May 6, 2011— -- With her wedding date set, Dana Gaiser wanted to look her best. Like many brides, she dieted, worked out and whitened her teeth. But there was one last tiny tweak she was desperate to make.
"I wished I had fuller eyebrows," said Gaiser, a 27-year-old publicist in Ridley Park, Pa.
Lamenting the overzealous plucking of her teenage years, Gaiser flipped longingly through fashion magazines showing the season's strong-browed models. That's where she saw an ad for Latisse -- a prescription drug originally developed as a glaucoma treatment that had the desirable side effect of making eyelashes fuller and longer.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Latisse only for use on top lashes, some dermatologists have cautiously prescribed it for hair and eyebrow loss that has resisted conventional treatments.
"If a patient asks for it, and they aren't getting the benefit they want from what they already use, then I'll prescribe it. But it's not the first line at all," said Dr. Jerry Shapiro, a dermatologist and adjunct professor at New York University Langone Medical Center. "I'd rather use something that's been proven to work."
The two drugs that have been proved to work, Rogaine (a lotion) and Propecia (a pill), are FDA-approved as hair-loss treatments. But because Latisse is approved as an eyelash enhancer, doctors are free to prescribe it at their discretion.
Gaiser said her doctor was reluctant at first and urged her to consider the possible side effects -- one of which is hyperpigmentism that could color her skin and turn her green eyes brown.
"They kind of warned against it, but I did some research and decided to just go for it," Gaiser said.
Within six weeks of starting the treatment in January, Gaiser noticed new hairs around her thin brows.
"I had had this one spot on my right eyebrow that would never grow," she said. "But I put Latisse there and now it's back."
She also used it on her eyelashes, which she said beefed up to false lash proportions.
Latisse manufacturer Allergan is set to start testing the safety and effectiveness of Latisse for hair loss on the scalp and the brow in June, according to Caroline Van Hove, a spokeswoman for the company.
"If successful, we may be looking at an approval by 2013," Van Hove said.
Shapiro said some dermatologists have been prescribing Latisse off-label for scalp and brows for more than two years. But others are waiting for safety data.
"This would mean potentially more systemic absorption than currently occurs with eyelid usage," said Dr. Michel McDonald, director of cosmetic dermatologic surgery at Vanderbilt University. "I would like to see the results of the trials before beginning to use it in patients on a larger surface area."
The larger surface area also means buying more of an already expensive product. Gaiser spent $100 on her supply, which was intended for a 16-week treatment of eyelashes only.
Nevertheless, McDonald and Shapiro agree that a third option for hair loss would be welcome.
"There are two things that make people cry in a dermatologist's office: If they have a serious skin cancer, or if they're losing their hair," Shapiro said.
With her wedding now two weeks away, Gaiser said she's thrilled with the results.
"People say eyebrows frame a face, and I really believe that now," she said. "To be able to actually shape them and make them look the way I want, it's a huge deal."