NEW YORK — Whether women are growing their eyelashes longer or turning to enhancements, lashes are a hot category.

This story first appeared in the March 19, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Sales of false eyelashes for the 52-week period ended Feb. 20 in food, drug and mass (including Wal-Mart) grew 6.2 percent to almost $44 million, according to Nielsen data. That’s during a period when many beauty categories were flat.

Sales for eyelash growth stimulators, which includes mass and prescription brands, are harder to peg, but they are growing at high double digits, buyers said, en route to what many claim will easily flutter into a $1 billion category.

Prescription items include Latisse, while over-the-counter options include RapidLash and L’Oréal’s successful Lash Serum. Additionally, lash growers are available via direct marketing and a smattering of specialty or department stores. One buyer called L’Oréal’s collection a “smash” that will add millions to the chain’s business.

For retailers, the growth of both artificial lashes and lash boosters is eye opening. Some larger retailers say they can sell $4 million to $5 million worth of artificial eyelashes alone.

David Woolf of American International Industries, a leader in the eyelash business, said that while some women may want to try serums, there are those who prefer artificial lashes. Fake eyelashes are reusable, safe, reasonable priced and can provide different looks for different moods. In particular, false lashes are a good value, retailers added, versus the price tag of $120 for Latisse.

With artificial lashes gaining in popularity, Woolf hopes to see the mix broadened and the items given prime real estate. “Eyelashes are the fashion cosmetics of today,” said Woolf. “Why do most retailers look at lashes as an accessory instead of a cosmetic? Retailers need to realize eyelashes are a cosmetic and that this is a category that has shown double-digit growth year after year. The fact of the matter is that the least productive retail lash sets are those with the fewest [stockkeeping units].”

Retailers enjoying growth in lashes added they are trying to build the business around seasons, too. Halloween has always been a “no-brainer,” but now prom and other dress-up times are becoming popular for off-shelf promotions of lashes. Beyond traditional full lashes, there is growth from single lashes, as well as “half-lashes.” YouTube and other social media sites are helping women learn how to use false lashes, retailers said. Woolf added that women are more receptive to using artificial lashes as makeup trends favor a more finished look. “It is an aesthetic prosthetic,” he added.

While lashes go to bat for more footage, lash enhancers also are getting more attention at retail. Rocasuba’s RapidLash is now in 15,000 locations, according to company chief executive officer and owner Robert Trow, including spas. Ulta, CVS and Bed Bath & Beyond headline the retail doors moving the product, which sells for just less than $50.

Trow said products such as RapidLash are gaining followers who share success stories. He said there are 10,000 Facebook fans, as well as positive blogs and editorial coverage. While products such as RapidLash may have needed service to sell in stores in the past, the popularity of social networking is helping convince consumers to try them without a trained sales associate on hand. He added his firm will be adding more items to complement RapidLash that also will help women enhance their appearances.