Eye Doctor Sees A Cosmetic Future For An Eye Drop

Anita Brikman reporting

Aired February 21, 2007 on 6abc Action News

February 21, 2007 (WPVI) — A local eye doctor sees a cosmetic future for an eye drop that can grow the kind of lashes so many women want.

Sometimes, prescription drugs have unexpected cosmetic side effects. The baldness-fighter Rogaine started out as a blood pressure drug. Now an eye drop could translate into longer lashes”It’s dramatic. People pay attention to your eyes. They show your health, your mood,” said Marva Jeanet who is the beauty advisor for Walgreens.

Jason Tavares of Pierre & Carlo Salon had this to say, “The longer your eyelashes, the more your eye looks bigger and open.”

And yes, some of us even add extra lashes for special occasions, including the women of Action News. But all of this takes time, effort and money. What if you could use an eye drop instead?

“We have an eye drop that actually makes your eyelashes grow longer, and thicker and darker and fuller and it really works,” said Dr. Nancy Swartz.

Dr. Swartz, a Philadelphia-area ophthalmologist and cosmetic surgeon, knows it works because she tried it on herself!

The drug is Lumigan; it is one of three commonly prescribed glaucoma medications called prostaglandins. They reduce pressure inside the eye. But they also increase the growth cycle of the hair follicles in eye lashes, and darken their pigment, or color.

Dr. Swartz showed Action News a picture of her own lashes before she began using Lumigan; and then, three weeks after.

“Great results I haven’t had anyone start this drop who hasn’t been ecstatic.”

Luanne Santa Barbara is one of those ecstatic patients. The South Jersey mother of 2 has very fair hair, brows and eyelashes that are short and almost transparent. Luanne says after just one week of using Lumigan, friends say they can see a difference, even when she’s not wearing makeup.

“They’ve grown longer and they get darker in a week,” said Luanne.

Ophthalmologist Constance Okeke of the Sheie Eye Institute says not every patient will experience eyelash growth. And, she warns, these drugs carry possible side effects such as redness, dryness, and a “foreign-body” sensation in the eye. In rare cases, Dr. Okeke says the medications can also cause fluid to collect in the retina, and that can distort vision.

What’s more because the prostaglandins affect pigment, they can darken skin around the eye. That side effect typically goes away once the eye drops are stopped. But another pigment change is not reversible. Doctors say prolonged use of the glaucoma drops can change eye color, especially in people with light-colored eyes.

“There can be permanent changes in the iris color. The iris color can change and darken,” Dr. Okeke said.

To minimize the chance of side effects Dr. Swartz tells her patients to put the drops on a Q-tip, and then apply them to the base of the lashes instead of putting them directly in the eyes.

Both ophthalmologists say an eye exam should be done before prostaglandins are prescribed, and people with certain eye conditions shouldn’t use them at all. They include individuals with previous eye inflammation, or uveitis. People who have recently had cataract surgery and developed inflammation in their retina afterwards should also avoid these drops.

Dr. Swartz says Lumigan has “a long history of use with an excellent safety profile.” But she understands why fellow physicians would be hesitant to use the drug to grow eyelashes. However, she also sees the potential for patients especially those with sparse, or non-existent lashes.

“A lot of women are unhappy with their eyelashes, and I’ve been hearing it for years.”

Luanne said, “I am using it forever!”

Lumigan and the other glaucoma drugs are prescription-only and cost from 70 to 200 dollars, depending on the size of the bottle.

Dr. Nancy Swartz presented her eyelash treatment idea at the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery meeting in January. She says it received a very positive reception.

(Copyright 2007. Action News and 6abc. All rights reserved)

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