The first time I noticed someone’s lash extensions in real life, meaning not on a fashion runway or in a television studio, was on a remote island in Alaska.
My family and I were guests of another family at a fishing lodge reachable by a series of planes, each one smaller and older than the previous. Right before leaving New York on the first plane, my friend impulsively got lash extensions. And there we were, the only two women on an island 300 miles from the nearest road, hauling salmon into a fishing boat with a guide who hadn’t showered in weeks.
From the neck up, my friend could have been at the Met Gala; neck down, it was Deadliest Catch.
Eyelash extensions, false eyelashes, eyelash serums, and lash lifts are everywhere now, probably including remote Alaska. I’ve seen big fake lashes on executives during earnings calls, on geniuses at the Genius Bar, on the person who administered my coronavirus test in a tent on Lexington Avenue.
Ulta Beauty stores now carry at least 10 different brands of false lashes and have seen a spike in sales of everything lash-related. The boom is part of an “expressive revival,” says Monica Arnaudo, the chief merchandising officer at Ulta—a movement that includes “brighter colors, imaginative eye looks, and evolved takes on Euphoria makeup,” the HBO show about teenage sex, drugs, and glitter.
The lash frenzy could also be linked to the mainstreaming of drag culture, the doll-like women in anime, and, unavoidably, the Kardashians.
The pandemic has also played an unexpected role in the trend. While the population was masking up, “expression became vital for our human connection, and our lashes and brows are essential to that,” says Jerrod Blandino, a co-founder of Too Faced Cosmetics. “When they’re masked, you can’t tell if people are smiling unless their eyes smile. Then you can see their spirit, their twinkle, their sadness and joy.” He decided to enhance that spirit with false lashes, the logical next step to his best-selling mascara, called Better than Sex. “I mean, what more can you do if you’re a total glamour girl?” asks Blandino.
I’ve seen big fake lashes on executives during earnings calls, on geniuses at the Genius Bar, on the person who administered my coronavirus test in a tent on Lexington Avenue.
For inspiration, he turned to Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, “my friend Madonna, and our holy godmother of glamour, Dolly Parton. Oh, also My Little Pony.” The resulting Better than Sex false lashes are a bit wonky, comprising different lengths and thicknesses of vegan, synthetic mink, thatched and crisscrossed almost haphazardly. “They’re not perfect because lashes aren’t perfect. That’s the secret to beauty.”
Jenna Lyons’s entrance into lash land was slightly more subdued. After leaving J. Crew, where, as the creative guiding light, she taught America to wear sequins with T-shirts in broad daylight, Lyons worked with a makeup artist to invent a line of false lashes. It wasn’t the obvious first move. “It was a very personal thing because I don’t have any eyelashes,” she says. “The things you’re insecure about you notice in yourself and other people.”
She also noticed that beauty was divided into extremes: either over-the-top excess or the minimalist no-makeup aesthetic. “Some of these girls on TikTok and YouTube look like paintings, and I’m fascinated by that.” That said, she wanted her false lashes to be “an amped-up version of yourself.” Some of the 10 lash styles are wispy; some are gently exaggerated; some mix brown and black hairs for verisimilitude. In other words, sequins with a T-shirt.
Amplified beauty is a concept for our time, when people are more likely to be seen on social media than in real life. With ring lights at the ready, everyone has become the star of their own movies, the target of their own paparazzi photographs, dressed and embellished for high impact.
The name of Lyons’s eyelash line, LoveSeen, sounds like a weapon against invisibility. “Putting on makeup is like putting on armor. It’s a way of showing up in the world, with the world as a stage.” The play on “love scene” speaks to the performative role of makeup now; we’re all putting on a one-person show, a love scene with ourselves.
We may be on the brink of peak lashes. On Supergreat, the on-demand and livestreaming beauty shopping app, exaggerated makeup is starting to give way to individualistic self-expression. “Glam makeup used to be the standard,” says Savannah Scott, the content-and-editorial lead at Supergreat.
The Instagram face ruled, with contour, highlighter, arched brows, overdrawn lips, and lashes for miles. “That look was all about huge, fluffy false lashes that were immediately identifiable as fake. Now we’re in a trend of crazy, unique, balls-to-the-wall makeup, and with all this diversity has come a bunch of lash alternatives.” She points to the success of Jenna Lyons’s real-looking false lashes and Lashify Gossamer lashes, which also look relatively credible. “It’s like makeup is louder and more varied than ever, but lashes have become a lot more quiet.”
With ring lights at the ready, everyone has become the star of their own movies, the target of their own paparazzi photographs, dressed and embellished for high impact.
For those of us (me) who lack the dexterity to smear glue onto a strip of lashes and then affix that with tweezers directly over the eyeball—a terrifying process that, according to Lyons, takes three tries to master—there are lash serums with conditioners and oils that prevent breakage, extending the natural growth cycle. None of the serums claim to make lashes actually grow longer, because that would qualify them as drugs. Nevertheless, I’ve applied several different formulas and swear that, after a few months, my lashes practically needed pruning.
Alicia Grande (“no relation to Ariana”), founder of Grande Cosmetics, discovered a formula from a scientist and test-drove it for a few months with low expectations. “It was transformational,” she says. “Even my husband noticed my lashes.” With a few tweaks, GrandeLash-MD Lash Enhancing Serum was born, eventually becoming a top seller at Sephora and Ulta.
Some reviewers even gripe that the serum works too well, lengthening so extravagantly that their lashes bump into their glasses and invade their eyebrows. “If it works too well for you, then good for you,” says Grande. Sales of the product jumped by almost 40 percent in 2021. “My dream is for all women—I should say all people—to reach their full lash potential,” says Grande.
As dreams go, it’s a modest one for a small territory, just 140 tiny hairs, more or less, per lid. The lash cycle continues, the salmon spawn, and on a remote island in Bristol Bay, Alaska, a moose blinks slowly, its eyelashes dark and thick, the inspiration for the next great beauty product.
Linda Wells spent 25 years as Allure magazine’s founding editor in chief, served as Revlon’s chief creative officer, and currently consults and sits on the boards of several beauty and apparel companies