3.2 Anatomy of the eyelash

Now that we have a firm grasp on the anatomy of the eye and a few of its more unique characteristics, let’s progress to an in-depth examination of that which will be your canvas for many years to come: the eyelash.

Not just any strand of hair

Far from simply serving an aesthetic purpose, eyelashes perform a number of important functions as the first line of defence for the eye. In addition to keeping out small foreign objects like dust and insects, they also act to shield the eye from the elements: wind, rain and sunlight. Perhaps the most interesting function they perform, however, is to initiate what is known as the ‘protective response’.

Each eyelash is connected at its root to a hair plexus, which is a special group of nerve fibre endings that serve as an extremely sensitive receptor for touch sensation. In a similar fashion to the function of whiskers on a cat or a mouse, when an object touches an eyelash, a signal is passed to the brain extremely quickly, warning of a foreign object in close proximity to the eye. In response, the brain reflexively signals the eyelids to close.

Similar to other hair on the body and scalp, eyelash hair is comprised of approximately 90% proteins (including keratin and melanin) and 10% water and receives nourishment from blood vessels within the hair root. However, as we touched on in the previous lesson, that is about where the similarities cease.

Fun fact: Eyelashes have their own glands. They are called Moll and Zeis, and they release substances that keep your eyes from drying up and even help to prevent bacterial growth!

Eyelashes are much shorter and finer than scalp hair, with a length of approximately 4–14mm depending on factors such as location (on the eyelid margin), race and age. The upper eyelid houses approximately 80-150 individual lashes arranged in two to four rows. Upper eyelashes are more numerous and longer than lower lashes and curve upward. The lower eyelid will generally contain approximately 70-100 downward-curving lashes.

Why are lashes curved?

In addition to their relatively short length and fine composition, another defining property of an eyelash is its curved shape, a characteristic present in all ethnicities. The science behind exactly what causes this phenomenon is far too in-depth for this course (even the most comprehensive and educational course on the net!). However, in basic terms, this curvature is a result of asymmetric (or uneven) cell development in the hair root within the dermis of the eyelid, resulting in the concave (or inner) side of the hair being thicker and the convex (or outer) side of the hair being thinner. The eyelash, therefore, essentially grows ‘around’ the thicker, more tightly-packed cells on the inside of the curve (or curl).

Fun fact: the longest eyelash measures 12.40 cm (4.88 in) and has grown on You Jianxia’s (China) upper lid. The eyelash was measured in Changzhou, Jiangsu, China, on 28 June 2016.

Finally, while not necessarily a characteristic that will impact your profession as a lash artist (but it may come in handy during a trivia night!), one final difference between eyelashes and other hair on the body is the absence of an arrector pili muscle. The arrector pili is an extremely small muscle that attaches to the hair shaft within the dermis and is responsible for the straightening of the hair in response to cold or intense emotions(commonly referred to as goosebumps).

Fun fact: The speed of growth is also impacted by the age of the individual. You will lose more eyelashes as you get older, and it will also take longer to grow back. All in all, an eyelash takes approximately 12 weeks to re-grow after it has fallen out.

The lash itself is made up of three layers that fit into one another, which are the medulla, cortex and cuticle. Let’s learn more about each layer:

The lash itself is made up of three layers that fit into one another. These are:

  • the Medulla: innermost structure that consists of loose cells;
  • the Cortex: this makes up the major part of the fibre (90 percent of total weight) and provides the hair’s strength and stability. The pigmentation of the lash is the result of the melanin contained in the cortex; and
  • the Cuticle: the outermost protective layer which comprises of five to ten layers of non-pigmented flattened cells, arranged like tiles on a roof that overlap.

As also touched on previously, all eyelashes are characterised by a tendency to grow in a curved shape. The degree of curvature is dependent on the asymmetric distribution of cells as they develop in the root of the lash. Studies on eyelash growth across various races have revealed curvature is most apparent in the African race, followed by Caucasian, and least in Asians. Each eyelash extends approximately 2mm into the eyelid and grows at a rate of approximately 0.15mm per day. Within the root of both upper and lower eyelash follicles exist two types of secretory glands that are critical for lash and eye health: the sebaceous glands of Zeis and the apocrine (sweat) glands of Moll. Secretions from these glands protect both the surface of the eyelid and the eye.

Fun fact: The lifespan of a single eyelash ranges out between 60 to 200 days, with the majority of them being shed in about 140 days.

Types of natural lash curls

No two clients are the same, and you will likely encounter a broad range of natural growth patterns when applying lash extensions. Your client may have lashes that are downward facing, straight, slightly curled, over curled or a combination! We will look more at the impact the clients natural lash will have on your selection of the perfect lash extension, but for now, review the growth pattern examples below and see if you can identify your own growth pattern:

The beauty of being a lash artist is that you are actually a magician of sorts because you have control over the final look. Much like a brow artist can design a perfect brow, a skilled lash artist can correct and manipulate the look of the lashes by strategic placement of lashes on the rod/shield and by selecting the right sort of rod/shield for the most suitable curl for your client.

The lash curl type, also known as the ‘bend’, refers to a curl curve, which can vary from an almost straight curve to a dramatic curve. Curl types are categorised using alphabetical references, where a letter acts as the ‘code’ for categorising the type of curl. The table below provides an overview of the most common curl types you need to be familiar with:

J curl

J curl lashes are rarely used these days, as they are the straightest lash style. Many of your clients are likely coming to you for volume and length, so a J curl would not be suitable as it is too flat. However, for clients who are looking for a ‘barely there’ enhancement, a J curl would be a perfect choice!

B curl

B curl lashes are a step beyond J curl lashes, allowing for a natural effect with more of a curve. These are an extremely popular curl for clients who are mature, want a natural look or have a hooded eye shape. B curl lashes can be perfect for clients who have naturally straight lashes and want a look similar to the curl you would achieve using a lash curler.

C curl

The C curl is the most popular curl and an absolute staple to have in your kit! The curvature in a C curl allows for an open eye effect without looking too dramatic or unnatural. For clients who want a curl that can be suitable for daytime wear and also a night on the town, the C curl provides the perfect balance.

CC curl

As the ‘coding’ might suggest, the CC curl is similar to the C curl, with a touch more curve! This is perfect for clients who want more curl than a C curl offers but less curl than a D curl. The CC curl is ideal for both classic and volume applications.

D curl

With a distinct upward curvature, a D curl can open up a client’s eyes, provide a dramatic lift, and create a visible lash line. The D curl is becoming increasingly popular as it adds glamour and is particularly useful to achieve that celebrity look. Because this curl is so dramatic, it is essential to note that a D curl can look unnatural, so if your client wants a natural lash, give this curl a miss. Due to the curl’s nature, these can be difficult to work with, and it can be challenging to maintain uniformity. D curl lashes tend to not last as long as the J to CC curl types, so you will need to discuss this with your client and consider this when conducting your lash map.

L and/or L+ curl

As you can see, an L curl looks like a backwards ‘L’ where there is a flat base that then flows out into a curve. These are an excellent option for clients with very straight natural lashes, hooded eyes, or natural lashes slope at a downward angle. The benefit of the L curl’s flat base is that the extension can be attached to the natural lash, allowing for a stronger bond and a natural-looking lift effect. The L+ is a step above the L curl and provides a more dramatic lift, resembling the effect you would achieve from a C curl – but with a flat base.

U curl

If you have a client who wants to have their Kardashian or Beyoncé moment, then a U curl could be an option. It is the curliest extension type and is an extreme version of the D curl. Given the extreme curvature, this curl type is overly dramatic and may cause irritation as the lashes tend to curve back on themselves. A dramatic look can be achieved using the D curl, so this may be a more suitable alternative, especially if irritation is a concern.

As mentioned in the previous module, an #oldskool lash perm tends to result in more of an L-shaped curl, whereas lash lifts tend to result in B, C and D curls. Some rod suppliers use curl-type codes to differentiate between their rods/shields, whereas others will simply call them ‘small, medium and large’.

If you select a rod/shield that is too small for the natural lash, the lash may curl too much and could appear short – quite a common downfall of lash perms. If the rod/shield is too big, the lashes may appear too straight. In addition to selecting the correct rod/shield, if you do not place the lashes correctly, the final result could be a disaster. Similarly, if you do not have the solution on for enough time, the lashes won’t lift, and if you overprocess, the lashes could fall out!

Check out these lash fails to put this into perspective:

If you ever have a client who is tempted to do lash lifts at home or wants to know why you have chosen the rod/shield you have, point them to the articles and videos above! You will learn more about selecting rods/shields for particular curl types later in this module.

Lash cycle

If you own a dog that is lucky enough to spend time inside your home, you will no doubt be aware of its tendency to shed its coat, especially in spring and autumn, in preparation for the cooler and warmer months. Many people will be surprised to discover that humans shed their hair in an almost identical fashion.

As with the hair on your scalp and body, eyelash hairs grow and shed (or fall out) in an ever-repeating cycle. The only difference when compared with the hair on other parts of the body is the length of the various stages of this cycle. The lash cycle consists of three phases – Anagen, Catagen and Telogen:

The three (primary) phases of the lash cycle
  • Anagen phase: the growing phase, consisting of approximately four to ten weeks. During this time, the hair will continue to form via cell division in the hair root and result in the hair shaft (the visible component of the hair) extending further and further out of the hair follicle. In the previous two lessons, we discussed the characteristic of eyelash hair to grow much shorter than scalp hair (rarely exceeding 12mm in length). This is due to the relatively short length of the eyelash anagen phase (as mentioned, four to ten weeks) compared with that of scalp hair (3-7 years). Approximately 40 percent of upper and 20 percent of lower eyelashes are in the anagen phase at any one time.
  • Catagen phase: the transition phase, consisting of approximately 12 to 20 days. Following the anagen phase, the hair ceases to grow and the hair follicle shrinks in size and moves toward the surface of the skin. No pigment is produced during this phase of the lash cycle.
  • Telogen phase: the resting and shedding phase, consisting of approximately three to six months. As the name suggests, during this phase the eyelash hairs are simply resting within the hair follicle and not actively growing. During the latter stage of the telogen phase (sometimes referred to as a fourth exogen phase), the new hair has already begun to develop at the base of the hair follicle, and will eventually push (or shed) the old hair out of the follicle. As you can therefore see, there is an overlap of the late telogen and early anagen phase.

Seasonal lash sheds

As touched on, much like your furry canine friend and his or her coat, a greater number of our eyelashes will reach the end of their telogen phase and shed in spring and autumn. There is nothing you can do as a lash technician to prevent this natural occurrence, however, educating and informing your clients of this phenomenon will prevent them from assuming this avalanche of lash loss was your fault and either making contact with a complaint or, worse still, never making contact again!

Fun fact: The speed of growth is also impacted by the age of the individual. You will lose more eyelashes as you get older, and it will also take longer to grow back. All in all, an eyelash takes approximately 12 weeks to re-grow after it has fallen out. A healthy lifestyle will result in faster growth of your eyelashes.

We will discuss client retention and maintenance towards the end of the course, including recommended appointment intervals and rebooking schedules. However, it is worth mentioning now that it is wise to recommend more frequent infills during the spring and autumn to keep your clients’ lashes looking lush and full (and them happy!).

If you have a client who has sparse or damaged lashes and they want them to grow stronger and healthier, here are a few tips you can recommend:

Eat a balanced diet.
Take vitamin supplements – B vitamins and vitamins A, B, C, and D have also been linked to hair growth.
Brush lashes using a spoolie or eyelash comb as brushing stimulates blood flow to the area, which can stimulate growth.
Have a cup of tea – green tea, that is. Given its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, plus its panthenol and caffeine content, it may help to soothe eyelids, hydrate lashes, and stimulate hair growth.
Although not scientifically proven to help, lash serums promote growth, so it could be worth a go!
Remove makeup completely each day
Be patient ?

In addition to natural lash shedding, there is a range of other factors which can affect hair growth, which include but are not limited to:

  • Aging
  • Alopecia
  • Chemotherapy
  • Drugs and chemicals
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Genetics
  • Hormonal changes
  • Menopause
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Pregnancy and child-birth
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Thyroid disease
  • Trauma, such as cuts, burns, and other damage to your eyelash hair follicles

This list is not exhaustive, and for many of the above factors, there isn’t much that you can do for your client in terms of instant hair growth unless they opt to try lash extensions, but you may be able to assist them with being able to work with the lashes they have, using strategic placement on the eyelash rod/shield.

Clients who have minimal or patchy eyelashes can be a little more complex to work with, but having faith in the process and your skills as the outcome can really help your client to feel beautiful and confident.

Fun fact: Human babies are born with a brand new pair of lashes. This is because our eyelashes begin to grow before we are born. The embryo starts to develop eyelashes between the 7th and the 8th week of pregnancy.

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