close up of woman's eyelashes

It was a prostaglandin that put Truth In Aging on the map. When I first started as a blog with an embarrassing number of typos, I wrote about an eyelash growth product that contained an active ingredient that was something called a prostaglandin. The Wall Street Journal linked to my post and TIA’s audience — basically a handful of my friends at that point — shot up and has grown steadily ever since. Prostaglandins, despite some very unpleasant side effects, are still around and in some big name brands such as Latisse. There are also some “natural prostaglandin alternatives” that have been growing in popularity. But are they any safer? I decided it was time to revisit the truth about prostaglandins.

What is a prostaglandin?

Prostaglandins are kinds of lipids derived from fatty acids. Sounds harmless, right? And that’s how manufacturers of eyelash growth products get to say their products are all natural. Prostaglandin analogues are a mainstay in the treatment of glaucoma, a disease of the eye. Somewhere along the line it was discovered that there was a happy side effect to this treatment: eyelashes grew like weeds.

Not all prostaglandin analogues work that well. Bitamoprost (in Latisse) seems to be the best, according to some research on rabbits, which also found that several others were not significantly good at growing eyelashes.

What are the side effects when used to grow eyelashes?

Prostaglandins should not be used lightly. They can darken the color of the iris (blue eyes can literally turn brown),  cause swollen retina and blurry vision, red/brown rings around the eyes, redness in the eyes, itchy lids and general irritation. Some side effects can be permanent and there is speculation that this use of prostaglandins could build a resistance to glaucoma medication.

How do I know if there’s a prostaglandin in my eyelash growth product?

This isn’t always easy as you won’t find the word prostaglandin in the ingredients list. These eyelash growth actives are analogues of prostaglandin and can appear as an intimidating string of chemicals. This is the one in Lilash: Isopropanol Phenyl-hydroxy-pentene Dihydroxy-cyclopentyl-heptenate. In Latisse, it appears as Bitamoprost. While Revitalash has it listed as Dechloro Dihydroxy Difluoro Ethylcloprostenolamide.

What about Black Sea rod oil?

I have recently been testing an eyelash growth product from Germany that has Black Sea rod oil as one if its ingredients. I discovered that this is touted as a ‘natural’ prostaglandin and it has started turning up in quite a few eyelash growth products. So what is it and is it any safer?

It’s a kind of coral that grows in the Caribbean (not the Black Sea) and it contains a bioactive lipid prostaglandin. About a million times more than any other organism (source). According to Wikipedia, the function of this large amount of prostaglandin in the coral is unknown. But on mammals it acts as a muscle relaxant, induces labor and causes nausea and vomiting.

I can find no information on this particular prostaglandin analogue and its impact on eyelash growth, nor whether it is used in the treatment of glaucoma. As to side effects, I have had none so far from the eyelash growth product that contains this that I am currently testing. If anyone has information or experience of Black Sea rod oil, I would love to hear from you.