A new word is joining “highlights,” “nails” and “brows” on the calendars of busy women: “lashes.”

Once the signature of showgirls and pageant contestants, eyelash enhancements are becoming commonplace, worn to the prom, in the executive boardroom and by a majority of television news anchors. Ultra-thick lashes have arrived at that tipping point where they’re available to more women of all ages and stations.

They can be tinted, boosted with pharmaceutical growth serum and given semi-permanent extensions, to say nothing of a new generation of inexpensive but stylish strip lashes (also known as falsies).

“Eyelashes are the bomb,” said makeup artist Sharon Davis. “When done right, they do so much to enhance femininity,” said.

In her 25 years in the business, Davis has prepared the lashes of politicians, business leaders and performers for appearances on camera or at large conferences, where more-than-natural has become de rigueur.

“Long, thick eyelashes and a strong brow are a sign of youth,” Davis said. “I have false lashes in my kit at all times; the clients and the photographers I work with want the look, that added dimension. They get the big ‘Oooooh’ factor.”

In the Twin Cities, a growing number of salons have added lash extension specialists. The procedure, which ranges in cost from $200 to $500, is now available (sometimes with Groupon discounts) and at a broad range of salons.

“This is not a fad,” said Nicole Faulstich, PR and social media manager of Houston-based Xteme Lashes. “Last weekend, we trained stylists in 14 cities — hundreds of them — to meet the demand.”

The 10-year-old company has trained and certified 15,000 U.S. licensed stylists and supplies the physical lash products to salons in 33 countries. It also holds regular two-day training sessions in the Twin Cities for Minnesota cosmetologists and aestheticians.

“For salons, it’s very lucrative. More salons want to offer extensions — their clients want a specialist who does that one service and has mastered it,” said Faulstich.

For clients, getting lash extensions is time-consuming and costly, but painless. During the initial two-hour procedure, the stylist uses adhesive to attach scores of individual fake lashes — silk, synthetic fiber or natural mink — to the client’s real ones.

All eyelashes go through a growth-and-shed process; there’s a six- to seven-week cycle from when a new eyelash appears until when it naturally falls out. The fake lashes disappear with the real ones, requiring new extensions to replace them. That’s why a replacement appointment is advised every three to four weeks to keep the look consistent. “Relashing,” as its called, usually takes half as long and costs roughly half as much as the first visit.

Extending beauty

Cleo Zins, 36, got her first extensions almost 10 years ago while living in California. Her sweeping lashes, which she now maintains at a North Loop salon, have come to define her look.

“I’m bad at applying makeup, and I don’t wear very much. With extensions, I wake up pretty, I never smudge, and I don’t have to do anything,” she said. “I have my vanity, but mostly I like them because they make me look awake.”

And she’s not shy about admitting that her luxe lash look come from a salon.

“It doesn’t bother me if people know I have extensions,” she said. “I only fib sometimes.”

Amy Kelly believes she may have been the first beauty professional to offer lash extensions to Minnesota clients. In 2007, Kelly was working as a commercial makeup artist when she went to New York for advanced training and first saw what was then a new beauty procedure. Now she leads a team of four who do extensions at Jett Makeup, her eyelash bar in Edina.

“Lash extensions are not one-size-fits-all. We offer a large selection of sizes, thicknesses, colors; some are straighter and others have curl to them,” Kelly said.

The looks vary, as well.

“Some women want a bold, dramatic look; they don’t care if people know they’re fake,” said Kelly. “Clients who are doctors or lawyers or even moms will want a more natural appearance.”

Appearing in front of a crowd is part of Sharon Smith-Akinsanya’s job. As a fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund, she’s frequently before groups of donors. She also has a job producing large-scale events at the Minneapolis Convention Center, which puts her in the limelight.

“When you look your best it helps you to be your best,” said Smith-Akinsanya, 55, of St. Louis Park. “I have to have my eyelashes. They look good — they pop.”

Smith-Akinsanya prefers false eyelashes, applied before high-profile events. “They help you take a better photo. The camera sees differently and you can really tell the difference,” she added.

DIY or go pro

The cosmetics industry has stepped up the selection of false lashes that can be purchased at drug, beauty supply and department stores.

“With more brands, it’s easier to customize to the size and shape of every eye,” said beauty editor Desiree Stordahl. “There are a sea of options besides old-school strips — individual lashes and clusters. I like the ones that go on the outer third of your eye. They give an added oomph but don’t look over the top.”

Stordahl, who’s part of the research team of beauty product expert Paula Begoun, author of “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me” and “The Best Skin of Your Life,” often wears lashes that cost $5 or less. She thinks YouTube application tutorials, social media and celebrity culture have encouraged interest in the Disney princess look.

“Instagram is full of women with these exaggerated lashes — they turn heads,” she said. “I follow celebrity makeup artists on social media and they all use them like a secret weapon.

“Look at Adele, those thick, thick lashes, the winged eyeliner with the teased hair. You know those lashes aren’t real, but so what? It’s glamorous and drop-dead gorgeous.”

The new options could also be seen as another example of how beauty enhancements that were once exclusive to celebrities have crept into the mainstream.

While some women may embrace the opportunity to augment the eyelashes that Mother Nature gave them, others may resent another notch appearing on the grooming To Do list.

“There’s a long history of women doing things to their bodies to meet cultural expectations of beauty, and these norms keep shifting,” said Lynda Szymanski, a psychology professor at St. Catherine University who researches women’s body image concerns.

“We know from research that women who conform to the standard of beauty are more likely to be hired, promoted, and will earn more. Men don’t face these expectations.”

Makeup artist Davis thinks eyelashes today are at the same point on the beauty continuum that nails were a few decades ago, when cheap plastic press-ons were replaced by professionally applied acrylics.

For women who enjoy laying it on thick, the enhancements offer a boost with each peek in the mirror.

“It’s like having a good hair day or wearing a great outfit,” said extension fan Zins. “You feel more put together, and that gives you confidence.”

 

Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.