Eyelashes – What are they good for?

maisieEye Health

collage of eyes close up
Written by: Shannon Tubman
Wellington Eye Centre Optometrist

It’s pretty obvious why eyes are important… But have you ever considered why you have eyelashes?

These seemingly innocuous rows of hairs on your eyelids are actually very useful and represent the first line of defence in protecting your eyes!

1. Defence

Eyelashes help keep airborne objects such as dirt, pollen, dust, lint and debris from reaching the surfaces of the eyes.

The lashes are highly sensitive, one tiny touch to a lash and your eyelids will quickly close to protect your eyes. This is part of the blink reflex and is important to help protect your eye but also to produce tears, to flush away debris and coat the eye with moisture. We’ve written more on the importance of blinking in our watery eyes blog.

When the eye is open, the lashes can trap some airborne irritants, but once the eyes close the lashes become a super secure barrier to these items.

Even the curve of the lash line plays a part, directing sweat and foreign particles away from the eyes.

2. UV Protection

The lashes help filter out sunlight, helping protect the eyes from UVA and UVB rays. But even the longest and thickest lashes won’t block all UVA and UVB, so sunglasses are still required.

3. Lubrication

Eyelashes help keep the surface of the eyes wet, by reducing the flow of air over the eyes and therefore reducing the rate the tears evaporate. Camels are renowned for their double layer of thick, long and luscious lashes. An adaptation to protect their eyes from the sandy and hot environment they live in.

4. Survival of the human race

This is a bit tongue and cheek, eyelashes determining the survival of the human race!?! But there is a subconscious association with long dark lashes and femininity, which is often a subliminal sign of fertility.

And in men? Well for both men and women the long lashes accentuate the limbal ring (the dark ring between the iris and the whites of the eyes), which is most obvious during a person’s most fertile years. There is evidence that those with dark and distinct limbal rings are viewed as more attractive than those without.

Insane to think we could be influenced in who we choose as our partners by the length of someone’s eyelashes! But there is some psychological basis behind why we like long, dark eyelashes.

5. Warning signs of health issues

The loss or change in direction of eyelashes can indicate a health issue. Your Optometrist or Ophthalmologists will look closely at your eyelashes during a routine eye examination. Some of the signs they are looking for are;

  • Blepharitis – inflammation of the eyelid, signs are flakes of skin at the base of the eyelashes and red inflamed eyelids.
  • Styes, chalazia and eye lid bumps and lumps. Styes and chalazia are very common and benign conditions that cause bumps in the eye lid margin. These two conditions will not cause your lashes much grief. Occasionally they might cause your lashes to grow in a different direction. However more concerning eyelid bumps and lumps may cause the lashes in the area to stop growing all together, and can be a sign of a cancerous lesion.
  • Scarring of the eyelids, aging changes and conditions such as trichiasis can cause the lashes to point towards your eyes, scratching the delicate corneal surface. So these hairy protectors can become a real menace!

Interesting Facts about Eyelashes

  • Your lashes fall out just like other hair on your body. An eye lash can take 4-6 weeks to grow back.
  • On average people have 1 – 5 eyelashes fall out each day.
  • Finding a loose eyelash and wishing on it is said to bring good luck. Evidence of this superstition was first documented in 18th century Britain and Ireland. Some versions require you to take the fallen eyelash, place it on the back of your hand and try to throw it over your shoulder as you make your wish, or place the lash on your nose or the back of the hand, and if it is blown off, the wish will come true. It doesn’t count if you pull the lash out of the eyelid yourself!
  • There are more lashes on the top eye lid compare to the bottom eye lid, 200 to 300 lashes on the top lid compared to approximately 100 on the lower.
  • Eyelashes have managed to become one of the few types of female body hair to stay in vogue! When was the last time you heard someone say ‘thin your eyelashes out, next seasons trend is women with sparse lashes’.  How is it that all other body hair is considered ‘bad’ and should be minimised or removed, but not the lashes? Even the close relative the eye brow is far more swayed by fashion; from bushy brows, to thin brows, to no brows and just drawn in!
  • Eyelash length for mammals tends to be one third of the width of your eye, so bigger eyes will have longer eye lashes.

What about cosmetically enhancing your eyelashes?

Before you rush out to find ways to accentuate your lashes, I know you want to increase your UV protection and apparent fertility, consider the impact these interventions may have on your eye health. Coming up next we have blogs about false eye lashes, lash extensions, eye lash serums and eye makeup. We will cover how these beauty interventions can affect your eye health and your recovery after laser eye surgery.

If you have any questions about your eyesight or how laser eye surgery might benefit you, please get in touch. We’d love to help. Book a free assessment or call us on 0800 733 327.

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