Are longer eyelashes worth the potential risks? Photo: Getty Images

It seems too good to be true: small, skimpy lashes grow into thick, lush fringe in a matter of weeks. That's the promise of Latisse, an FDA-approved prescription treatment that helps the eyelashes grow thicker, longer and darker in as little as 12 to 16 weeks.

In recent weeks, Consumer Reports reviewed the product (watch the video, below) and called it risky given its possible side effects. Among the most alarming: increased brown pigmentation of the colored part of the eye, which is likely to be permanent.

According to Eric Schweiger, a New York City-based dermatologist who has prescribed Latisse, the active ingredient, bimatoprost ophthalmic solution, is also used to treat glaucoma. The difference between the usage for eyelash growth and glaucoma, he notes, is that when treating the latter you place it directly into the eye. In some cases with direct interior eye contact, increased iris pigmentation was reported, however, with Latisse, the product is applied to the lash lines and not directly into the eye.

But with every prescription drug there are potential side effects (just read the fine print and listen carefully to commercials) and the naysayers that question its safety. So then, should we avoid Latisse completely?

Latisse, the controversial lash growth drug. Courtesy Photo

Clearly some say yes while others say no (several users have reported successful results with no ill effects). And as Schweiger reminds us, it's important for doctors to inform patients of all the pros and cons before prescribing any drug treatment, and for patients to understand and accept the potential side effects and risks.

Side effects and controversy aside, Latisse does have a high price tag (an out of pocket expense of approximately $100 a month) and the results are temporary-as soon as you stop using it, your lashes revert back to normal. "You have to remember this is a cosmetic treatment, and most cosmetic procedures are not permanent," says Schweiger. "A lot of my Latisse users decrease their frequency of use after three months and change to using it every other day. This mostly maintains the results the patients have already achieved, and using it every other day literally cuts the cost in half," he adds.

A daily dose of mascara is likely to create the same full, thick eyelash effect for a fraction of the price, which has many asking if Latisse is worth it given the risks, price and temporary results.

The same question was posed when Botox was introduced, along with a glut of "wrinkle relaxing" skincare creams to compete with it. Given the demand of that procedure and many other cosmetic treatments, it seems there may be no price or risk too high when it comes to beauty.