Beauty-wise, there’s one thing I’ve always been able to count on: my eyelashes. Due to a stroke of genetic luck, my lashes are long, thick and fluffy — no mascara required. Even if I had a pimple visible from the International Space Station, even if my undereye circles were darker than a Gillian Flynn novel, I could still look in the mirror and think “Thank you, mom and dad, for my eyelashes. They’re real, and they’re spectacular.”
Until, horrifyingly, they started falling out. One morning, I noticed a little bump on my lash line. It didn’t hurt, so I shrugged it off—though I had also been ignoring some dryness and itchiness, which didn’t feel worth my attention when the pandemic was in full swing. A few weeks later, I realized the bump had gotten bigger. It was also red and inflamed, seemed to be pushing my eyelashes in weird directions, and… there it was. An eyelash bald spot.
I immediately booked an appointment with Dr. Susan Zoltan, an ophthalmologist at Fifth Avenue Associates in Manhattan. She examined my eyes and diagnosed me with a common condition called meibomian gland dysfunction (or MGD). The meibomian glands are located on your eyelids, and produce an oil called meibum that, along with mucus and water, keeps eyes nice and moist. When they’re not working properly, you can end up with dry and itchy eyes, blurry vision, styes, and lash loss. There are a few reasons why meibomian glands can malfunction, namely age, makeup, and contact lenses. “Staring at a computer doesn’t cause MGD,” Dr. Zoltan assured me, though it can exacerbate the symptoms. “When a person concentrates on their computer they blink less, which causes more evaporative dry eyes.” Paying attention to that kind of thing would be important for me moving forward, since MGD is something you have to keep managing—it doesn’t just go away.
After diagnosing me, Dr. Zoltan removed the blockage on my lash line, which was a bit like having a facial with extractions – on your eyelid. (Thankfully, Dr. Zoltan used an anesthetic and is very good at her job.) Once that was over, she sent me home with an easy two-step OTC treatment regimen. (I added two more steps on my own to encourage my lashes to get back to normal ASAP.) My routine should be helpful for people with MGD or generally dry, irritated eyes:
Hypochlorous acid spray
Hypochlorous acid is the same ingredient in Tower 28’s popular face mist, and it can help relieve inflammation and fight bacteria. Dr. Zoltan gave me a lid-specific version, Avenova Antimicrobial Lid & Lash Solution, and after I used it up, I ordered a jumbo-sized one from Hyedrate. (Both work equally well for me.) Twice a day, after I wash my face, I mist my eyelids and gently pat it in with my fingertips. It feels a bit odd but dries quickly and doesn’t sting at all.
A heated eye compress
This encourages the meibomian glands to produce more oil, which helps prevent blockages and keeps my eyes moisturized. You literally cannot scroll through your phone while you’re wearing it, so I like to think of it as a little digital detox before bed. I use this one by Bruder—I pop it in the microwave for 20 seconds, set a timer for 10 minutes, and lay it over my eyes.
Since Dr. Zoltan mentioned eye makeup can clog glands, I wanted to make sure I was removing it thoroughly. I use these Mediviz Tea Tree Eyelid Wipes at night after I wash my face. They’re lightly exfoliating (without feeling scratchy) and sweep off every last trace of eye makeup.
I’ve been using my beloved Talika Lipocils since the pre-Instagram era. I cannot even count the number of tubes I’ve been through over the years, or the number of people I’ve recommended it to. It’s a plain and simple lash conditioner with a mascara-wand applicator, and it works wonders at keeping my lashes healthy-looking.
I’ve also been changing my contacts promptly, and making a conscious effort to look away from the computer screen when I’m working. After a few months of this new regimen, my dry and itchy eyes improved, and (praise hands emoji) my eyelashes were back to their to pre-pandemic fluffiness. I will have to keep this regimen up to keep my eyes healthy and moisturized. But honestly, it’s worth it. My eyes feel so much better, and my lash bald spot is a thing of the past… that’s something I love to see.
Photo via ITG