Cosmetics Drugs Gone Too Far: Is Anything Still Real?

There is something about the new cosmetic “option” for thicker eyelashes that bothers me, though I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it’s the resistance I still feel after leaving behind those false lashes I wore while modeling with Wilhelmina in the 70s. Or maybe wearing my current hat as a psychologist, it doesn’t fit with my belief that women can find true beauty within. Yet, my patients in their twenties and thirties insist, “Hey, it’s great. Why not have beautiful lashes without having to apply mascara?” Older women claim, “My lashes have thinned and it helps me get back to what I used to have naturally.” Undeniably, the reviews on these products — including Latisse, Lilash, Revitalash and Marini Lash to name a few — are largely positive. Except for a few complaints about mild irritation, allergic reactions and occasional permanent eye color change, most report they are satisfied by the thicker and darker lashes they see as long as they keep using the product.

Some women don’t realize that Latisse (the first of lash thickeners to be FDA approved) was a drug originally intended for glaucoma. An unexpected side effect was that it was found to increase the growth of eyelashes. It was then approved to treat hypotrichosis (a technical term for medical hair loss) and over time has been prescribed to treat what marketers call “inadequate eyelashes.” Much the way Retin-A cream and Botox (produced by the same company that created Latisse) once served to treat medical symptoms, Latisse now routinely serves cosmetic purposes. Miracle drug? Or another slippery slope for women to slide down?

I have no trouble with the idea that there are products and procedures that enhance a woman’s natural beauty. In fact, I accept the fact that women are probably hardwired to pay attention to how we look and that we need to take care of our appearance in ways that feel appropriate for our age. Take Victoria’s Secret, for example, and the many bras they now offer for women of all sizes, shapes and ages. Are there any reasons why a woman who doesn’t mind a little push or tug, shouldn’t enjoy sexy underwear options that were unavailable to previous generations? Spanx doesn’t bother me either. Women say the squeezing and constriction are worth the shaping it provides. In fact, compared to the ungainly padded bras and girdles of yesteryear, these seem more appealing to today’s women who are interested in making efforts toward looking great at any age.

Where I have trouble, is when women ask my thoughts about unalterable cosmetic procedures: breast implants, liposuction, brow and facelifts. I am concerned when patients talk about the constant surgical work they have done to upkeep their various body parts — for example, adding “hand rejuvenation” to their list so that their aging hands match up with their youthful faces. I ask them to think carefully and thoughtfully about their expectations — the whys, the costs and general long-term consequences. And it’s perhaps here where my issue with “longer lashes movement” comes into play. In my mind, using a prescription medicine to enhance a woman’s appearance lies somewhere closer to plastic surgery than Spanx or padded bras. And yet, its casual use is taking off at a rapid rate with women of all ages.

So, maybe the better question is, where do products like Latisse lead us? Have we created a disease we now call “inadequate eyelashes” that requires a new product, that mascara cannot take care of? Have we just found another way for women to feel they fall short as they yearn for some permanent and radical solution to reach ideal beauty? And what about the potential physical and psychological consequence of repeated usage of lash thickener? When we try any new beauty fad, are we relying on the due diligence of the cosmetic industry or the FDA? We need only recall that steroids (also once used for medical purposes) were found to enhance athletic ability and then ultimately were discovered to be dangerous, both for the long-term health of the athlete and of the sports world in general. It led to a deep mistrust in who was using and who had true talent, resulting in drug testing in all of sports.

Then there’s the use of stimulants, originally prescribed for children suffering Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, now being used as the new “brain power” drug. Ritalin and Adderall, two popular ADHD medications, have been reported to enhance a student’s ability to concentrate regardless of any diagnosis. A recent 60 Minutes report by Katie Couric described the routine use of these drugs by students on college campuses. A school counselor on the program said she believed that close to 80 percent of the seniors in fraternities and sororities were popping these pills to raise test scores and achieve higher grades.

And let us not forget the Viagra and Cialis craze. Look where that’s led our husbands, lovers, fathers and brothers. Once used for symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction resulting from prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate, they are now packed as part of the overnight bag to ensure a fun evening. Men — especially midlifers — tell me that the promotion of these products in the media has provoked unexpected feelings of inadequacy.

Lastly, we need only look at the exponential rise in the use of cosmetic procedures to witness one of the most slippery of slopes men and women are finding themselves on. Plastic surgery, Botox, injectables, fillers, laser treatments — the list is long — are regularly used to alter looks, defy aging, enhance and improve. And not just by the rich and famous (although, according to the New York Times, it’s the famous who are now just beginning to see the negative consequences of surgical procedures as they find that their plastic bodies and frozen faces are a turn-off to casting agents). Enhancements made surgically are permanent and permanently problematic.

So back to those eyelashes. I suppose I do realize what bothers me. First, it’s the long-term safety factor. We, our daughters, and all those young women who are being offered these new products, are like variables in an experiment that has not yet shown proven success over time. As a psychologist, the biggest issue for me is that yet another feature, characteristic or human natural quality will come under question: what is real and what isn’t? Our mothers’ generation used to ask, “does she or doesn’t she?” Our generation of girls now asks “has she or hasn’t she?” Even boys-who-would-be-ballplayers now ask, “does he or doesn’t he?” What questions will our sons and daughters ask in the future? Will they wonder if anything about a man or a woman is real? Will we trust women to be who they appear to be? Can men really have the bodies they do without drugs? Last for four hours on their own? Does that Harvard degree mean the same thing if it was achieved while taking the SATs on Adderall?

Wouldn’t it be reassuring if women could at least love their lashes as they are? What do you think?

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Category: Articles, Face It | Tags: , , , , , , , , 14 comments »

14 Responses to “Cosmetics Drugs Gone Too Far: Is Anything Still Real?”

  1. samantha

    I’m horrified to learn of a friend and aquantance that had drooping happen by botox use. I saw the effect of the drooped eye–looked like a stroke victim.
    I heard about the other woman. The droop is temporary—but do you hide until it stops drooping? I have mixed feelings. I think in severe cases these procedures are a blessing—problem is the different perceptions of severe cases…any sign of age could be considered severe to some people.
    I’m torn between wanting to look younger, and fear of complications, and shame over not being able to ageing gracefully …

  2. Dr. Vivian

    I think your ambivalence between wanting to look younger and the fear and shame that comes with cosmetic procedures suggests you are a woman who gives careful thought to your choices. These are not superficial decisions about a superficial issue. Take a look at another article I wrote on Huff Post about what to consider before doing any cosmetic procedure. See if the acronym, S.A.F.E. makes your decision a bit easier. Dr. Diller

  3. Luweez

    Im a 58 yr old woman who gets botox, juviderm, restylane and other fillers including my own fat injections which i had to get under my eyes after a bad blepharoplasty (eye lift) upper and lower which i really didn’t need. 5 months after the surgery when all of the swelling went down i had scar tissue, hollows and uneven eyes. I went into deep depression and 2 years later every morning when i look in the mirror i am still beating myself up for doing this. The surgeon is in Best Doctors so what do you go by. After all of this i still think about getting my eyes fixed and that is really crazy, but it is my ego because i did the surgery to look better not worse. The message to women is to wear the highest heels, have the longest eyelashes, and to be very thin, and we buy into it. Its no wonder why we are scared to death of aging. We need more support groups for women to help us cope with all of these issues.

  4. maggie

    I have all the same questions that author has asked and I am also in the way of teaching people that these all new cosmetics are only going to cause problems in our future because they are just for short term use and they will show there side effects as soon as we get older. I want to say bye to all these cosmetics and I promote all the user to do the same because only way we can achieve beautiful looking skin is by eating fruits, vegetable, excersise and a perfect balance diet with good water flow. I just use simple cosmetics like Vaseline, hand lotion etc.
    that is it and I think I look pretty nice with all natural remedy. thank you for this great post.

  5. Kelly

    I’m a young woman who gets eyelash extensions applied once a month. I did it before a vacation and got hooked. Without mascara you can’t see my eyelashes and I although I wear very little make-up I always like to have visible lashes.

    Eyelash extensions don’t have any side effects that I know of but it is time consuming and an extra expense. But it’s easier to have perfect lashes all the time rather than dealing with mascara.

    Advertising and celebrities have done a good job of convincing us we all need to fix our teeth, eyelashes, noses, hair etc.

  6. swp

    I believe we are most driven by our biological goal to be healthy. That goal becomes distorted with every institution that touches us. Schools would like health to be a competitive sport or one size fits all body type. Industry wishes we thrived on chemical gruel. Industry seeks a sedentary, mindless routine for humane profit. Is it any wonder narcissists effusing the wonders of diet and botox define beauty or diabetic feminist achieving freedom.

    We want to be healthy, but I’m sure no one knows what that really looks like. The horrific evil of the obesity epidemic is it continues to place thinness over fitness. Thinness can be imposed with gastric bypass, fitness cannot.

    I think its OK to embrace beauty, and excellence it you have a healthy self-image. That’s very hard to achieve.

  7. Paula

    All of this – botox, fillers, eyelash enhancers, face and breast surgery – all of it is the same. Women are being sold, through relentless and clever marketing, on the notion that they are not adequate as they are.

    It’s all about money. Doctors and drug companies (most everyone, for that matter) want more of it, and in order to create a steady stream of customers, we women must be convinced that we aren’t good enough unless we buy what they are selling. They do it by selling us on the idea that youth is better than age. We all understand the biological reasons why youthful breasts and faces are more attractive to men than older ones – and that biology is being USED by marketers to sell us products and procedures.

    They are, however, only selling the illusion of youth. It isn’t youth itself, and no matter how much money you spend on your appearance, you will still be an older woman. You will still be 10 or 20 or 30 years closer to the end of your life than someone else. That’s what we need to come to terms with – who we are and what we’ve accomplished, perhaps what we can still accomplish with our remaining years. Frankly, that’s harder sometimes than looking in the mirror and seeing the lines on my face.

    It isn’t easy – I struggle with issues relating to aging every day. My kids are growing up, my father has cancer – who will I be this time next year if my father is gone and my kids don’t need mom the way they used to? These questions are a lot harder to answer than what I’m going to do about my face. Of course, the quest for a youthful appearance is a great distraction from those other, less comfortable questions…

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    Cosmetics Drugs Gone Too Far: Is Anything Still Real? — Face It…

  12. Nurhan

    Actually, this was a pretty good book reievw, in that it told me enough for me to know whether I would be interested in the book or not. (I am; I will probably buy it, though I’ll probably wait until some seller on Amazon has a gently-used copy at a discount, or I get a good coupon from Borders.)I think the interrupted text thing is common in books of a certain style and time period. Older art books are often interrupted with plates and text that have little or nothing to do with the main text. I think it had to do with where it was possible for printers to bind colored illustrations mechanically–the sections had to match up. I think (but am not sure) that modern publishing is less dependent on that technique, so it could be just an affectation. (Or not.)I think the Good and Evil Grandma thing is pretty common–both my husband (maternal) and I (paternal) had one.


    Thought it wouldn’t to give it a shot. I was right.


    Concordo em gênero, número e ‘degrau’. não tenho filhos (ainda), e de vez em quando me pego pensando, ‘bom, e se eu tiver filho sozinha, como vou fazer, se mal dou conta de mim mesma sozinha’? e aí sempre lembro que poderei ter uma pessoa pra me ajudar. E aí fico mais tranquila.

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