Eyelash extensions are all the rage right now. If you do not have them, then you know someone who does. They’re relatively low maintenance and can save you from having to wear mascara most days.
But did you know you could get lash lice if you’re not properly caring for your lash extensions?
That’s right, lice aren’t just for your head. Lash lice, also known as demodex, are pretty much exactly like head lice. Except they’re found on your eyelashes. These little buggers make a home on your eyelashes, usually close to the base, and feed off your blood. And here’s the real kicker? Lash lice are more common among those who wear lash extensions, mainly due to lack of proper care.
Many people with eyelash extensions are under the impression that not cleaning your eyelashes will help them last longer. And while that may be true of some things, eyelashes are not one of them.
“Generally the idea when you have eyelash extensions is that people are afraid to kind of touch them or wash them because they’re afraid the eyelash will fall out,” Dr. Sairah Malik tells ABC 7 News.
But let’s be very clear: You should be cleaning them regularly, just like you wash your face. If you don’t cleanse your lashes regularly, you’re basically creating a playground for the lash lice to play on. Dr. Malik recommends using a cleanser with a tea tree as its base. “Any cleanser that has a diluted form of tea tree, and it is a good idea to use on a daily basis,” she explains.
Different doctors, different estheticians, different dermatologists will have varied suggestions, but the important part is finding a gentle cleanser and using it.
We don’t always think about the fact that the area around our eyes gets dirty too. This is especially true if you’re wearing eye makeup regularly. But think about it, many of us touch our eyes several dozen times over the course of a day. Your hands are dirty so if you rub your eyes, you’ll spread oil and all kinds of bacteria across your eyelid. Those bacteria, plus your skin’s natural oils, will make a hospitable home for lash lice.
Refinery29 recommends using a cotton swab dipped in micellar water as a quick and easy way to keep your lashes clean. Dr. Jennifer Tsai, OD, an optometrist also recommends a cleanser with tea tree.
Now that literally everyone is itching and convinced they have bugs near their eyeballs, how do you know if you truly have lash lice? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?
“Symptoms of eyelash lice can include lid irritation, scabbing, redness, itching, tearing, and swelling,” Dr. Tsai explains to R29. And then, there are also the lash lice mites. Oh yeah, there’s usually lice mites on your eyelashes. Having lash lice really and truly is like having head lice. By regularly cleaning your lash extensions, you’re taking away their food source.
“Everyone has lash mites. That’s perfectly normal,” Kate Belanger, a cosmetologist and lash artist in Grand Rapids, Michigan explains to local news station WZZM. “They keep our lash line nice and healthy, but when there is an over abundant food source—so say you’re not cleaning your lashes and a bunch of debris, oils, dead skin cells are kind of building up—that causes them to over produce.”
Belanger explains that properly cleaning your eyelashes to avoid lash lice is actually one of the best ways to extend the life of your lash extensions. “The cleaner you keep them, the better your retention is going to be long-term and the healthier your lashes are going to be,” she says.
So the consensus is obviously that you need to be keeping your lashes clean, and there’s another important way to keep your eyes safe too. Make sure when you go to your lash specialist for appointments that they’re using sanitary tools. Lash lice, just like regular head lice can jump from person to person. So if the person before you got their lashes done and things aren’t properly sanitized, that bacteria is spreading all over your eye too.
If you feel the symptoms or even see the lice mites, see an eye doctor ASAP. They can give you an antibiotic ointment to get things under control. The ointment will suffocate the lash lice so they will die off. If you wait too long to have it checked out, you may be doing real damage to your eyes. That includes losing your lashes, chronic inflammation of the eyelid and even vision damage.
No one is saying not to get eyelash extensions anymore, or even suggesting that this will happen to you, but they are saying to be careful. Just like head lice, they will come back if you’re not being diligent. Both Dr. Malik and Dr. Tsai advise taking breaks from having extensions every once in awhile. Removing them gives your eyelashes a chance to breathe, and allowing them to breathe means it’ll be easier to keep the area clean.
“Cleaning eyelash extensions and following proper lid hygiene care is really important,” Dr. Tsai says. Heed the doc’s advice. Your eyelashes may be cute, but having lash lice certainly is not.