Consumer NZ has issued a warning over the potential "nasty side effects" of over-the-counter eyelash serums.
Despite the hefty price tag, these serums are growing in popularity in New Zealand as they promise long and voluminous lashes in a matter of weeks.
According to Consumer NZ, buyers are not being properly informed about the potential risks of these serums, which are currently under investigation by the European Commission following reports of "serious undesirable effects".
These side effects include swollen eyelids and burning eyes.
Over-the-counter serums with prostaglandins became popular after it was found that glaucoma medication with these ingredients could make eyelashes darker and longer.
"Ads for lash serums promise luscious-looking lashes in a matter of weeks and claim products are 'non-irritating' and 'physician formulated'. 'Guaranteed happiness' is also on offer on the box of Flash Eyelash Serum. However, information on the risks of using these products is much harder to find," Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said.
Consumer NZ reviewed several eyelash serums and found no warnings about the potential side effects on the boxes for products such as the Flash Eyelash Serum and the LiLash - with the only information about the risks written in small print on leaflets inside the sealed boxes (meaning consumers would only be able to read these upon purchasing the product).
Revitalash, another eyelash serum available in New Zealand, tells customers on its website that "there is no potential for the serum to have a significant effect on those breastfeeding, pregnant or undergoing chemotherapy". However, Consumer NZ says te company did not provide any evidence supporting the claims.
Duffy says the serums need to have the warnings properly displayed on the boxes, to minimise the risk.
"These products aren't cheap and consumers may be forking out for them unaware of the risks. Companies selling lash serums with prostaglandins should be putting clear warnings on the boxes," he said.
The Ministry of Health has received three complaints about LiLash and one about Revitalash growth serums, since 2009.
While the investigation by the European Commission is underway, nothing much is expected to change in New Zealand regarding the rules around the sale of over-the-counter serums. Results of the investigation could, however, have an impact as Medsafe "will consider any European recommendation for application in New Zealand".
Irreversible side effecs
A number of experts believe any product containing prostaglandins should be strictly prescription-only, due to the potential side effects of this ingredient.
Consumer NZ quotes a 2020 survey of 154 consumers who had tried over-the-counter serums, which found 44 per cent had stopped using them., mostly because of those side effects.
Wellington ophthalmologist Dr Jesse Gale, a glaucoma specialist, says the warnings need to be properly displayed, as the side effects could be potentially irreversible.
"Some [glaucoma] patients get red eyes, some get darker coloured irises, some get long dark eyelashes, some get a sunken appearance from loss of orbital tissue around the eye," Dr Gale explained.
"The side effects that are most likely to be long lasting or permanent would be atrophy of the orbital tissue causing a sunken eye, or increased pigmentation on the eyelid causing a panda eye or eye shadow appearance."