FDA approves eyelash-growing drug

January 15, 2009 7:19:06 PM PST
A drug that promises to give women longer eyelashes will be available by prescription next week. The FDA has just given its approval after several years of clinical trials.

You will have to forgive Trish Payes if her eyes light up a bit when you ask her about lashes and the treatment she used to help them grow.

"Oh, it works. My lashes were touching my eyebrows in a matter of three to four months," said Trish.

What Trish used was an over-the-counter eyeliner containing a compound similar to drugs used to treat glaucoma called prostaglandin analogs. It turns out those glaucoma eye drops had an unexpected result.

"And patients that were using it for that noticed an interesting side effect, which was that eyelashes grew," said Dr. Victor Narukar, a dermatologist.

Some doctors actually prescribed the eye drops to patients for that purpose, telling them to apply the medication with a Q-Tip to the edge of the eyelid. Since cosmetics can use ingredients in prescription drugs to a degree, many started marketing eyelash enhancers with bold promises.

Some even listed prostaglandins on their labels. That is when the FDA stepped in, actually raiding one company and seizing its product, saying it was using an unapproved and misbranded drug. Meantime, drug company Allergan was conducting clinical trials on its glaucoma drops for eyelash growth and filed patent infringement lawsuits against several of these cosmetic companies.

San Francisco glaucoma specialist Dr. Andrew Iwach warns of a potential serious side effect of prostaglandin analogs. "In some patients there can be a change in the color of the iris."

It can happen especially in lighter color eyes, but Allergan says none of the patients in the clinical trial had that problem. Remember, this formulation is being applied to the edge of the eyelid, not into the eye.

The results of the clinical trial are impressive. Lashes are noticeably longer and thicker.

Latisse just received FDA approval and will be available by prescription next week at a cost of about $120 for a month's supply.

Dermatologists like Dr. Narukar expect there will be great interest.

"Much to my amazement, the number one issue around the eyes that women are often concerned by are thinning eyelashes," said Dr. Narukar.

He says it takes about six to eight weeks for full growth, a point when some women will actually have to trim their lashes.

Trish stopped using the over-the-counter product when she got pregnant and her lashes returned to normal. She plans to try it again, this time with the prescription drug.

"The longer the better. They can never be too long for me," said Trish.

Allergan has a history of getting FDA approval for cosmetic uses of its drugs. It brought Botox to the market as a wrinkle reliever.

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Dr. Vic Narukar
2100 Webster Street #505
San Francisco, CA 94110