Yes, its real. No, its not a joke. I've been getting my eyelashes permed on a regular basis for over three years now. A friend of mine heard about it, found a beauty course that taught it and offered certification and licensing for its graduates and started her own "business." Over the course of 5 years she has built up a clientele of hundreds, without having advertised even once. She gives eyelash perms to up to 15 people a day. What a business!
Most of the appointments she takes are small groups of ladies - five to six of my friends and I usually get together for our appointments. My friend takes all her supplies in a small suitcase all over town. My friends and I take turns getting together at each others homes. The first customer lies down, gets a basic eye wash to make sure there is no residual dirt or makeup.
A rubbery form is then placed over the eye, the edge of which is slightly sticky. The eyelash perm specialist then carefully combs each eyelash and arranges it on the sticky part of the form. This will be the shape the eyelashes curl to. There are larger forms for a softer curl, or more narrow forms for a tighter curl. I have her use a slightly narrower form on me because I want a tighter curl.
She then places absorbent cotton pads under the eyes and applies the permanent solution. In general, the solution is similar to solutions used for perming hair, but of course they are much more gentle so as to not damage the eye. (My friend told me today that there are some fast-perm solutions that only take about 3 to 5 minutes, but they are very strong and can cause severe damage to eyes. She only uses the most gentle formula.) After the solution is applied to the eyelashes, the client lies there for 15 to 20 minutes while the perm is activated. (During this time my friend will have the next client lie down and begin the process all over again. My friend has gotten so good at this that she can actually have 4 to 5 clients all processing at the same time.)
After this initial 15 minutes, the second solution is applied to the eyelashes to deactivate the perm solution and condition the lashes. This solution is also allowed to sit on the eyelashes for an additional 15 minutes. After this process is complete, the rubber forms are removed, the client is given a careful and complete eyewash to remove all perm solution residue. Finally, a final conditioner is applied to the lashes - much like mascara. And voila! Beautiful, curled eyelashes.
The perm lasts differently for each person, just a a hair perm varies by person as well. Mine usually last for about 4 to 5 weeks. I have never once had any irritation or complication from the perm.
After with no eye makeup
After with my daily eye makeup
I was wondering, since so many of my American friends have never heard of eyelash perms, if this was a "Japanese" thing. I asked my friend today and she thinks that it originally gained popularity coming in from Korea over a decade ago. Its just now becoming more popular in Japan. Surprisingly, one of my Japanese friends told me today that she had gotten an eyelash perm in California over 10 years ago! And a friend of mine from France also tells me she is familiar with eyelash perms.
So there you have it. It sounds like there are such things as eyelash perms in America, you just have to look for them. They're not expensive and its sooooo convenient. I would just recommend finding a very reputable salon or beautician if you're thinking about having one done.