‘Miracle’ serum pulled over one ingredient

Australia’s “best eyelash growth serum” may deliver long lashes, but it has also raised eyebrows after it was pulled off Canadian shelves due to safety concerns.

Wildly popular eyelash lengthening serum – EyEnvy – has been sprung by Canadian authorities for containing a secret prescription-only ingredient and could now be ripped from Australian shelves.

A health product recall for EyEnvy issued by the government in Canada, where EyEnvy was created, warns users that routine testing discovered undisclosed quantities of Isopropyl Cloprostenate which is not listed on the serum’s packaging.

Isopropyl Cloprostenate can be prescribed to treat glaucoma.

The Oz, published by The Australian, has learned the Canadian company that makes EyEnvy, which has been hailed as a “miracle product” that “works better than anything in the Australian market”, has abruptly shut down. The Australian distributor, a husband-and-wife team from Newcastle, is now looking to purchase the operation.

The product has been a cult-status in Australia over a decade. It has divided the beauty industry between salons that swear by it and those that are scared off by bad reactions and strange business practices, including secrecy about pricing and threats of malware and tracking software.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration confirmed that The Oz it considers the banned Canadian ingredient a prescription-only medicine and it had “spoken” with the Australian supplier who had provided a statement “attesting to the absence of affected product in Australia”.

The Oz has spoken to a dozen small business owners – both current and former retailers – about EyEnvy and can reveal the Australian distributor forbids stockists from selling the serum online or publicly disclosing the price, telling beauty salons their phones are being “tracked” with “worms” to alert the Newcastle duo if the $120 cost is made public.

The couple behind EyEnvy’s Australian operation – Karen and Max Mate – are the sole distributor of the serum down under.

Max Mate, told The Oz he wasn’t concerned about the recall because the undisclosed ingredient in question hadn’t “found its way in to any products” that had been exported to Australian shores because the ingredient had only affected “a couple of batches”.

But Canada’s health warning, published in its Recalls and safety alerts, shows the ban applies to “all lots” of EyEnvy and not a specific batch. The OzIt is understood that all EyEnvy products are manufactured in the same American facility.

The secret ingredient

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After speaking with Mates, the TGA confirmed that they were considering further action. Mates allegedly informed them that there was no secret prescription in the products sold on Australian shores.

“The TGA have made inquiries with the Australian supplier about the product, who have advised that batches containing isopropyl cloprostenate have not been supplied to the Australian market,” the TGA said.

“Therefore, a recall is not warranted at this time; however, further investigation into this product will be considered.”

Mate dismissed the Canadian health concerns, declaring “we don’t have the ingredient here”.

“It was manufactured in error in a few batches and part of the regulatory process, it was picked up as a quality control issue. We’ve never had an issue in 10 years.”

He said that despite the recall it was “business as usual” and he still plans to take over the Canadian company’s license for the wonder serum when it ceases production in June and winds-up its operation in North America.

High eyebrows and long lashes

There’s no doubt this eyelash serum is extremely popular. It’s stocked by Sydney eyebrow artists to the stars, Kristin Fisher Amy JeanKylie Minogue and Rita Ora are clients of the company. It is highly praised by dozens Australian online beauty communities and Facebook forums like YouBeauty, with members sharing their results in a truly amazing way.

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However, there are many reports online and from users. The Oz has spoken to about the serum causing bloodshot or irritated eyes and making them “look high”.

The original EyEnvy stated in a post that they had deleted, prior to the Canadian crackdown that they were closing down operations due to difficulty in sourcing bottles, and the prevalence of counterfeit products masquerading themselves as theirs.

“The last 2 years have met us with challenges in our supply chain with the manufacturing of all our products,” they wrote in January.

“Sourcing of bottle manufacturing and strong delays in production have been our key challenges. We are also concerned about counterfeit lash conditioning products that are currently on the market. They said the latter concern is a safety concern, which has push us in removing our products from the market.”

But Mate said the Canadian company was only winding up their operations because the owners were retiring and EyEnvy’s Australian operation would undergo a rebrand but use the same formula once they take over the license later this year.

Eyelash growth serum MD Lash Factor Eyelash ConditionerAustralia banned it in 2014 because it contained a prescription-only component with similar properties as the one found in EyEnvy. This ingredient was discovered by Canadian health authorities.

A TGA spokesperson confirmed the previous confirmation. The OzIt had received a complaint regarding EyEnvy in 2017, and had sent it to the ACCC.

Malware and secrecy

EyEnvy’s Australian HQ in Newcastle – north of Sydney – say the product can only be sold in salons and forbid it from being sold online or the price being publicly disclosed. They also tell beautician sellers their phones are being tracked with “worms” to alert them if the price is made public.

The Oz spoke to a dozen small business owners – both current and former retailers – about the product.

“It works better than every other serum that’s legal in Australia, which is why it’s so annoying,” one beautician who owns a popular salon in Melbourne told The OzOn the condition of anonymity. “There’s no transparency around pricing and they tell us we aren’t allowed to advertise the price anywhere online, socials etc.”

“I refuse to stock their brand now because of this,” another Melbourne-based beautician, who no longer sells EyEnvy, said. “They won’t let you post prices, sell online and tell you they have ‘worms’ watching your accounts.”

Under the selling guidelines, beauticians are only able to disclose the serum’s price of “$120 and above” over the phone. Social media advertising and texting are strictly prohibited.

In an email dated April 2020, seen by The OzEyEnvy wrote to beauticians to remind them not to reveal the price publicly.

“Reminding everyone of our policy, & we monitor this with what is called a worm. No online selling, pricing online, private messaging or price texting. You can only say price (sic) over the phone pls.”

“EyEnvy is not sold online globally & no pricing on social media,” the company wrote in a welcome email to a new seller in 2017. “EyEnvy monitors 24/7. Retail $120.00 & above. Cost $65.00 + GST.”

One beautician – who owns one of Melbourne’s most successful eyelash boutiques – now refuses to stock the product because of the “strange” requests from the Newcastle-based distributor. “The unfortunate thing is it’s a bloody good product.”

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The distributor was feigned to be concerned when a beautician raised concerns.

“How do you expect us to retail if we can’t tell a client a price? Surely you (and us) would benefit from 10x more sales if we could,” she wrote to EyEnvy in an email during Covid lockdown. “ I find this very strange – especially when so many of us businesses are struggling in the current climate.”

They didn’t get a reply.

Felecia Tappenden (a Sydney entrepreneur) and Belinda Robinson (a rival in eyelash growth serum LongLash) said that they were relieved to hear that the product has been recalled in Canada.

“We have had numerous customers and personally have had severe side effects from this product,” Tappenden said. “Our only hope is that the TGA will also recall this product in Australia as it has now been found to be dangerous and it’s so concerning that it can still be purchased in Australia.”

What does EyEnvy Australia (Australia) say about it?

Mate told The Oz it was correct they monitored the social media accounts of salons to ensure they weren’t publicly disclosing the price. “We have monitors on the web and social media for the price. It’s a recommended retail price and we want people to go to the store. It’s a philosophical approach we have – we deal with them (salons) and only with them – and they can build their own business. We are here for the beauty industry, so we don’t sell directly.”

He said the beauty of the product was in the great results customers experience, which is why they didn’t feel the need to have a big online presence. “The product does the talking by way of results, we don’t do much advertising because the product does the talking, we just run our business. I would say it’s more than fair to say it’s the most popular (in Australia) and also gives the best results as well.”

He said that they had not received any complaints from users and that anyone who did experience irritation was probably using the wrong product. “Less than 0.5% are genuine allergic reactions,” he said. “Most of our reactions are from people who don’t follow the instructions. It’s a morning only product and it’s written in bold on the box.”

Mate stated that Canadian authorities only had a small amount of the undisclosed drug. “It’s a very, very low percentage of a product that has never been the active ingredient in this particular eye serum,” he said. “The American manufacturer put it in error. It’s not a health concern and we’re not recalling it from customers.”

What about the ingredients on the packets?

A TGA spokesperson previously said The Oz one of EyEnvy’s listed ingredients – Ethylhexyglycerin – was permitted for use in over-the-counter medicines under the strict condition it is only used for dermal application and not included in medicines for “use in the eye”.

While EyEnvy is a cosmetic and meant to be applied along the lash line and not in the eye, the proximity means it can still get in your eyeball if you’re not careful.

A spokesperson for the TGA stated that businesses exporting cosmetic products containing Ethylhexyglycerin to Australia must register with Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme. He confirmed EyEnvy’s Australia was not registered with them and the TGA had never tested the product.

“There is no business called EyEnvy registered with Australian Industrial Chemicals Introduction Scheme (AICIS),” he said. “Imports of industrial chemicals, including chemicals in cosmetic products by a business without a registration or necessary authority, may be an offence under the Industrial Chemicals Act (2019).”

The TGA also previously said two of the product’s main ingredients Myristoyl Pentapeptide 17 and Acetyl Tetrapeptide 3 were not included in the body’s ingredients table so they could not comment on “the potential toxicity or side effects of these substances.”

Mate said:

“We’re not (registered) because we don’t have to. We speak to the Department of Health and if it passes, you get through,” he said.

“TGA is more for prescription medication rather than cosmetics so we don’t have to.”

Olivia Caisley is The Oz’s politics and investigations editor, published by The Australian. Read more from The Oz here


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