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Better Lashes Through Chemistry: New Mascara is a Drug

By       Message Martha Rosenberg     Permalink
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Not enough lashes? GROW THEM! exhorts a billboard with a life size likeness of Brooke Shields at a Chicago shopping mall. Grow longer, fuller, darker lashes says a TV ad for the same product showing Brooke enchanting everyone at a party with new flutter appeal.

But despite the Maybelline close-ups, lash applicator and vanity sell, Allergan's new drug Lattise is not mascara--but a glaucoma drug repurposed as an eyelash grower.

Like Viagra, intended as a blood pressure medication until a certain side effect surfaced, Retin-A which treated acne before wrinkles and Botox, first used for eye spasms, the ingredient in Allergan's Lumigan, bimatoprost, turned out to stimulate eyelash growth. Older glaucoma drugs like latanoprost and travoprost--called prostaglandin analogs because they bind to prostaglandins or lipids--also stimulated lashes but not as much.

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A lash stimulator also fit well into Allergan's portfolio as the Irvine, CA-based eyecare company that launched Botox in 2002 and now markets the facial filler Juvederm, breast aesthetics and balloon and banding devices for obesity "interventions."

Because Lattise was approved by the FDA for hypotrichosis--inadequate hair growth-- many expected its marketing campaign to "sell" hypotrichosis like Restless Legs Syndrome or other diseases du jour when it began last year. Others thought its natural audience would be the Botox and Restasis (Allergan's dry eye drug) set: aging boomers with thinning or even chemoed lashes.

Wrong. Lattise was pitched as a cosmetic must-have like lip gloss with actress Brooke Shields serving as its "compensated spokesperson and actual user" and teens and twentysomethings became its biggest fans. In fact, over the counter products with bimatoprost called MassiveLash, DermaLash, Luxette, Age Intervention and MD Lash Factor actually preceded Lattise to market--and their manufacturers were sued by Allergan in 2007 for patent infringement. At least ten remain on the market, their ingredients unclear, and users compare them to Lattise on beauty Web sites.

At first blush, pun intended, Lattise is reminiscent of permanent eyeliner and other permanent makeup which lost popularity after the FDA warned it could cause disfiguring granulomas in 2004. In fact, saving money on daily mascara is used as a defense of Lattise's $120 a month cost, rarely covered by insurance.

But its also shares the risk features of LASIK--eye surgery to avoid glasses--and "addiction" features of Botox. "If discontinued lashes will gradually return to their previous appearance" warns a disclaimer in the TV ad. Translation: if you like the effects, you've got a monkey on your back from now on. Why else do dope dealers say "first taste free"?

Lattise works. Everyone from Shields, to makeup-nistas to the doctors who reached their career lows rating "eyelash length, fullness and darkness" for Allergan's FDA submission--do subjects need more Bodacious Blue?--agree it works.

It's what else it does that give Lattise its drawbacks.

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"My eyelids have become darker," posts one Lattise user on a Consumer Reports blog. "I have also had the problem of hairs growing in the corner of my eye, which I just pluck out with little pain, and one eyelash that grows in an errant way."

"My lashes all of a sudden grew in a burst, got very spindly/spidery, and then many shed at the same time," posts another on

"My classmate" sprouted fuzzes on her cheeks area right below her eyes," says another poster on "It was honestly pretty nasty, lashes were not worth it because I don't know what she's going to do about her cheeks."

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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