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How The Long-Lash Look Went From The Red Carpet To Everyday Life03:51

Danielle Russell admires her new eyelashes after her session at Elle salon. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR)
Danielle Russell admires her new eyelashes after her session at Elle salon. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR)

When Anna Taylor got her U.S. patent for false eyelashes in 1911, it's doubtful she could see far enough into the future to know that trying to make lashes look longer and fuller would turn into a multimillion-dollar industry.

While some may find it odd that others apply mascara, glue strips of lashes to their eyelids or get individual lash extensions, the quest to have — or appear to have — long, luxurious lashes is serious business. As of April 2016, drugstore sales of false lashes and adhesives were more than $113 million, according to Gale Business Insights.

(Top) Paula Guevara works on Marie Waiter's eyelashes at Elle Lash Bar in Washington, D.C. (Left) Eyelash extensions are a new way to extend the length and thickness of natural eyelashes. (Right) A drawer with some of the materials used for lash extensions, which are all done with faux mink lashes. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR)

Bette Davis eyes

In the early 20th century, film director D.W. Griffith and Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor brought false lashes to the big screen. Movie stars such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Lauren Bacall and Carol Channing were regular lash wearers.

A 2007 Los Angeles Times obituary for Hollywood makeup artist Monty Westmore, who worked with the legendary Crawford, noted that she did her own face. But it was his job "to lay out her makeup supplies and curl six pairs of her false eyelashes each morning before filming began."

Elle Lash Bar offers lash extensions, lash tinting, eyelash perming, and more. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR)

In the '60s, model Twiggy made false lashes so popular, as many as 20 million pairs were sold a year, according to Racked.

But getting them on your eye wasn't so easy.

"They were mystifying!" says Jenny Bailly, the executive beauty director for Allure magazine. Even though false lashes were the standard for movie stars, showgirls and models, for the laywoman they could be a bit of work.

"There was the glue, the strips — how do you get these things on and then how do you get them off," Bailly says.

In a 1998 interview with VH-1's Pop Up Video creators, Oprah snatched hers off for the audience — then couldn't get them back on.

But more recently, Bailly says, YouTube tutorials have helped people figure it out.

"All I had to do was type in 'how to apply,' and the first thing that came up was false lashes, and then there's like 130,000 different videos," she says.

That's helped more people bring the red carpet look to everyday life.

"I do think the Kardashian effect is part of it," Bailly says. "I think the show, you know these women who wear false lashes every day as just part of their everyday look, kind of normalized it."

And these days, there are a lot more options that are easier to use — and lash extensions.

(Left) Stacey Lee waits to get her eyelash extensions done at Elle Lash Bar. It is recommend to get a touch up or "re-lash" every two to three weeks. (Right) Jenn Elise Murray, one of the staff members at Elle Lash Bar, cleans her tweezers with acetone after getting some glue stuck on them. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR)

One lash at a time

At DC Lash Bar in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., customers lie on a massage table as co-owner and lash technician Josie Felipe explains each step of the process. First, she cleanses the eyes, then she applies an undereye pad to keep bottom lashes out of the way.

"What I'm doing now is I'm just applying a little bit of a tape onto your eyelid, to kind of make that area taut, so I can get as close to the root as possible," she says in a soothing voice.

Eyelash extensions are available in a number of lengths and curls. Each client selects the fullness, length, curl and design. These elements create a customized look for each person. (Marian Carrasquero/NPR)

Felipe brushes the lashes to help separate them, then pulls out a pair of tweezers and metal separator to isolate individual lashes. A small square of cardboard holding assorted synthetic lashes is stuck to the back of her hand with Velcro.

She asks questions during the consultation — do you want them to look natural or are you going for a full glamour look? — that help her make decisions about the weight, curl and length of lash to apply.

The whole session can take up to two hours, but unlike lash strips, extensions can last up to three weeks if you remember not to rub your eyes and don't apply mascara. The extensions get longer as your lashes grow and then fall off as they shed.

Still, if false lashes of any kind are too much for you, Unyi Agba, a senior manager of marketing at Maybelline, says there's a growing demand for mascara that gives the false lash look.

"It's always about trying to find that mascara that's going to really transform them," she says. "So there's going to be an increased appetite for that. Consumers are going to want mascaras that can really deliver a false lash look. So even more lengthening, even more volume, and even more depth to the lashes — expect to see some of that."

Correction: February 25, 2017 12:00 am — A previous version of this story misspelled Jenny Bailly's last name as Bially in some references.

Copyright NPR 2022.




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