Could a new eyelash-lengthening drug curb the envy of stubby-lashed ladies? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has green-lighted Latisse, which lengthens, thickens and darkens eyelashes when dabbed daily on the lash line on the lids with a disposable wand.

The med, called Latisse, should be available by March from a doctor or with a prescription from one. Price tag: $120 for a month’s supply. According to manufacturer Allergan, the drug usually nets results two to four months after users start it. Potential side effects: Some 4 percent of users experience eye itching and redness, and it may also temporarily darken the skin of the eyelid, according to the company.
The active ingredient in Latisse is bimatoprost, a compound derived from fatty acids that bind to receptors in the eyelashes that may be involved in the development and re-growth of hair follicles. Allergan has used bimatoprost since 2001 in Lumigan, an Rx eye drop that lowers eye pressure in people with glaucoma. (Glaucoma is a disease that may cause vision loss from damage to the optic nerve if too much pressure builds up in the eye.)

The company began studying the potential of using a lower dose of topical bimatoprost to stimulate eyelash growth after Lumigan users developed unusually lush lashes. It's specifically being marketed as a once-a-day med to treat eyelash hypotrichosis, or lack of hair growth.  

It's not clear exactly why Latisse promotes eyelash growth, but the company speculates that the drug may increase the length and amount of hair that sprouts during the growth cycle. It’s possible that the drug may also spur eyebrow and scalp hair growth, doctors told the Wall Street Journal. But Allergan spokesperson Heather Katt says the company hasn't explored using Latisse for those purposes.

The cosmetics industry has long been vying for a product that held out the promise of long, thick lashes. But consumers need to be careful and remember that vanity may come at a cost.

Last year, U.S. Marshals seized 12,682 applicator tubes ($2 million worth) of another product, Age Intervention Eyelash, which the FDA said contained bimatoprost that caused swelling of the eyes in some users. (Swelling isn’t listed as a side effect of Latisse, which contains a smaller amount of bimatoprost than Lumigan and isn't placed directly into the eye). Age Intervention Eyelash's manufacturer, Jan Marini Skin Research, stopped selling the product, though it maintains that it never contained bimatoprost.

Allergan sued 11 companies for alleged patent infringement for using bimatropost to promote lash growth; the suit is scheduled to go to trial in November, according to Katt.

She says the company dropped its claim against Jan Marini Skin Research, of San Jose, Calif., and three other companies after they acknowledged they had violated Allergan's patents on bimatropost and agreed to stop distributing products containing it. Allergan also dismissed the suit against a supplier of the ingredient and two companies it determined weren't infinging on its patent.

Image © iStockphoto/Inga Ivanova