Despite the fact that I love beauty products, I’m not a makeup girl, which is why I definitely never thought I’d be an eyelash extensions one. While I appreciate all things complexion-enhancing—like sheer foundations, dewy highlighters, and pretty peach blushes—I break out mascara only on my birthday, when I have a big meeting, or if I’m going to a wedding. Even then, it’s the very subtle Clinique Naturally Glossy in Brown or my trusty tube of YSL Faux Cils if I’m “going big.”
So, ahead of my own wedding, it was very out of character for me to make an appointment to get lash extensions. It was even more out of character that I absolutely freaking loved them. My first appointment was three weeks before to “try them out.” Within a month, I went back two more times: the day before my flight (about a week out from my wedding day), and right before I left for my honeymoon. Obsession is an understatement.
Here’s the thing I discovered about eyelash extensions: They make you feel more glamorous than you thought possible. It’s addicting. When I got home from my second appointment with my most dramatic set, I looked into the mirror and felt like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (note: I do not resemble her in the slightest). They accomplish what mascara can never and will never accomplish, no matter how thick and voluminous the formula is: You look like you were born with the thickest, flutteriest, most perfectly curled lashes. There are no clumps, and they’re perfectly tapered from root to tips. And you look that way 24 hours a day!
The other thing I learned: They’re a high-maintenance, time-intensive, and not exactly cheap habit. Here’s what to know before you try them.
That includes not curling your lashes either. “If they’re curled, there’s a crease right by the root, and it’s hard for the lash artist to apply the extensions—it won’t be a smooth-finish job,” says Jessica Shin, founder of Flair Beauty & Lash Studio in New York City, where I’ve been going for extensions. Other things to avoid: mascara, waterproof eye makeup, oily skin care, and eye cream. You basically don’t want anything that’ll interfere with the glue. “If you need to work out, go to the gym and take a shower in advance,” Shin advises. “You can’t get them wet for 24 hours postsession because the adhesive has to dry completely.” Tirzah Shirai from L.A.’s Blinkbar even recommends avoiding waterproof eye makeup for up to a week before your appointment. “It leaves an invisible film that will keep the lashes from adhering fully,” she says.
Eyelash extensions take a long time (up to two hours!), especially if you’re going for a refill since they’ll need to remove many existing extensions and clean your lashes before applying a new set. I also learned this tip from personal experience: Maybe consider passing on that second latte because you’ll need to lie very still. I did not before my first appointment and had twitchy-eye syndrome the whole time, much to the dismay of my lash artist.
Which also means the best lash extensions are pricey and will require a consultation. (Costs vary wildly from salon to salon, but expect a starting point around $120 for the basics and up to $300.) Because everyone’s eyes are different, you’ll want a set that complements your eye shape, lash length, and lifestyle. “One curl and length will look completely different on one person versus another,” Shirai explains. Most eyelash studios have a menu to help get the conversation started and guide the look you’re after (from subtle and round to the boldest cat eyes). Since my eyes are round and turn down a bit at the outer corners, Shin recommended the longest lashes go in the center of my eyes (in between a two and a three on her “Glam Scale”), as opposed to the ever-popular cat-eye shape, to open them up further.
A consultation will also help you determine what to choose for material (most common are silk and faux mink; silk is bit more shiny and pops more, whereas mink is most fluttery and natural), length, and curl type (J is the slightest curve but ends up looking longer; C and D are the most flipped up), as well as how many lashes should be applied. A great lash artist will also mix lengths to give lashes a naturally wispy vibe, Shirai says. “At Blinkbar we use a minimum of four different lengths for every style we offer.”
If your lashes are sparse, some salons may suggest 3-D lashes, or clusters, which are three hairs glued together, to give your eyes a more voluminous look. Avoid them—they’ll only weigh down your natural lashes and lead to breakage. “You should always have one extension applied to one natural lash, there should be no visible glue, and the extensions should not be touching your lid in any way,” Shirai says. Basically, if they look like falsies, they’ll be way too heavy.
It takes a day or two to get used to the feeling of wearing extensions, but I found them to be much more comfortable than strip lashes. They’ll also mess with the way you normally sleep (unless you’re already a back sleeper). “If you sleep on your side and stomach you’re going to crush them and they won’t last as long,” Shin says. “Try using a travel pillow or something that helps to elevate and keep you on your back.”
The general rule of thumb is to avoid anything too oily. I love nothing more than rich face oils, but had to give them up while I had extensions. And if you’re going to apply eye cream, Shin recommends using it in the morning instead of at night so it doesn’t travel into your lashes (skip greasy ones that are packed with mineral oil, Shirai says). Stick to nonoily makeup removers as well: Shin recommends using micellar water with a cotton swab to remove makeup around your eyes (with cotton pads, fibers will stick to your lashes), whereas Shirai prefers presoaked oil-free makeup-removing pads.
While there are some “extension-safe’ mascaras out there, Shin recommends avoiding mascara completely. You just splurged on lashes—don’t jeopardize them! Also stay away from waterproof eye makeup; removing it will take a toll on your eyes and can soften the glue. Shin also recommends avoiding loose powder or glittery eyeshadows, which can build up on the roots of your lashes, eventually weakening them and leading to breakage. And if you’re devoted to liner (though you may find you no longer want it), stick to gel and liquid formulas that won’t tug at your roots.
There is nothing as jarring as leaning into a sink, washing your face, and accidentally bumping your extensions. It feels incredibly strange and I’ve lost more than a few lashes this way (RIP, lashes!). Here’s the technique that worked for me: Get as low as possible to the sink—I basically stick my head into the bowl—and gently splash water on the bottom of your face and forehead. Then carefully suds up the lower half of your face and forehead, rinsing it clean by lightly dabbing and doing a light, outward pulling motion. After that, I use my ring fingers to wet around my eyes with any leftover cleanser, following with water. No scrubbing.
This is gross, but because you’re not washing your eye area as thoroughly as usual, you can and will get residue buildup, particularly at the lash line. “Even if you don’t put eye makeup on, there’s still outside impurities and dust [that can get trapped],” Shin says. “I mix distilled water with a little bit of tear-free baby shampoo and use the mixture to thoroughly clean my top lids and the bottom of my eyes.”
My lashes would get a little wacky when I woke up or after showering. That’s why Shin ends every appointment by handing you a soft pink spoolie and demonstrating how to comb your lashes daily. Here’s how she does it: Looking down, support underneath your lashes with your pointer finger. Then gently twirl the spoolie on the top side of your lashes (the opposite of how you’d apply mascara; brushing that way will tug at the hair). “It takes five seconds out of your day and it goes a long way,” Shin says.
The only way to remove eyelashes is with a pro—seriously. You’ll end up tearing out or breaking your lashes if you try it yourself, and it’s not worth it. “That doesn’t mean you have to remove them; you can also just wear them until they all cycle off,” Shirai says. Typically they last around three to four weeks, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself back for refills before then. I told you, they’re addicting.