FACT CHECK   Are eyelash extensions causing women to get lash lice?

Claim:   Eyelash extensions are causing women to get eye lice.

   MOSTLY FALSE

WHAT’S TRUE:   In rare cases head lice can spread to eyelashes (or any body hair), a condition known as pediculosis ciliari.

WHAT’S FALSE:   Eyelash lice are a common side effect in wearers of lash extensions; lash extensions pose an exceptional risk of contracting lice; social media photographs depict instances wherein a lash extension wearer contracted eyelash lice.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, Twitter, and Instagram, October 2015]

I am curious about a post I saw that said there is now a certain lice that gets in eyelash extensions (that women are getting more these days) and that it is leading to severe infection.

PSA — for all of you that love going to get those eyelash extensions that you keep on for weeks from the nail salon you are now making yourself accessible to eyelash lice! Which causes your follicles to be infected and inflamed and can cause real optical damage!

Origins:   On 25 September 2015 an Instagram user published an iteration of the photo set embedded above, which was subsequently reposted by another Instagram user (incidentally a sales representative for a multi-level marketing makeup company).

While the first user presented the images alongside a comment that she was unaware lice could infest eyelashes, the second user’s post claimed:

This is real life people… Lice attaching themselves to eyelash extensions… Don’t let this happen to you… Our 3D Fiber Lash Mascara is chemical free, hypoallergenic, and comes with a 14 day money back love it guarantee!

Clearly, the embedded sales pitch indicated the claim ought to be taken with a large grain of salt. Subsequently the rumor filtered over to Twitter, where horrified users began swearing off eyelash extensions after viewing the unpleasant images. Although eyelash extensions have become increasingly commonplace in recent years, no trace of the rumor (or reports of the condition) existed on Twitter prior to 25 September 2015.

As for the images attached to the claim, many were real photographs inaccurately described as cases of eyelash extension-linked lice. The image at the top appeared online in 2014 (with no indication the condition was linked to lash extensions), the second one down on the left came from a page about blepharitis (also entirely unrelated to eyelash extensions). The photograph to the right of it dated to at least 2009 and was described as depicting mites (again wholly unrelated to eyelash extensions), and the context in which it was presented coincidentally involved risks related to the use of contaminated mascara. None of the photographs documented (purportedly commonplace) lash extension lice, and none of the images even appeared to involve an individual wearing eyelash extensions.

In July 2015, a number of web sites published articles about a viral YouTube video purporting to show eyelash lice. Notably (as seen in a version published to the Mirror on 29 July 2015), none of the articles claimed the video involved lice in any way linked to eyelash extensions.

Whether it’s possible to get lice in eyelashes isn’t in dispute: instances of that condition are well documented in medical literature (attributed to Phthirus pubis, or pubic lice). But the rumor that a “new” form of louse has placed lash extension wearers at risk is unsupported, and even a Consumer Reports article that examined the risk of lash extensions (partially conflating extensions with temporary false lashes) made no mention of lice as a concern.

We were unable to find even one documented incident wherein lash extensions led to eyelash lice. The claim (which resembled older urban legends about insects infesting hairstyles) quickly gained traction on social media sites, likely due in part to the increasing popularity of lash extensions. However, the rumor traced largely back to social media users hawking their own lash enhancement methods with an axe to grind against the trend. As with any salon service sanitation is always a factor, but we could find no evidence suggesting lash extensions posed any additional risk of lice.

Last updated:    2 October 2015

First published:    2 October 2015