Lust for Lashes – Winnipeg Free Press, November 29, 2010
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Lust for Lashes – Winnipeg Free Press, November 29, 2010

By Shamona Harnett

Latisse, the first drug touted to grow eyelashes, just approved in Canada 

For most of her life, Winnipegger Lorrie Sudoski has been on a quest for long, sweeping eyelashes — the kind of “big, bold, look-at-me lashes” she’s seen Hollywood starlet Drew Barrymore coo about in her Cover Girl ads.

But despite trying countless tubes of mascara from Cover Girl and other major brands, Sudoski never got the look she wanted.

So now it’s go-big or go-home time for the St. James resident who has pinned all her hopes on Latisse. The drug has been available at doctors’ offices in Canada for just over a week. Latisse is manufactured by California-based Allergan, the same company that makes Botox.

Latisse is really a rebranding of Lumigan, a drug used in Canada since 2002 to treat glaucoma, a serious eye disease that causes elevated pressure in the eye. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. Lumigan works by lowering eye pressure.

Before the development of Latisse, glaucoma patients using Lumigan noticed their eyelashes growing longer and thicker. Many would ask their ophthalmologists if they could apply Lumigan, a drop, in their non-diseased eye to even out lash growth.

Allergan decided to turn a not-completely-understood side effect into the profit-making Latisse. It’s been available in the United States since 2008. Last year, Allergan sold 1.5 million bottles of Latisse. It contains the same active ingredient as Lumigan — bimatoprost — in the identical .03 per cent strength.

What’s new is the name, application method (instead of dropping this in the eye, you apply it to the upper lash line with a brush) and, of course, the splashy ad campaign featuring model/actress Brooke Shields sporting her fringe of long, perfectly fanned lashes.

Sudoski has been watching the American commercials, eagerly waiting for the product to hit Canadian shelves.

When her dermatologist, Dr. Earl Minuk, recently put on an open house to introduce Latisse, Sudoski was there, willing to shell out $160 for a bottle expected to last just over a month. She’s already tried the product and hopes that in eight to 16 weeks she’ll have a luscious lashes — like she had when she was 20 — that won’t require mascara.

“I’m hoping to get a fuller eyelash,” says Sudoski, 58. “I don’t need them ridiculously long. I’m hoping to get an average result that helps my eyelashes fill in a little bit more.”

Dr. Errol Billinkoff, a Winnipeg doctor who specializes in no-scalpel vasectomies and cosmetic laser procedures, calls Latisse “fantastic.” His staff has been using the product for a few weeks and has loved the results. “I’ve taken photos to demonstrate the difference and it is dramatic. I think we are going to be selling a lot of it,” says Billinkoff.

Eleven doctors in Winnipeg authorized to prescribe Latisse are listed on the Allergan website. None of the doctors listed are ophthalmologists, medical doctors who specialize in eyes.

Meanwhile, the product is currently sold online by a Pennsylvania doctor who bills himself as the “largest Latisse retailer in the U.S.” In an email to the Free Press, an Allergan spokeswoman wrote, “It’s important to note that worldwide, Allergan does not support nor offer Latisse for sale through online channels even where legitimate online pharmacies exist.”

Minuk, a cosmetic dermatologist and authorized Latisse provider, is a fan. “I think the eyelashes and eyes are the key to the soul,” says Minuk. “Instead of running to the Mac counter … that’s artificial stuff. But this is the real McCoy.”

The real McCoy may cause, according to Latisse’s product monograph, eye itching and redness. More visible effects may include excess hair growth in areas other than the lashes, darkening of the skin under the eyes, darkening of the eyelid and darkening of the iris–the coloured part of the eye.

Most doctors say while iris darkening is probably irreversible, skin darkening will, in most cases, subside when the affected patient stops using Latisse.

That’s not the case with Cynthia O’Connor, a Minneapolis interior designer who used Latisse for 16 weeks before developing plum-coloured circles around her eyes. In a photo that appeared alongside a New York Times article about Latisse, she looked like she had been punched.

A year after not using the product, O’Connor says she still has under eye discolouration. “I am talked blue about my experience with Latisse. It was not a good one. I did get good eyelash growth, but the side effects were awful,” says O’Connor in a Facebook message to the Free Press.

O’Connor, who purchased Latisse without a prescription from her facialist, hopes her story will serve as a warning to Canadians who might be considering using Latisse without seeing a doctor.

“I used the product for about four months and I am left with a not so happy ending.”

Dr. Lisa Kellett, a Toronto dermatologist and consultant for Latisse, says she’s heard of Lumigan causing skin discolouration, but not Latisse.

“I guess the question would be what was she actually using, right?,” says Kellett, who is using Latisse on her own lashes. “If it’s from an esthetician, I would wonder. You can get Botox online now. Who knows what you’re really getting?”

Numerous internet message boards contain posts from women in the U.S. who say their blue or green eyes turned brown after using Latisse. Doctors warn that Latisse users need to apply the product carefully, making sure to avoid inside the eye, the lower lash line and the skin surrounding the eye. Allergan says that once a user stops using Latisse, lashes will return to their pre-Latisse state within weeks.

Dr. Lorne Bellan, University of Manitoba’s head of opthamlology, warns against ordering Latisse or any other drug online. Nevertheless, he says bimatoprost, the active ingredient in Latisse, has been proven relatively safe, considering Lumigan, (which has the exact same ingredient) has been used in Canada for almost a decade.

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