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Are Eyelash Extensions Worth It?

Why My Relationship With Eyelash Extensions Ended With (Many) Tears

Image Source: Alicia Lu

This is a love story about eyelash extensions — and it's a harrowing one.

My brief but torrid affair with eyelash extensions started out a bit rocky, as my small and shy lashes struggled to attach to their fine, silky external partners. After a few tries and some getting used to, this tentative spark quickly blossomed into one of the greatest loves of my life. But in typical love-affair fashion, I became reckless, and before I knew it, my eyelash extensions and I abruptly and unceremoniously split, divided by irreconcilable differences. And like so many brokenhearted fools before me, I was left with nothing but painful memories and swollen eyes.

Others just can't put their finger on why you look great, but they're certain you do. Eyelash extensions are the ultimate beauty magic trick.
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Why do we get eyelash extensions in the first place? The best reason I've heard was from my friend Kelly Dawson. When a mutual friend who hadn't seen her in months told her that she looked great, Kelly responded, "My eyelashes are doing all the heavy lifting." She was referring to her eyelash extensions, which gave her already-pretty face extra oomph. But there's a reason why our friend didn't say, "Your eyelashes look great." Eyelash extensions, when done right, are subtle and effortless, lending your visage refinement while simultaneously obfuscating the source of that refinement. Others just can't put their finger on why you look great, but they're certain you do. Eyelash extensions are the ultimate beauty magic trick.

While women all over the world have embraced this new beauty staple, there is a large subset of fans among the Asian population. There's no getting around it: Asians have been blessed with numerous physical attributes, but long, thick eyelashes are not usually one of them. It makes sense then that Asian women were the first to develop a semipermanent system for making their eyelashes appear more prominent.

"My beauty belief is that if your skin looks clear and your brows and lashes look full, you're set," my fellow Asian friend, content manager and writer Tria Chang, told me. "Unfortunately, my face is pretty quiet in the facial hair department." Her story is a familiar one among many Asian women. Our natural deficiency in the lash department compels us to try extensions.

Like many decisions I make in life, the first time I tried eyelash extensions was impulsive. I was single and just starting to date again, and I figured that a little extra lash could go a long way in boosting my confidence, so I headed to a salon that was known for its high-quality mink extensions. Instead of boosting my confidence, however, my pride was all but shattered when the technician told me that my lashes were too small to grip extensions. "Your fate has been sealed; give up," she seemed to be thinking as I stared back at her with my mouth agape.

I don't give up easily — especially when it comes to matters of vanity. Undeterred, I headed to a much lower-end neighborhood threading salon that offered synthetic eyelash extensions. I nervously asked if my cursed fate was indeed sealed, and to my pleasant surprise, she said, "That'll be $30."

Eyelash extensions come in several different types — mink, faux mink, silk, sable, and synthetic — across a range of price points. According to an international survey conducted by Glad Lash, the average price range for a full set of lashes falls within the $61 to $120 range. In bigger cities like New York, however, extensions can cost upward of $500.

The real moneymaker is the maintenance fees. Most salons will charge you a smaller fee for touch-ups, but only if you return within two weeks of your initial application. The longer you wait, the higher the price. If you wait more than three weeks, you'll have to get the full set again and pay full price. I can't speak for other lash enthusiasts, but this pricing model kept me coming back regularly.

If you're not looking to spend more than $30 to $40, many nail and threading salons now offer synthetic eyelash extensions. While this may sound like a faux pas in the world of faux lashes, I'm actually quite a big fan of synthetic lashes.

Image Source: Alicia Lu

First of all, they're glued on in a way that's not contingent on the state of your real lashes, which was helpful in my case. Secondly, they are far friendlier on your wallet and last the same amount of time (about two weeks). Last but not least, the fact that they look less natural than mink or silk extensions actually became what I loved about them.

"They're starting to grow on me" is not an idiom you want to use when referring to eyelash extensions. It's creepy. But the sentiment was true nonetheless. The sheer extra-ness of them unlocked a small boudoir in my brain that allowed me to feel even more confident, knowing that everyone could tell my lashes were fake and I didn't care. In other words, I felt perpetually like a burlesque performer getting ready to take the stage.

Confidence seems like a key reason that many extension enthusiasts cite. My aforementioned friend Kelly, a devoted eyelash extension fan, told me, "Getting my lashes done contributes to my feeling just a little more put-together every day, and makes me feel confident even on days when I don't have time to do myself up properly."

Maybe that first rejection was a test to see how easily I would give up, like Eyelash Fight Club.

After a few months of regularly getting synthetic lashes, I decided to give the higher-end variety another try. This time I went to Ebenezer Eyelash in New York City's Koreatown, which offers full mink or silk extensions for $90, plus touch-ups for $35 to $55 if you return within two weeks. This time, the technician accepted me as a valid candidate for lash application. I felt like I now truly belonged in the eyelash extension community. Maybe that first rejection was a test to see how easily I would give up, like Eyelash Fight Club.

When my application was completed and the technician handed me a mirror to check her handiwork, I was still expecting to see the more ornate synthetic lashes I was now used to, but to my surprise, I saw two very different eyes staring back at me. These extensions were so realistic. They were long and lush but subtle enough to fool people into thinking I was naturally blessed. This was a kind of joy the likes of which I had never felt before.

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I was hooked. My days of wearing synthetic lashes felt far behind me, like a stint of casual dating before finally finding true love. I arranged my schedule and shifted my budget around regular eyelash appointments; I was in a serious, committed relationship. Friends commented on my new-love glow, my new je ne sais quoi, unable to put their finger on why I looked so reinvigorated. "I don't know what it is about you, but you just look so good these days," my mom said, perhaps a little too incredulous for my liking.

It was that magic-trick effect manifesting on my face. Like any kind of cosmetic augmentation, the most successful procedures are the ones that go unnoticed but still get you noticed. With rhinoplasty or breast implants, your closest friends and loved ones will still know you had work done. Eyelash extensions, however, can fool even your closest acquaintances.

It looked like I had undergone not only eyelash extensions but a botched double-lid surgery.

But alas, no relationship can sustain that initial happiness forever, and tragically, mine went south pretty quickly before crashing and burning. One day, about two days after a routine eyelash appointment, I noticed a slight itch in my eyes. By the next day, I couldn't stop rubbing them and my eyelids were pink and inflamed. It looked like I had undergone not only eyelash extensions but a botched double-lid surgery. My eyes were permanently watery for two days straight. I called the salon, terrified that they would confirm my suspicions, which, of course, they did: I had developed an allergy to the lash glue.

After an emergency removal appointment, which was quite possibly the most uncomfortable thing that's ever happened to my face (and I've been accidentally punched before in Krav Maga class), I vowed to never get eyelash extensions again. I would let my real lashes breathe, focus on other things, and move on with my life. No matter how much I longed for eyelash extensions, and the longing was crippling at times, I stayed strong for almost two years. After a brief relapse last December (I had heard rumblings of a salon that offered unbelievably realistic extensions for just $65), which prompted yet another bout of itchy, swollen eyes, I haven't looked back since.

Image Source: Alicia Lu

My relationship with eyelash extensions is over for good. I'm back to relying on mascara and strip falsies from the drugstore to enhance my eyes. My lashes are nowhere near as luscious as when they were coupled up with extensions, but I'm starting to appreciate them for who they are.

Of all the friends I spoke to about eyelash extensions, only one was totally apathetic, an attitude I now find incredibly refreshing. My food writer friend Caroline Choe, who wore eyelash extensions for her wedding, said very matter-of-factly: "I know that I have short eyelashes, which is why lash extensions would seemingly make sense for someone like me. But, to be honest, I never thought anything was wrong with my eyelashes until someone decided that they needed to be enhanced."

I think that right there is the big takeaway from my heartbreaking emotional roller coaster with eyelash extensions. Like any other facet of beauty, how good your eyelashes look is in the eye of the beholder, and the most important beholder is yourself. At least one thing is for certain: your eyes behold just fine without long, lush lashes.

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