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Longer lashes courtesy of the FDA?

  • Story Highlights
  • Newly FDA-approved Latisse promises to thicken, darken and lengthen lashes
  • Latisse contains compound also found in glaucoma medicine
  • Patients using that medicine had increased eyelash growth
  • Drawbacks include dry and red eyes, darkening around lash line and high price
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By Judy Fortin
CNN Medical Correspondent
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ALPHARETTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Soft music filled the room as waiters served white wine and hors d'oeuvres. Two dozen well-dressed women chatted in small groups.

Latisse was discovered almost by accident when users of a glaucoma medicine noticed thicker lashes.

Mary Johnson, 56, who lost most of her lashes during chemotherapy, was excited to give Latisse a try.

But, this was no ordinary cocktail party.

The setting was the lobby of the OH2 Medical Spa in Alpharetta, Georgia.

The women were on hand to take part in a new beauty treatment hitting the United States: the promise of better looking eyelashes through a prescription drug called Latisse.

"It's the latest, the greatest," exclaimed the party hostess, Christine Glavine, wife of Major League Baseball pitcher Tom Glavine.

She invited a group of friends to meet with local plastic surgeon Dr. Randy Rudderman to get a dose of the new FDA-approved medication.

Glavine didn't have to do much convincing.

Tammie Wilson, 43, of Roswell, Georgia, said she was motivated to try the product because "I want to be able to look like I have on makeup when I don't." Video Watch more on the marketing of Latisse »

"I have blond hair and blond lashes. I have to put on three coats of mascara," complained her friend Jennifer Altmeyer, also 43 and from Roswell.

Altmeyer, who is hoping to be able to skip mascara altogether, was the first to line up at Rudderman's exam room.

The drug is available only through a doctor; it is approved to treat hair loss on the lash line.

The product maker, Allergan, says Latisse will thicken, darken and lengthen inadequate or skimpy eyelashes in as little as eight weeks.

But, here's the catch: Doctors report it takes up to 16 weeks to see maximum eyelash growth. If you discontinue Latisse, your lashes will go back to their original state in a few months. Visit CNNhealth.com, your connection for better living

Oh, and by the way, the drug isn't cheap. It costs about $120 for a 30-day supply.

Latisse was discovered almost by accident, Rudderman said. The product contains a compound that is also found in medication that decreases eye pressure in glaucoma patients. "A significant number of those patients started having a side effect of increased growth of eyelashes," said Rudderman.

Women like Altmeyer are clamoring to give Latisse a try.

Rudderman's assistant first removed Altmeyer's eye makeup and then applied a drop of Latisse to a small applicator. The wand was then swiped across her top lashes.

Rudderman advised Altmeyer to apply the drug once a day before she goes to bed and not to apply Latisse to lower lashes because they come in contact with the medicine on the top lashes during blinks.

Rudderman said Latisse comes with several warnings: It is approved only for those over 18 and is not recommended for pregnant women, people with pre-existing eye conditions or those with allergies to the ingredients.

Rudderman said some of the most common side effects are itchy and red eyes and hyper-pigmentation, or darkening along the eyelash base.

Dr. Pradeep Sinha, a plastic surgeon in Atlanta, Georgia, started working with the glaucoma version of the medication two years ago on an off-label -- or trial -- basis, before it was approved specifically for eyelash thickening.

While he said his patients were happy with the results, Sinha noted another unpleasant side effect if the user is not careful while wielding the applicator. "One patient was messy and grew small, fuzzy hair on her eyelid," Sinha said. He instructed the woman to stop using the product, and the unwanted hair eventually fell out.

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Some women, like Mary Johnson, a 56-year-old breast cancer survivor, are willing to take their chances. After undergoing chemotherapy last year she lost a lot of eyelashes. "That was really devastating for me," she said.

She said she could put a wig on her head, but for the rest of her face she had to "fake it" by drawing in a lash line and eyebrows with cosmetics.

Johnson tried some over-the-counter lash products, but she said none of them worked.

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She was smiling as she received her first dose of Latisse from Rudderman.

"Until you have lost your eyelashes, you don't really realize how hard it is to put eye makeup on," she said. "When you lose your eyelashes you just don't look the same."

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