Botched eyelash extensions leave Alberta teen's eyes swollen, burned

A Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., teenager suffered swelling and burn marks around her eyes after a painful allergic reaction to eyelash extensions.

'I couldn't open my eyes ... I thought I was going to lose my vision'

Fort Saskatchewan teenager Alexis Bizuk says she had a severe allergic reaction to eyelash extensions applied by an untrained technician. (CBC)

A Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., teenager suffered swelling and burn marks around her eyes after a painful allergic reaction to eyelash extensions.

Alexis Bizuk had the extensions applied last Friday by a woman who, halfway through the procedure, told her that she was still training to receive her certification.

"She didn't really ask me anything. We just kind of started doing it," said the 17-year-old. "I was kind of scared."

Eyelash extensions are individual lashes made of polyester, silk or even mink fur that are glued to the base of a wearer's natural lashes. They last about three weeks before needing to be filled in, replaced or removed.

Alexis Bizuk's eyes were swollen shut, red and burned after her first eyelash extension application. (Alexis Bizuk)

Bizuk decided to get the eyelash extensions about a week earlier, when one of her friends told her that a mutual friend was looking for eyelash extension models. The models would have the procedure done for free.

"I was like, 'Why not? I'll just try them out,'" said Bizuk, who had never had eyelash extensions before. 

When Bizuk and her friend arrived for their appointments, Bizuk said they weren't given a waiver and weren't asked for parental consent, though she had it. The process ended up taking two and a half hours.

Hospital couldn't remove the lashes

The eyelash extensions quickly began to irritate her eyes, Bizuk said.

When she woke up the following morning, her eyes were swollen shut. 

"I couldn't open my eyes. I had to use my fingers, basically, to push my eyes open. It was kind of scary," Bizuk said.

She tried to use olive oil to loosen the glue holding the eyelash extensions in place, but had no luck.

"I thought I was going to lose my vision," she said. 
It took hours for eyelash technician Kirstin Turpin to remove the eyelashes from Alexis Bizuk's swollen eyes. (CBC)

Bizuk went to the hospital, where she said a nurse unsuccessfully tried to use Vaseline to loosen the lashes.

Kirstin Turpin, a certified lash technician and the owner of CoCo Lux Beauty Bar in Fort Saskatchewan, got a call from the hospital at around 11:30 a.m., asking if she could do an emergency removal. 

'The worst I've ever seen'

Turpin said her heart and stomach sank when she saw Bizuk.

"Her eyes were almost completely shut," she said. "From what I could see, they were just bloodshot red."

Turpin applied coat after coat of eyelash glue remover. The eyelash glue was poorly applied, she said.

As soon as the glue started coming off, the swelling began to subside.

"To be 100 per cent honest, this is like the worst I've ever seen," Turpin said.

When someone books an eyelash-extension appointment at CoCo Lux, Turpin said, she asks them to come in early to fill out a three-page waiver, which inquires about possible allergies to the adhesives used.

Turpin said there's no guarantee her business would have caught Bizuk's allergy.

She said she also wouldn't have done the procedure without explicit parental consent.

Unregulated procedure

The procedure is largely unregulated in Alberta, said Averil McEvoy, co-ordinator with Edmonton's Lash Up, one of the few Alberta salons that provides lash technician training and certifications.

"It's unfortunate that a lot of people don't know that," said McEvoy, who encourages consumers to research a salon's portfolio and customer reviews before booking an appointment.

"It's so important to do your homework and know who is doing your lashes."

Legally, waiver forms are not required, McEvoy said. But most salons would require the forms due to liability concerns.

Uncertified technicians can put clients at risk in a number of ways, she said. They tend to use cheap imitation products that are harsh on the skin, and are generally not trained to spot allergic reactions.

Allergic reactions to the products are extremely rare, she said, but are usually easily detected when the client is still on the table.

Customers with a history of allergies can also opt for a "patch treatment" first, to ensure they don't have a bad reaction.

She's seen many women suffer from bad eyelash-extension applications, and the number of botched procedures continues to rise as the service becomes more popular.

"We had one girl who was in the hospital because somewhere else she had gone, they used nail glue on her lashes and it took us hours to have it removed," McEvoy said. "It happens a lot more than you would think.

"It's more of a buyer beware situation. Be cautious. Don't just show up and trust someone's word for it."