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False eyelashes have gone from a special occasion look to becoming an everyday necessity for some. Two popular ways to obtain those long, beautiful lashes are wearing temporary lashes or getting semi-permanent lash extensions applied by a licensed cosmetologist or esthetician.
To apply temporary false lashes, lash adhesive is used along the band of the false lashes to attach them right above your natural lashes. This kind of lash adhesive is typically made of an adhesive component, solvents, surfactants, and ammonium hydroxide. Some adhesives contain glycol ethers, which are potentially toxic if swallowed. Glycol ethers are a group of solvents that are commonly found in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, cleaners, and many other industrial and home products. The toxic dose of most glycol ethers is unknown. In addition, lash adhesives can contain chemicals that are generally irritating like alcohol and detergents.
Semi-permanent lash extensions last longer than the temporary lashes, usually 6 to 8 weeks. Semi-permanent eyelash extensions are applied on each strand of the natural eyelashes with a semi-permanent glue, typically a cyanoacrylate adhesive. Cyanoacrylate is also found in instant bond glues like Super Glue® or Krazy Glue®. Even though they share ingredients, it is important that you never substitute one of these general-purpose glues for eyelash glue! In liquid form, cyanoacrylate exists as monomers. When they interact with water or the moisture in the air, the monomers polymerize and join to bond surfaces together. It is a fast-acting adhesive that dries and sets within seconds. Cyanoacrylate can be an irritant to the skin and eyes in liquid form and when its fumes are inhaled. Once cyanoacrylate is dried, it is inert. However, dried cyanoacrylate forms a small, solid lump that can be physically irritating to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes.
To remove temporary lashes, dab the top of the lashes with warm water, eyelash remover, or eye makeup remover to loosen the adhesive. If necessary, semi-permanent extensions can be loosened with an oil-based eye makeup remover or an oily substance such as coconut oil. However, removing semi-permanent lashes at home could result in pulling out your natural lashes. If possible, semi-permanent lashes should be removed by a licensed professional.
Treatment for swallowing any lash adhesives includes rinsing out the mouth and drinking a few sips of water. Life-threatening airway obstruction can occur if a large amount of cyanoacrylate adhesive is swallowed or inhaled. If anyone is having trouble breathing, call 911.
To remove temporary or semi-permanent lash adhesives from skin, wash the skin well with water and soap. Other options include soaking the body part in warm soapy water to slowly loosen the glue. Petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or a topical antibiotic ointment might also work. Some cyanoacrylate products intended for household use recommend acetone to remove the adhesive from skin, but acetone use should be avoided, especially around the face, eyes, or near any mucous membranes. Do not use fabric, like a cotton ball or swab, to remove cyanoacrylate. Cyanoacrylate can react with cotton or wool to release enough heat to cause burns. Do not rip cyanoacrylate glue off the skin, as this will also remove the skin. If you are still unable to remove cyanoacrylate glue, don't worry. It will fall off by itself in about 3 days. If hardened glue is stuck on the teeth, it can be removed by brushing teeth gently with a toothbrush.
With eye exposures, patients should immediately irrigate the eyes for 15 minutes. If the eyelids are sealed shut, do not force them open; the adhesive will eventually release. Persistent eye pain or symptoms might need medical examination and treatment.
If you think someone might be having adverse effects from an eyelash adhesive, immediately call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or check the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for help. Whether you call or log on, expert assistance is available 24 hours a day.
Diana N. Pei, PharmD
Certified Specialist in Poison Information