In late 2008, the drug Lumigan, originally developed to treat glaucoma, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be prescribed as an eyelash enhancer. It seems that one of the side effects of the glaucoma drug, now called Latisse when marketed for eyelash enhancement, is eyelash growth. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Latisse is being prescribed by dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and day spa physicians to women who want to increase the length and fullness of their lashes.
Is this a good thing? One of the most common issues we see in our clients with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is excessive focus on the appearance of their eyes, including their eyelashes. Latisse plays right into this common BDD concern.
Body Image Issues and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
A recent British study found that the average woman has negative thoughts about her body 36 times a day. While many might reasonably assume that other body parts (breast, lips, skin) are generally the focus of these thoughts, negative thinking about eyelashes is a fairly common body image issue for many women. The huge market for eyeliners, mascara and other eye makeup products confirms how much attention many women already pay to their eye appearance. Marketing a drug that promotes eyelash growth reinforces the idea that women’s natural eyelashes are not good enough, and has the potential to lead to even more body image and BDD issues related to the appearance of the eyes.
Risks of Latisse
While discussing Latisse, it is important that we not overlook that this is a serious drug with potentially serious side-effects. Among the reported side effects are:
- Redness and irritation of the eyes
- Eye pain and itchiness
- Bacterial infections
- Unwanted hair growth near the application area
- Darkening of the eyelid skin around the application area
- Change in eye color, especially in those with brown eyes
In fact, on September 10, 2009, the FDA reprimanded the drug’s manufacturer, Allergan Inc. of Irvine, California, noting that the firm’s advertising failed to appropriately note the side effects noted above.
Are longer, fuller eyelashes worth these risks? Apparently many women think so. Latisse generated approximately $60 million in sales in 2009, and Allergan’s CEO reportedly expects the company to sell over $500 million of the drug in the next few years. While there have been no studies investigating possible long-term consequences of using Latisse, that’s not stopping women from spending $120 a month to use it.
Treatment for BDD and Body Image Concerns Related to Eyes
While Latisse may provide a short-term benefit of enhanced lashes, the long-term outcome is a continuation of the belief that one’s natural lashes are not acceptable. With each application of Latisse, a woman reinforces her belief that her lashes are not good enough…that she is not good enough.
A more effective solution to these types of body image and BDD issues would be for people to become more accepting of themselves, and to reject potentially dangerous drugs that chemically alter their bodies. Four recent research studies have found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective means of addressing these types of body image and BDD concerns. The cognitive component of CBT helps people learn to challenge the negative thoughts they have about themselves, while the behavioral component helps people change behaviors that reinforce that negative thinking.
While I may sound like a bit of a zealot on this issue, my main concern is that Latisse exploits the negative self image and BDD issues experienced by so many women. Of course, Latisse is hardly the only product on the market that feeds into women’s body image issues. But don’t we all deserve to go through life with a feeling of self-worth? While Latisse and other products may provide hope of a quick fix for the negative thoughts people have about their bodies, it is only through acceptance of our bodies that we can truly feel good about ourselves in the long term.
•Tom Corboy, MFT, is the director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related conditions. In addition to individual therapy, the center offers six weekly therapy groups, as well as online therapy, telephone therapy, and intensive outpatient treatment. To contact the OCD Center of Los Angeles, click here.