Eyelash extensions are the secret behind just about every celebrity's ridiculously long lashes. Katy Perry? Eyelash extensions. Chrissy Teigen? Eyelash extensions. Ariana Grande? Eyelash extensions.
They all have them, and they all look amazing.
I love the look of long, dramatic lashes all these ladies have. Like here, Ariana Grande might look like her lashes are just long and full and amazing, but they're actually eyelash extensions.
I wasn't blessed with very long, thick lashes that could be made to look even longer and bolder with just mascara, so fake eyelashes have always been one of my favorite makeup tools, coming in second to concealer that actually covers my acne scars (Make Up Forever forever) and contour kits.
With fake eyelashes, you can usually tell where the strip holding all of the lashes together is on someone's eyelid. Eyelash extensions, however, are individually placed onto each lash until you achieve your desired look, meaning most people can't tell the lashes are fake (if they're done well).
But there's another thing to be said about my relationship with eyelashes.
For me, eyelashes have been a source of empowerment because I have trichotillomania.
WARNING: The following content might be triggering for some readers.
Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder that causes a person to compulsively pull out their hair.
People pull from all areas of the body (and usually stick to pulling from one place), but the most common areas are the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelids. I have a history of pulling out my eyelashes when my anxiety and depression are peaking.
This video from Refinery29 does a good job of explaining what the disorder feels like:
Only about 1 to 3 percent of adults in the US have the disorder, 80-90 percent of them are female, and it can last for years if not treated. There is no specific medication to treat the disorder, but people who have it often have anxiety and depression as well, so anxiety/depression meds have been known to help.
Therapy has been the most effective treatment for me, as I've opted not to go on anxiety medication for personal reasons.
That all being said, my trichotillomania was at its absolute worst my sophomore year of college, as was my mental health overall.
I had been depressed without knowing it for three years and struggled with anxiety to boot. Previously, throughout middle school and high school, I always had a habit of pulling my mascara off (especially waterproof mascara) with my fingers and thinking it felt really good when a lash would accidentally come out in the process.
As time went on and my mental health worsened, I started pulling out my eyelashes solely for the sake of pulling out my eyelashes. It felt good to give into the compulsion, and there were many times when I would kind of black out and not realize I was even having an episode until I snapped back into consciousness.
During the winter of my sophomore year, I had no eyelashes on the top row of my left eye, and I had large gaps between lashes on my right.
I was wearing fake eyelashes every day to cover up my secret, and I would wait until I knew there weren't a lot of people around before I took them off to shower, go to bed, get out of bed, etc., so no one would discover that I literally had no eyelashes on one eye. The fear of people finding out was as terrifying as the fear of having another episode.
The hardest thing I've ever done in my life was working on my mental health so I could put an end to the pulling, but I worked at it with a therapist and eventually got back into a mentally healthy state. I then went an entire year and a half without having an episode.
Now, I'm still in a great place mental health-wise, but just as anyone with trichotillomania will tell you, the disorder has its peaks and valleys. Healing doesn't always mean the problem goes away forever. Rather, you'll have highs and lows, but hopefully it will mostly be highs.
After I have an episode, I take comfort in the fact that my eyelashes will grow back. (This didn't used to be the case.) But I've always wished they could just magically grow back overnight and be indestructible so I wouldn't have to worry about them anymore. But they're not, so I have to do my best to take care of myself and them.
I've tried using Latisse to help them grow, and I've tried over-the-counter lash-growing serums found at basic drug stores, but none of them worked and Latisse just ate my wallet. I wanted longer, fuller lashes, and I wanted them fast.
I heard about eyelash extensions for the first time my senior year of college and never gave thought to getting them because I just assumed I'd pull them all out day one. But then a friend of mine in New York had them and frequently got them refilled, seeing how great she looked with them convinced me I should try them out.
The second I checked in at the salon, I was taken to a private room that had a long bed that looks like the ones you sit on at a doctor's office, except a little more wide. There was a large, bright, circular light above it that would be angled on my face while the extensions were being placed.
The man who applied my lashes is Taymour, a makeup, eyebrow, and lash specialist who tells me he was one of the first MUAs to try out eyelash extensions when they first were created about 11 years ago. He uses the Xtreme Lashes brand, noting they're the leader in eyelash extensions and have been for years.
Step One: Clean Dem Eyeballs
I arrived to the salon with some basic eye makeup on (some shadow and mascara), so Taymour removed the makeup using Xtreme's Eye Makeup Remover & Facial Cleanser ($15-$30).
This is what my natural lashes looked like after being cleaned:
My lashes are looking pretty consistently full and long lately, which is great, although I have had some episodes recently that I would definitely label as "bad." But that's OK too.
Step Two: Tape Down Dem Eyeballs
Taymour then had me lay down on the bed and close my eyes, and then lays down the law by saying, "Under no circumstances are you to open your eyes." Taymour doesn't f*ck around, and I'm here for it.
The next part was my second favorite thing to happen that day. To soothe my eyes throughout the hour-long application process, Taymour puts Aloe Vera eye masks under each eye — on top of my bottom lashes, important note — and tapes them down gently so the bottom lashes wouldn't get glued to the top, resulting in my eyes being glued shut. LOL, nothing to worry about here!
But in all of his years of doing eyelash extensions, Taymour tells me he's only had one client accidentally get their eyes glued shut, and it was mostly because her eyes were very twitchy (stay still, people). He had to do her lashes again the next day.
Step Three: Decide On Length
After that, we decide on the length. I tell him I want my lashes to look fuller and longer, but still look a little natural. I'm not looking for them to be overly dramatic, but I do want them to make a statement. We decide on 8-11 millimeters — the shorter ones on the inner part of my lids, and the longer on the outer to get an almond shape.
Then, I go to sleep. Just kidding, we chat the entire time about our lives. Taymour is lovely. 10/10 would recommend. And the fact that he willingly glued eyelashes individually onto my face for an hour makes him an angel.
Step Four: LET THE GLUING BEGIN
I know this is the question most people ask when talking about eyelash extensions: How long do they stay on, and how the f*cking f*ck do they stay on that long?
It's all in the glue, guys. The glue Taymour uses is Xtreme's FlexFusion adhesive — a hypoallergenic medical-grade eyelash glue that's more permanent than the eyelash glue you can buy at CVS (because it obviously should be). It goes on black, and it's applied to each individual lash.
With this glue and with proper care, the extensions can stay in for up to five weeks. Then you can either have them removed or refilled. The whole initial application process costs between $70 and $150, depending on where you get them done. So it's a commitment, to say the least.
Taymour started the application process and tells me he's going to be placing 80 individual lashes on each eye. "ON EACH EYE?! HOLY SH*T," I say back, almost opening my eyes like an idiot. He says, again, "I don't f*ck around." I love him deeply.
Basically, what he has to do is cut each individual extension to the appropriate length, dip it in glue, then place it on one of my natural lashes. They can't put any extensions where a natural lash doesn't already exist, hence why they're called extensions.
This process takes Taymour about an hour, but it's because he's been doing this for a longgggg time. Most less-seasoned stylists take about two hours, but the time flew by for me, so maybe another hour of laying down with an eye mask on wouldn't be that bad.
After the application is over, Taymour starts fanning me with an actual handheld fan, as if I'm literally a southern belle overheated at a barbecue. I love how extra it is. It suits my soul. I tell Taymour this, and he says, "Here you go, Cleopatra," then hands the fan to me so I can live my truth.
Well, he actually handed it to me so he could go get tweezers and do my eyebrows, which I didn't ask for, by the way – he just did it. I told him I loved him again. We have bonded. We are one.
As he's fanning me, he tells me most of his clients are rich Upper East Side housewives, but Emily Blunt and John Krasinski have been known to go to this salon for facials and massages (not from him, since he focuses on makeup).
Emily Blunt!!! John Krasinski!!! Emily Blunt and John Krasinski!!! Taymour says they are literally the most lovely, down-to-earth people, and I sob. Life affirmed.
Step Five: The Reveal
I was really afraid I was going to look in the mirror and hate how extra the lashes looked.
Since I'm uniquely sensitive about how my eyelashes look at all times, there have been plenty of times when I wore fake eyelashes out, only to think I did too much and looked ridiculous when looking at the pictures the next day. That feeling really stirs up some potentially damaging self-loathing for me, so my heart was beating fast as I got out of the bed and walked over to the mirror.
But this ended up being my favorite part.
Guys, they literally look so f*cking fabulous. Here's the before-and-after pic:
CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE IT?! I F*CKING CAN'T.
I had told Taymour about my trichotillomania, so he was really excited to see me excited about the finished product. He then gives me a sheet detailing the aftercare for them. It says,
Xtreme lashes are easy to maintain without major changes to your lifestyle. They are resistant to water, sweat, and tears. Your new lashes can last up to two months or longer, depending on the natural growth cycle of your eyelashes.
Taymour recommends I come back to have them touched up in about three to five weeks, depending on how well I take care of them, and tells me I can't get them wet for the first 12 hours following the application.
The best part about all of this is I don't have to use mascara on my top lashes. Eyelash extensions accomplish the look you normally have to use mascara to even somewhat achieve, so there's really no need for it at all.
In terms of how they physically feel on my face, the first day having them felt like I was wearing fake eyelashes. But the next morning I could barely notice their presence. They feel like natural eyelashes when you touch them, unless you put mascara on.
I only use mascara on the bottom lashes now. The sheet also says not to use waterproof mascara at all, as it will dissolve the bond between your fake and real lashes. It also says to try your best to sleep on your back so they don't get messed up overnight, but that's hard to avoid.
I usually wear a dramatic winged eyeliner when I go out, and I will admit taking the eyeliner off with these lashes in was pretty difficult.
The first night I put on eyeliner following the application (about two nights after), I basically just left the eyeliner on while I slept because I had a hard time getting it off and it was annoying. But I'm used to it now; it just takes some creative positioning with your hands.
Taymour says to use water-based makeup remover on your eyes, so I bought the aforementioned Xtreme Lashes brand. It works well and literally feels like water, but with magical makeup-removing powers.
Now I'm six days in with my new, fabulous, dramatic-but-still-kind-of-natural-looking-maybe eyelash extensions, and I literally feel like a model.
As I mentioned earlier, I have lots of red acne scars, so I usually don't leave the house (even to walk my dog) without at least some concealer on. I'm still insecure about my skin. But in an interesting twist, these extensions made me feel so confident about my eyes, I didn't care about my bare skin when I left to walk my dog the other day.
LITERALLY, WHAT? THAT NEVER HAPPENS. The only time I leave my house without face makeup is when I'm going to the dermatologist, so this was a welcomed shock.
In terms of my trichotillomania, I did have an episode two nights ago. My anxiety was running high, and I saw one of the extensions a little dislodged. So I pulled it out, and some of my natural lashes came with it. I thought maybe my natural lashes wouldn't be affected if I pulled out the extensions, but since they're glued together, this outcome made sense.
Knowing this, I now am pretty afraid of how I'm supposed to remove them (if I choose not to have them refilled) without my natural lashes becoming collateral damage. I have read that eyelash extensions are damaging to natural lashes, so this is definitely an area of concern. But I imagine that's a task I'll leave to the experts when the time comes.
But here I am six days after the application and two days post-pulling episode, and they still look great. (Also, my eyebrows have literally never looked better, ever. BLESS YOU, TAYMOUR. YOU ARE A GOD AMONG MEN.)
I literally have no eye makeup on in this picture, there's just residue mascara on my bottom lashes from the day before:
With these new lashes, I'll probably go without the dramatic eyeliner to see how I feel with a more Kim K natural-yet-glam look.
So far, I'm feeling really great with them. As a makeup hack, they're amazing. But given their high price and the high price for refills, I imagine these wouldn't be worth it to a lot of people.
But as a person who struggles with trichotillomania, every time I look at my eyelashes now, they look long, beautiful, and most of all, natural.
And just the semblance of my eyelashes looking naturally full and voluminous without me having to apply layer upon layer of mascara or fake eyelashes makes me feel beautiful. I literally wake up like this now — a goal no other "lash-growing" serum could accomplish for me.
Eyelash extensions have helped relieve the anxiety that onsets my trichotillomania, and that's worth every penny.