Medically Approved

What to know before trying an eyelash growth serum

5 minute read
Woman applying eye lash growth serum

Eyelash serums such as Latisse are becoming more popular. How do they work? Do you need a prescription? Are there risks? Here’s what you need to know.

Jennifer Howze

By Jennifer Howze

Long, luscious lashes are not just for anime characters these days. Big lashes have entered the mainstream, and with them a slew of serums that promise to help yours look thicker and longer. For those with thin lashes who are looking to plump theirs up, these products offer hope.

But just how effective are lash serums? And do you need a prescription, or can you use over-the-counter versions? How safe are they? Here, a clear-eyed look at all your options.  

Eyelashes 101

First, it’s important to remember that lashes don’t just sit there and look pretty — they also play an important role in eye health.

“Lashes protect the eye against UV rays from the sun, wind, sweat and foreign bodies, and they’re sensitive to the touch. If we touch our eyelashes, we blink automatically as a protective mechanism,” says Tomi Lee Wall, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist in private practice in Oakland, California.

Some research shows that lashes may also protect the health of the eyelid margin. That’s the area of the eye that distributes tears and moisturizers when we blink to keep the surface from drying out.

People have around 90 to 160 lashes on their top lids and 75 to 80 lashes on the lower ones to do these important jobs. And just like the hair on the head and body, eyelashes have a phase of growth (called the anagen phase), a resting phase and, finally, a stage when they naturally fall out. So it’s normal to see a stray lash on your cheek or under your eye. Then the process, which takes around 5 to 12 months, starts over again.

The prescription eyelash serum option: Latisse

There is currently just one eyelash serum that can increase the number of lashes: Latisse, the first prescription medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for growing lashes.

Latisse was born out of a eureka moment in medicine. Allergan, the company known for making Botox a household word, created an eye drop for treating the eye disease glaucoma. Patients and their doctors noticed that it also made their eyelashes longer. Thus, Latisse was born.

Its main active ingredient — bimatoprost — is a prostaglandin analogue, which is a medication that produces hormone-like effects in the body. It works by increasing the amount of time your lashes are in the anagen phase, says Dr. Wall.

Woman checking the growth of her lashes
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If you have a healthy and intact lash follicle, Latisse can work, she says — even if your lashes have completely fallen out. That may be the case with people who have undergone chemotherapy, for instance, and lost their lashes as a result.

You use it by applying a very thin layer on the top lid only, right at the lash line, “like thin eyeliner,” says Dr. Wall.

If you wear contact lenses, you can still use Latisse. You just need to remove them before applying the medication and then wait at least 15 minutes before putting the contacts back in.

Latisse can produce results in about a month, although it may take up to 4 months to see the full effect of the medication. And you have to be careful it doesn’t get in the eye or on the skin around the lash line, because it can be irritating and have other side effects, including:

  • Redness of the eye
  • Itchy eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Darkening of the eyelid
  • Darkening of the iris itself, which may become permanent
  • Hair growth around the eyes (if it gets on other areas around the eye)
  • Blurred or decreased vision

Most of these side effects go away when patients stop using the product, says Dr. Wall. The serum may also have more visible side effects on people with darker skin. Latisse is not approved for people younger than 18, and it should be used only by the person it’s prescribed to.

You’ll need to see a doctor not only for the first evaluation but also if you have any problems with the skin around the eyes, the eyes themselves or your vision.

If you’re interested in trying Latisse or its generic version, bimatoprost, the Optum Store can help. Just fill out our questionnaire. One of our licensed providers will review it, and if they think you can benefit, your prescription will be delivered to your door. Get started now

OTC lash serums

Nonprescription, over-the-counter (OTC) eyelash serums can improve the appearance of lashes — but by law, they can’t claim to make lashes grow.

According to dermatologists, they can make the lashes appear longer and thicker, but not in the same way as Latisse, necessarily.

“It’s mostly about conditioning,” says Jenny Liu, MD. She’s a dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota. The ingredients can make the hair shaft stronger, shinier and thicker. “If your eyelashes are in a healthier state, they will look better,” says Dr. Liu.

Another thing to keep in mind with OTC serums: Because OTC lash serums are considered cosmetics and not medications, they may contain ingredients that have not been approved by the FDA.

You may find these ingredients in some OTC serums:

Serums with prostaglandin analogues
Some OTC eyelash growth serums contain a synthetic prostaglandin that’s similar to the bimatoprost in Latisse. It’s a prostaglandin analogue and is commonly listed on ingredients as isopropyl cloprostenate. Those products work in the same way that bimatoprost does, says Dr. Liu. As a result, they may produce similar side effects, according to Optometry Times.

Serums with peptides
Some OTC lash serums have peptides in their formulations rather than prostaglandin analogues. Peptides may stimulate keratin, a protein in all hair, including eyelashes. One advantage of using peptides is that they have fewer side effects. In fact, peptides are often added to skin products to ease inflammation and reduce fine lines.

Are bigger lashes better?

For folks who need more lashes for extra eye protection, turning up the lash volume can be helpful. But bigger, it turns out, is not always better when it comes to looks. There’s a sweet spot: The most attractive length for women ranges from one-quarter to one-third of the width of the eye, according to a 2020 study by researchers at the University of British Columbia. For men, the ideal length was perceived to be one-fifth of the width of the eye. But as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Whether you’re looking to plump up what you have or stimulate new growth, there are more science-backed options now than ever.


Additional sources
Role of eyelashes: Journal of Optometry (2020). “The Eyelash Follicle Features and Anomalies: A Review”

General information on serums and Latisse:

Safety of eyelash growth serums: Optometry Times (2020). “Know the Ocular Effects of Eyelash Growth Serums”


Study on eyelash length: University of British Columbia (2021). "New Research: Beauty is in the Eye(lash) of the Beholder"

Cosmetic regulations: U.S. Food & Drug Administration (2022). "FDA Authority Over Cosmetics"