Inspiration comes from unlikely places. Dr. Jenny Redfern never considered herself a beauty expert as a student at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis College of Optometry, or even as a practicing doctor in the St. Louis area. She hardly ever wore makeup and her skincare routine was nearly non-existent. But as a practitioner, she noticed how often patients were seeking her advice for ocular aesthetic products, and her own battle with dry eye and extremely short lashes sparked an interest. In just a short time, she’s established herself as a guru in ocular aesthetics on online Optometry forums like ODs on Facebook and the Ocular Surface Disease Facebook Group.
Her passion is a complicated topic – while women and men are striving for healthier skin, brighter eyes, and cosmetic or surgical enhancements to common complaints like baggy under-eyes and thin or broken eyelashes, the toll on the ocular surface from many treatments and products are well documented. As optometrists, we must be the experts about how treatments and products our patients utilize may affect their eyes. Dr. Redfern feels there is a balance to strive for here: some doctors are quick to dismiss all beauty products and treatments as something their patients should inherently avoid, but a wholesale condemnation to never use any products is a quick way to get a patient never to come back. Instead, Dr. Redfern focuses on making recommendations about the dangers certain products or treatments may have, and trying to find the best and safest options for her patients’ aesthetic needs.
For example, a patient with dry eye desiring longer lashes faces many possible side effects with the available products and treatments on the market. Prescription Latisse and most over the counter lash growth products have prostaglandin analogues, which could cause lid inflammation, irritation, and perhaps even exacerbation of Meibomian gland dysfunction. All studies on the possible side effects of prostaglandins on the ocular surface, however, are extrapolated from using prostaglandins as glaucoma medication, directly in the eye. That’s the biggest issue with especially over the counter cosmetics – there’s just no dry eye study data available to truly discuss the risk profile to our patients due to the way the FDA regulates (or fails to regulate) this category of products. Cosmetic procedures like false eyelashes can cause irritation, lid swelling, SPK, and hordeola; lash perming or tinting procedures can also cause chemical-induced SPK. These patients are seeking advice on procedures to improve their appearance, but may not know the risks associated involved. That’s where Optometry comes in!
Dr. Redfern encourages doctors to stay active in reading about ocular aesthetic products and procedures so that you can initiate these conversations with patients and become the go-to expert in your community. The practice building opportunities abound, especially if you consider the possibility of retailing products that you personally support in the office. Some doctors are choosing to become consultants for aesthetics brands to help boost their bottom line in the office while expanding the scope of what we consider traditional eye care. Whether you are partnering with local dermatologists or aestheticians, retailing cosmetic or lid hygiene products in office, or just discussing product recommendations or dangers with patients, this a field of optometry with plenty of room for growth!