Panic Over Allergan's Eyelash Enhancer Might Be Justified -- If Anyone Actually Used It

Last Updated May 3, 2010 10:57 AM EDT

If you read the NYT's alarming story on the side effects of Allergan (AGN)'s Latisse eyelash lengthener, you'd think there was a national epidemic going on: A darkening of your eye color and the skin around your eyes are among the drug's side effects. But in fact almost no one is using the drug, which has been on the market since 2008, and the NYT didn't make much of an effort to point this out.

The NYT said Latisse's TV ads are "ubiquitous," and the product has "gained something of a cult following." Then the paper presented its model victim:

When "very dark purply" discoloration showed up on her eyelids, Ms. [Cynthia] O'Connor was perplexed, but took it in stride because her new plum "eye shadow" garnered compliments. Then, the purple hue appeared under her eyes, where she had never applied Latisse.

"It looked like I hadn't slept in a month," said Ms. O'Connor, 58. "It was horrible."

Five months ago, she stopped using Latisse, but some discoloration is still visible.

Sounds bad, especially as the NYT said the drug has sold more than a million bottles, much of that from illegal beauty salon or Internet sales. The problem is that over 18 months, a million units is a very small quantity of drug. If you look at Latisse's actual sales -- which the Times failed to mention -- you can see that in Q1 2010 the drug brought Allergan only $18.8 million. That's an almost negligible level of sales for a drug that's doing TV advertising. To put that in context, Allergan's Botox sold $331 million in the same period.

Bottom line: Women just aren't using Latisse. Cancel the alarm.