A group of unhappy Rodan + Fields customers have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, saying its "lash boost" serum left them with swollen, red, and crusty eyes.
Rodan + Fields is a skin care brand sold through multilevel marketing. In 2016, it launched its $150 Lash Boost serum, which promises customers the appearance of longer and fuller eyelashes in as little as four weeks.
Independent sellers of Rodan + Fields, known as consultants, frequently market the product as safe and full of biotin, a vitamin, and keratin, a protein.
The company itself touts the product as an "eyelash-conditioning" serum.
"You curl them, paint them, glue things to them, even try fake ones...but have you ever just given them vitamins?" one consultant wrote on Facebook in January. "That’s exactly what RF Lash Boost does."
While Lash Boost does contain biotin and keratin, one of its other ingredients has been well known to the FDA and eye doctors for years: isopropyl cloprostenate.
Isopropyl cloprostenate is a synthetic type of compound known as a prostaglandin analog, which is required to be labeled as a drug by the FDA.
These types of drugs were originally used to help glaucoma patients and came into popular use for eyelashes after doctors realized that they inadvertently led to eyelash growth.
However, these drugs can also cause side effects, like eye irritation, red eyes, blurred vision, inflammation, lid crusting, swelling around the eyes, and cysts, according to the FDA.
Because the ingredient “affects the structure and function of the body” — they cause eyelashes to grow and can lower the pressure inside the eye, among other things — the FDA requires products containing these compounds to be labeled as a drug.
There is one FDA-approved eyelash growth product, Latisse, and you need a prescription to get it.
However, companies have been dinged in the past for trying to circumvent the FDA, by labeling their products as a “cosmetic,” but then making claims — like eyelash growth — that clearly make them sound like drugs.
In 2011, the FDA warned the manufacturer of eyelash-growth products like RapidLash, NeuLash, and NeuveauBrow for doing exactly that.
The FDA said in a warning letter that the products were "not safe for use except under the supervision of a practitioner licensed by law to administer them."
Prostaglandin analogs are also known to be potentially harmful to pregnant women, according to the FDA.
Eye doctors have also warned about the potentially harmful effects of isopropyl cloprostenate, and have criticized cosmetic companies for not warning customers of the potential risks.
Optometrist Dr. Jennifer Lyerly, of Triangle Visions Optometry, said in a 2017 blog post that Rodan + Fields claims Lash Boost contains "no active medical ingredient," but has the same side effects as any other drug containing prostaglandin analogs.
She wrote this "makes it all the more confusing for potential patients trying to do their due diligence if they know they have a previous diagnosis of dry eye or are at increased risk."
"There is a major push within the medical community to have the FDA put stronger regulations on beauty products that are using chemicals with known side effects without disclosing the risks involved, but regulation and oversight may be many years away," she wrote.
The women suing Rodan + Fields said the drug was marketed as a cosmetic, that they weren't warned about side effects, and that they suffered as a result.
"Instead of disclosing the harmful side effects and risks associated with use of Lash Boost, and letting consumers decide if Lash Boost is worth the risk, Rodan + Fields omitted them and thus engaged in fraudulent, unfair, and unlawful marketing practices," the complaint states.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, claims customers in multiple states have suffered "change in iris color, eyelid drooping, itchy eyes, eye/lid discoloration, thinning and loss of eyelashes/loss of eyelash hair, eye sensitivity, eye infections, and vision impairment."
In response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for Rodan + Fields said the company "stand[s] behind the safety and efficacy of lash boost."
"Many of the legal allegations involve comparisons to unrelated products, including prescription products that have different ingredients and formulations. We are going to let the specifics of our legal defense play out in court," the spokesperson said.
One of the women, Barbara Lewis of California, says in the complaint she used Lash Boost a few times in February. She says she developed a bacterial infection, eye inflammation, and a bump on her eye after using it.
Another plaintiff, Teresa Gattuso of New York, said she experienced "eye pain, excessive tearing, lid crusting, and blurry vision" after using Lash Boost for eight weeks in the summer of 2017.
"Her eyelids were more red than normal and some of her eyelashes fell out following use of Lash Boost," the complaint states. "Although some of her lashes have grown back, they have not been restored to what they were like before her use of Lash Boost."
Other plaintiffs experienced burning and stinging; a red, itchy, flaking patch of skin; eye irritation, swelling, burning, redness, itching, and crusting, according to the complaint.
All of the plaintiffs said they wouldn't have used Lash Boost had they known of the possible side effects.
The complaint says that not only does Rodan + Fields not disclose the potential side effects of Lash Boost, it uses "deceptive" and "mislead[ing]" marketing for the product.
For example, the complaint states, a question on the company's website says: “I have heard about side effects caused by drugs and other products used to improve lashes. Should I be concerned about potential side effects from the use of enhancements Lash Boost?”
The website then states: "Answer: No. The only serious side effects we have heard about are those associated with drug products, not cosmetics. Lash Boost is a cosmetic.”
"Rodan + Fields knew that an ingredient in Lash Boost was associated with adverse side effects and failed to disclose them to consumers. Rodan + Fields perpetrated this fraud and misrepresentation by claiming that Lash Boost was safe and ophthalmologist tested," the complaint states.
Other women have been complaining about the reactions they had to Lash Boost as well. One YouTuber, Christina Marie, said in a 2017 video she got "major eye cysts" from it.
"I looked like I was frickin' stoned!" she said.
Another beauty blogger, Melanie or "MrKongsMom," said in a YouTube review she had "major lash loss" from it.
Rodan + Fields says that Lash Boost "is intended for use as a cosmetic and as such, has been consistently advertised as improving the appearance of eyelashes."
The spokesperson said that Lash Boost, similar to any cosmetic, can cause irritations for some people especially if it is used incorrectly.
"Rodan + Fields provides clear directions to users, including those who experience irritations," they stated.