditioner for brow-shaping clients. “But when it comes to brow extensions, we do not recommend use of Brow Boost or any other products that might weaken the glue bond,” she says.

Start strong. Conditioning products are a stellar way to prime clients with weaker lashes or brows prior to extension services. For instance, Daytz encourages potential brow extension clients to lay off the tweezers and do a three-month cycle of Brow Boost before the service so she knows how much natural hair with which she’ll have to work. “It’s always best to start with the healthiest brows possible,” Daytz says. Similarly, Dopico recommends pre-conditioning for new lash-extension clients who come in with seriously weak and peach-fuzzy lashes. “If their natural lashes are too weak to hold an extension, I would send them home with the [NovaLash] Lash+Doctor first,” she says. “I’d have them use that for maybe two weeks and then come in for the full set of extensions.”

Keep it going. Abby O’Sullivan, a Lash Affair trainer in Missouri and Tennessee, recommends conditioner to any client who aspires to longer, heavier extensions than her natural lashes can currently handle. “I suggest they use the conditioning serum daily for up to eight to 10 weeks,” says O’Sullivan. “After I notice positive results from the serum, I suggest they drop down to two to three times a week.”

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Suggest a break before (and after) microblading. Clients should steer clear of brow conditioners for six weeks prior to a microblading session, advises Julia Anne Millin, master microblading trainer and founder of Brow Design Microblading Academy. “These products bring blood vessels closer to the surface of the skin, making excessive bleeding during treatment more probable,” she warns. Clients should continue to avoid brow conditioners during the four-week healing period, adds Millin. “Keep in mind that we do a mandatory touch-up appointment after four to six weeks. So in essence, it’s best your client waits four weeks after the touch-up session before conditioning again,”

Patch test for sensitive skin. While cosmetic conditioners are low-risk, reactions still happen, says Madfes. “If your client has a history of underlying eczema or a sensitivity to, say, mascara, eye shadow or contact lens solution, you want to do a patch test away from the eye,” she says. Have clients apply the product to the skin just in front of the ear every day for a week. If no irritation occurs, that’s a green light to start conditioning!

On the Horizon

Now that we’ve moved toward kinder, gentler lash- and browboosters, you might wonder what’s next for this growing category. “We envision lashand brow-conditioning formulas will be included in a wider range of beauty products, such as mascaras and/ or brow fillers,” says Marisa Leroy, brand manager for Skin Research Laboratories, makers of NeuLASH. The company recently introduced neuENVY, a peptide-enhanced mascara designed to be the daytime complement to a nightly application of neuLASH. You can see other hints of this trend toward multitasking cosmetics with benefits in our “Product Picks” on page 39 and on store shelves.

The future of lash and brow conditioners continues to look very bright,” says Nicole Pigott, brand manager of Rocasuba, makers of RapidLash. As the appeal and popularity of eyelash and eyebrow treatments like perms, tinting and extensions grows, the more demand there is for conditioning products to keep natural lashes and brows nourished and healthy. And with the full-brow trend still going strong and the no-makeup movement spearheaded by singer Alicia Keys and driven to the forefront by social media hashtags like #wokeuplikethis picking up speed, these conditioners are the support system your clients need.

–by Elizabeth Turner