When glaucoma sufferers started using the eye-drop drug Lumigan eight years ago, who knew there'd be fringe benefits: longer, lusher, darker eyelashes. Eventually, Allergan, the makers of the drug, sped it into clinical trials (this time for hypotrichosis, aka underdeveloped eyelashes), repackaged it, gave it a girly name (Latisse), and marketed it for its lash-boosting magic. Now, with FDA backing, it's headed to a pharmacy near you.
It isn't the first time a serious disease-fighting treatment has been repurposed for its surprise payoffs. Some of today's most famous drugs were accidental discoveries: Cosmetic Botox (also made by Allergan) was first used by ophthalmologists to suppress eyelid spasms; Minoxidil debuted as a blood-pressure remedy; and Viagra was an enthusiastic by-product of a hypertension cure.
But instead of helping you recover your original smooth-skinned, fully maned self (as with Botox and Minoxidil), Latisse actually changes what your genes had programmed for you before birth, as if something had been clinically amiss all along. As Victoria Pitts-Taylor, Ph.D., a sociologist at City University of New York, puts it: "The line between medicine and cosmetics is blurring. Having a drug in your makeup bag next to your tweezers and lipstick is the new norm."
There's a reason we're all obsessed with our eyelashes - one that goes back to evolutionary biology, explains Michael Cunningham, Ph.D., a psychologist who studies physical attractiveness at the University of Louisville. Beyond looking nice, large eyes--and the long, upturned lashes that enhance the illusion of them - are considered a sign of youth. In turn, youthfulness signifies health and fertility and the assurance that your DNA will survive into the future. So subconsciously, men are lured by long lashes and women will continue to pursue them.
As for me, despite my own sparse lashes, I've never been moved to try growth enhancers like RevitaLash or Talika. Falsies remind me of hairpieces, and lash extensions - crafted from human hair - sound creepy and desperate. And yet now, because there's a product that requires pharmaceutical vetting (at $240 for a two-month supply, no less), perhaps using it isn't so much vain as medically prudent?
The doctors I speak to, from derms to ophthalmologists, are already Latisse converts. "I wouldn't have trouble prescribing it," says Dr. Tamara Fountain, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "I'd first screen patients for pre-existing conditions, like cataracts, but for the most part, Latisse has a high safety profile."
Dr. Scott Whitcup, Allergan's executive vice president of research and development, adds that if you consider all the patients who have used Lumigan, you'd count 8.8 million years of product exposure with hardly a complaint.
He's assuming Lumigan's safety record will be the same for Latisse. And yet, the products are not exactly one and the same. "With Lumigan, you want the eye to absorb it, but with Latisse, you're applying it locally," explains Dr. Wendy Lee, assistant professor of oculoplastic surgery at the University of Miami's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.