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If you have extremely fair hair that makes lashes nearly invisible or your eyebrows are a different color than your hair is, you may be the perfect candidate for eyelash and eyebrow tinting. Likewise if you’re tired of runny mascara or if you’re finally noticing grays sprouting in your brows.
The semi permanent hair darkening procedures are offered at salons in multiple countries. First, Vaseline is used to create a coating of moisture in the area around the brows and under the eyes. Small pieces of cardboard are placed under the eyes after they are closed. The esthetician will then use a cotton applicator dipped in dye (which is normally vegetable-based) to apply the color solution to the eyebrows, eyelashes or both. Eyes remain closed for about fifteen minutes in order to let the solution dry. The esthetician will wash away excess dye with soap and water, and remove any stains from the skin. Eyelash and eyebrow tinting cost approximately $20 each, and last about 4 – 6 weeks.
All of this is well and good; it sounds pretty easy and convenient. And it is. But there is one major catch: eyelash and eyebrow tinting are illegal in several places. Massachusetts is one example. In 1999, a woman from Massachusetts had her eyelashes tinted, only to leave the salon with eyes that “looked like they were bleeding” and “had no white left to them at all” as “all the blood vessels were broken.” Though the esthetician told the woman that the dye was vegetable-based, it apparently also contained coal and tar and had a clear warning label on the packaging: "This product should not be used for dying the eyebrows or the eyelashes. To do so may cause blindness." The woman suffered chemical burns to her eyes and permanent irritation.
How could this have happened? Why didn’t the esthetician use a dye that is appropriate and safe for use in the eye region? Because no such dye exists. The FDA has not approved any dyes for the purpose of eyebrow and eyelash tinting. In fact, an FDA alert has been in effect since 1982 when it was discovered that multiple eyelash dyes imported to the United States (and sold in salons across the country) from Europe contained coal-tar dyes. It has been concluded that anything from irritation to blindness can occur if these dyes come into contact with the eye.
Interestingly, there are a few DIY eyelash and eyebrow tinting kits that are sold online, though most of them are described as being quite messy in reviews. Still, they do seem to work. However, while the FDA does not explicitly forbid the ingredients used in these home kits, I personally would be weary about putting them near my eyes. For example, the main ingredient in Godefroy 28 Day Mascara Permanent Eyelash Tint Kit is silver nitrate, which may damage eyes when they are exposed to the substance long-term. It can also stain skin and irritate mucus membranes. Other ingredients that can be found in both the Mascara Tint and Godefroy’s Eyebrow Tint include sodium lauryl sulfate and cocamide DEA.
Essentially, whether you go to a salon or buy a DIY kit, eyelash and eyebrow tinting are very much buyer beware procedures. I would recommend doing a patch test in either case to test for potential allergies beforehand, though regardless of how well your skin takes it, your eyes will always be at risk. Consider alternative options like tinted gels; they’re not semi-permanent, but they are much safer.