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New eyelash-boosting drug a hit

March 12, 2009 6:19:07 AM PDT
Doctors are always looking for new uses for existing drugs. What started out as a medication for a very serious eye problem is now making waves as the latest thing in cosmetics. It can make eyelashes longer & thicker.

Bernadette McMeans, of Roxborough, has a place in medical history.

11 years ago, doctors found cancer in her esophagus.

"I wasn't given any hope at all," she recalls.

But she survived surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

When it was over, fortunately the cancer was gone. But so were most of her eyelashes and eyebrows.

She says the loss was devastating, "You just don't feel right without deyebrows and eyelashes. I couldn't use mascara, because there wasn't anything there - a few sprigs."

Last spring, Dr. Timothy Greco, a facial specialist at Eastern Cosmetic Surgery in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., suggested trying Latisse, a topical drug that was awaiting approval by the Food & Drug Administration.

Latisse contains bimatoprost, a compound from a glaucoma drug called Lumigan. It binds to receptors in the eyelashes that may be involved in the development and re-growth of hair follicles. Allergan has used bimatoprost since 2001 in Lumigan.

The company began studying the potential of using a lower dose of topical bimatoprost to stimulate eyelash growth after Lumigan users developed unusually lush lashes. It's specifically being marketed as a once-a-day medication to treat eyelash hypotrichosis, or lack of hair growth.

"One drop," says Dr. Timothy Greco as he puts a drop on an applicator.

Once a day, Latisse is applied at the base of the lashes, "Just like that," he says as he swipes it on.

Dr. Greco says Latisse pushes more follicles into the growth phase, and lengthens the time they spend there.

"That's where the thickness and the fullness comes from," he says.

But you do need to be careful applying Latisse.

If it gets on other skin, it can cause discoloration.

And some users in the trial reported redness, or itching of the eyes.

It's normally just for lashes, but Dr. Greco tried it on Bernadette's brows as well.

The drug's effect isn't immediate. According to manufacturer Allergan, the drug usually brings results two to four months after users start it. Bernadette says in a couple of months, she noticed her brows and lashes were much thicker and fuller.

"I think it's fantastic. It has given me a lot more self-esteem....it has," she says.

Latisse has been on the market for about two weeks now... And it's generated a lot of interest.

But it isn't cheap. It costs about $240 dollars for a year's supply. And you have to keep using it to keep your lashes full.

It's possible that the drug may also spur eyebrow and scalp hair growth, doctors told the Wall Street Journal. But Allergan spokesperson Heather Katt says the company hasn't explored using Latisse for those purposes.

Eastern Cosmetic Surgery Institute - 2 Bala Plaza, Bala Cynwyd, Pa. Info: 610-664-8830. or click here..

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