When Kristen Chenoweth showed up on The Late Show With David Letterman in 2012 showing very noticeable signs of an allergic reaction to lash glue, lash artists everywhere had to cringe. Would everyone think lash extensions were dangerous?
The incident may have temporarily given lash extensions a bad name, but the truth of the matter is that allergies to lash glue are just like any other allergies. Some people are allergic to shellfish or peanuts, and some people are allergic to lash glue.
So what do you do when a client has an allergy? We’ve compiled facts and expert opinions on what kind of advice to give your clients, understanding signs and symptoms, whether changing adhesives works, and when to stop applying lashes.
What Causes Allergies to Eyelash Extensions?
Most eyelash adhesives are cyanoacrylate-based. Cyanoacrylate is a generic term for a group of fast-acting adhesives that are used in medical products (i.e. sutureless adhesives), household products, super glue and more. An estimated five percent of the population has an allergy to cyanoacrylates, but the product is safe for those who don’t.
Contrary to what some people think—and to what Kristen Chenoweth said on national TV—no quality lash adhesive is formaldehyde-based. However, the adhesive can emit a trace of formaldehydes when it’s combined with certain ingredients or not properly purified. According to Novalash founder Sophy Merszei, a chemist and molecular biologist, adhesives must be properly purified and bottled to prevent formaldehyde from forming. That’s why it’s crucial to use a high quality, medical-grade adhesive, and to properly store it. Formaldehyde, like cyanoacrylates, can cause allergic reactions.
Allergies can also develop to the tape or stickers that some lash artists use underneath the eyes during application. In other cases, seasonal allergies might be to blame. Even if the person is not allergic to adhesive or tape, the lashes might aggravate their discomfort.
No matter how the allergy developed, it’s crucial that you advise clients with symptoms to see a doctor. The American Academy of Opthalmology recommends that anyone who displays symptoms of an allergy or irritation after getting lashes immediately visit an eye doctor.
Eyelash Glue Allergy Symptoms and Treatments
Symptoms of an allergic reaction vary from one person to the next, but they usually include redness and swelling along the lash line. They may or may not include itching, bloodshot eyes, discharge and excessive watering. The severity varies from person to person, too. Some people with mild allergies aren’t bothered enough to stop wearing lashes, but people with severe allergies often want them removed.
Allergies can also lead to other conditions. In a three-year scientific study of 107 Japanese women who visited the eye doctor due to complications with lash extensions, nearly 40 percent— or 42 women—developed allergic Blepharitis due to glues. One woman developed allergic Blepharitis due to eyelid-fixing tapes.
Doctors usually treat allergies to lash extensions by recommending over-the-counter antihistamines, prescribing a special kind of eye drops, and/or suggesting home remedies such as a cold compress. In some cases, the doctor will recommend that the lashes be removed. If this is the case, advise your clients to come to the salon for removal. Self-removal can irritate the condition. Just be sure not to dole out medical advice—that’s best left to the doctors.
In some cases, particularly when the allergy is not severe, your clients will want to try lashes again. To reduce the likelihood of another allergic reaction, try switching adhesives. There are glues specially formulated for sensitive eyes, although they tend not to last as long (and it’s smart to tell your clients that). You’ll also want to avoid using any sort of stickers or tape to rule out that type of allergy. Instead, use gel pads or a plastic mascara shield.
Allergic Reactions vs. Irritations
Sometimes the symptoms are not caused by an actual allergic reaction, but an irritation to the glue or the lashes. There’s no way to be sure without visiting a doctor. Even with an irritation, a doctor might prescribe drops, suggest home remedies, or advise removing the lashes.
Irritations, like allergies, can lead to other problems. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, additional risks include infections of the eyelid and cornea or temporary to permanent loss of lashes. So it’s important that your clients get checked.
Experienced lash artists know that most people never have problems with their lashes. But, as a professional, it’s important to understand what can happen to keep your clients safe.
Association of Damage-Free Eyelash Extensions 
Link to blepharitis article to provide additional info?