The Prada spring 2023 runway featured one striking beauty detail that stood out in an otherwise simplistic show. Pat McGrath, a makeup artist, applied dense, false, and custom-made lashes onto models’ upper eyelids—almost an umbrella of lashes—long and straight fanningly covering the eyes.
Evoking the creepy, doll-esque eye makeup seen during Halloween, the lashes fluttered over otherwise bare and flawless skin—McGrath’s 001 The Essence had much to do with that—and were paired with a perfectly understated hair look.
You see, most of us dream of long, thick lashes to frame our eyes and make them pop. But, despite our love for this physical feature, natural, long eyelashes aren’t the norm for most of us. Thus many of us turn to eyelash extensions, lash growth serums, and curlers to achieve this desirable trait.
If you wonder why some people have super long eyelashes, we’ve got news for you: it’s more of a genetic disorder called trichomegaly.
What is Eyelash Tricomegaly?
Although we all have ideas about what counts as long eyelashes and what doesn’t, there is a length that’s officially considered as long eyelashes. Trichomegaly describes eyelashes longer than 8mm in the peripheral area and 12mm in the center.
TH. Gray was the first person to use the term in 1944 in a publication in the Stanford Medical Bulletin, though he was the third person to characterize the disorder. Reiter and Bab published the first two reports in German in 1926 and 1931, respectively.
Gray proposed the phrase “movie lashes” to refer to this condition because, at the time, long lashes were portrayed in movies as a desirable quality in women.
Causes of Trichomegaly
There are various causes of eyelash trichomegaly, including environmental factors (drugs) and genetic inheritance. Let’s explore them.
Congenital trichomegaly, as the name implies, is a condition in which an individual has longer than average eyelashes due to a syndrome or disorder that they have had since birth.
Two conditions in particular, Oliver-McFarlane syndrome and Cornelia de Lange, cause an individual to have noticeably longer eyelashes than usual.
However, having lengthy eyelashes does not guarantee one of these disorders exists. Along with having long eyelashes, they also exhibit several additional symptoms. It’s rare to have extra-long eyelashes with no extra symptoms, but it does happen! And that’s where familial trichomegaly comes in—long eyelashes since birth.
There may be no other symptoms on rare occasions but only a familial feature of abnormally long eyelashes. Like many of us reading this, scientists are fascinated by long eyelashes and their origin.
For instance, researchers collected DNA from individuals with trichomegaly eyelashes in a study. They compared it to the DNA of family members with shorter eyelashes to better understand what was happening.
What did they learn? The individuals with long lashes had mutated forms of the FGF5 gene.
What Does FGF5 Mean, and How Does It Affect Eyelash Length?
FGF5 means Fibroblast Growth Factor 5, responsible for producing the protein that prevents more hair growth than necessary. The protein and the gene share the same name, so don’t get confused. Isn’t science occasionally a little confusing?
According to the theory, longer eyelashes can develop because the mutant gene cannot generate the necessary protein. We all have two distinct copies of the gene, each from a different parent.
In general, the two copies put much effort into producing the protein. What transpires if there are two damaged or altered copies of the gene? Trichomegaly, that’s what!
But what if there is a normal FGF5 gene and a mutant version? Blocking abnormal hair development seems to require one normal, fully functional gene. As a result, it is a recessive trait because it takes two mutant copies of the gene for long eyelashes to develop in a person.
How, then, Can You Inherit Trichomegaly?
There is only one way you can possibly acquire two FGF5 mutations: if you receive a mutated copy of the gene from each of your parents – something regarded as extremely unlikely.
Acquired Eyelash Trichomegaly
Studies show trichomegaly is present in HIV patients, especially those in the last stage of the virus type 1 infection. As patients respond to anti-retroviral therapy, their eyelashes normalize or get extra long.
Other conditions associated with eyelash trichomegaly include:
- Hair disorders like Alopecia Areata
- Allergic conditions e.g., atopic dermatitis
- Connective tissue disorders like systemic lupus erythematosus
Drugs that Cause Trichomegaly
As we mentioned previously, trichomegaly can be caused by medicines or genetics. So what medications can result in eyelash trichomegaly? Latanoprost (a medicine used to treat glaucoma) is a good example.
Glaucoma damages the eye’s optic nerve by raising the intraocular pressure, also known as intraocular pressure.
Your eyesight deteriorates as glaucoma progresses because the optic nerve transmitting images to the brain gets severe.
Back to Latanoprost: in addition to treating glaucoma, it also activates hair follicle cells, prolonging their growth cycle and resulting in, you’ve guessed it, longer lashes!
Another drug, Erlotinib, used in lung cancer treatment, also causes eyelash trichomegaly by stimulating hair follicles.
Interferon-2b also causes trichomegaly. Two B-cell lymphoma patients who received interferon 14 treatment were the first to report experiencing interferon-associated eyelash trichomegaly.
After four months of treatment, both patients noticed that their eyelashes had become thicker, curlier, and longer—between 20 and 65 mm.
Can I Get Eyelash Trichomegaly Treatment?
The primary treatment of eyelash trichomegaly involves regular trimming of the eyelashes if they cause discomfort. Sometimes antibiotics and artificial tears may be necessary for irritation or meibomitis.
How do you Trim Long Eyelashes?
Avoid distractions and pay close attention to avoid harming your eyes when trimming your natural lashes. Sit in a position facing the mirror in a room with good lighting. Just a pair of little scissors will do.
Now that you are ready allow me to guide you through this quick procedure.
To trim your long eyelashes:
- Open your eyes to trim your lashes carefully; begin at the inside corner closest to your nose and work your way out to the outside corner.
- Repeat the process for the second eye, and use a mirror to see if both lengths are equal.
- Voilá! Your eyes are sparkling with neatly trimmed lashes!
You may notice someone with very long eyelashes that are not fakes. It may be a sign that they have a particular congenital disorder, are taking medication for a significant medical condition, or that their parents had long eyelashes.
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