Latisse side effects surprise users who bought it off-prescription

Brooke ShieldsThe pharmaceutical company known for beauty products such as Botox and Natrelle breast implants now faces unwelcome attention prompted by the way its new drug created for people who want longer, lusher eyelashes is being sold, and the side effects it causes.

A number of consumers say they weren't properly forewarned about side effects from Latisse, promoted in TV commercials by Brooke Shields. They include red and itchy skin, eyelid discoloration, and rarely but sometimes irreversibly, a change in eye color -- from green or blue to brown. Latisse may also cause hair growth in unintended areas, such as the cheek, if the drug applicator is accidentally dabbed onto the skin.

Allergan sold more than a million bottles of Latisse since its launch a little over a year ago. Pulling in proponents from the clinical and cosmetic camps of medicine, Latisse has sparked enough interest to become a borderline blockbuster drug. It is also the only science-based treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration to enhance eyelashes.

Most of the consumer complaints have resulted because Latisse is marketed as an elective cosmetic, and so, many people forgo obtaining a prescription. Coupled with an average cost of $89 to $150 for a month's supply, Latisse has created a lucrative business opportunity for beauty salons, unscrupulous e-retailers, and even some physicians' practices which offer it with few, if any, questions asked or warnings given.

"We have a policy in place against online sales of Latisse and take action to the extent that we can against those who are selling Latisse on the Internet," said Allergan spokeswoman Heather Katt. "In most cases, the doctors we have contacted who were selling Latisse online modified their practice instantly. If they are unwilling to comply, Allergan stops selling product to that physician."

A bigger risk from purchasing Latisse without prescription or from unauthorized resellers comes from the circulation of counterfeit products marketed as "generic" Latisse. This is particularly dangerous, said Katt, because consumers lured by lower prices of an illegal and untested cosmetic product are typically not aware it still may contain the active ingredient that causes side effects in the first place.

Despite its quick ascent to mainstream popularity, Latisse has humble beginnings. Before its FDA approval and rechristening as a cosmetic drug in late 2008, it was known as Lumigan, a treatment for glaucoma that relieves high blood pressure from the eyes. Some of the side effects of Lumigan, which when sold under that name must be applied directly into the eye to prevent blindness, include increased growth of darker, thicker eyelashes, and a potential change in iris pigmentation after 6 to 12 months of treatment. Latisse, born of the desire to harness a "good" side effect of Lumigan, is rubbed onto the base of the upper eyelid.

Allergan is no stranger to "miracle" medical discoveries. Botox, its blockbuster wrinkle smoother, began as an obscure muscle paralyzer for eyelid spasms, and is derived from the bacteria that cause botulism, a deadly food poisoning. As soon as July, federal regulators are likely to approve it for treating migraines.

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