This Mutation Is Why Elizabeth Taylor Had Such Enviable Eyelashes

Throughout her decades-long career, Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor was widely considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. While there were a number of features that gave the "Cleopatra" star her reputation, including her violet eyes and hourglass figure (as documented by ABC News), there was one celebrated attribute that was actually a genetic mutation: her eyelashes. 

According to NBC News, Elizabeth had a mutation on the FOXC2 gene, which resulted in her having an additional row of eyelashes. Also known as distichiasis, this double eyelash feature is a rare condition where eyelashes grow in the place of oil glands on the wet part of the eyelid. Most of the time, this happens on the lower eyelid, but it seems that Elizabeth was one of the few who had it grow on the top lid as well.

While many may assume that the mutation is a harmless superficial quirk, it actually has some serious potential drawbacks. For starters, the hairs are much denser than normal eyelashes, so it is not uncommon for those with distichiasis to suffer from eye irritation and frequent tearing. However, there are much more problematic — and even potentially fatal — consequences of the extra lashes.

They say beauty is pain

According to Healthline, part of the reason that distichiasis can be so dangerous is that the FOX2C gene isn't just responsible for eyelashes. It's also a building block of both lymphatic and blood vascular health, so a deviation can have major impact on the body. Recent research suggests that the gene also aids in the formation of veins and the development of the "lungs, eyes, kidneys and urinary tract" while in the womb (per Medline Plus).

Because of this, a majority of people with distichiasis are also affected by lymphedema-distichiasis syndrome (LDS). To get a brief overview, understand that lymph fluid leaks from blood vessels and into the surrounding tissue. In the average human body, this lymph fluid is filtered out through lymphatic vessels. However, if these vessels are not properly developed or have other issues, the fluid cannot be filtered out and instead accumulates in body tissue, leading to pain and swelling. 

Worse still, LDS is associated with several cardiac issues, including structural heart abnormalities and an abnormal heart rhythm. Accordingly, an estimated 5% of LDS patients also suffer from congenital heart disease.

Did this same genetic mutation lead to Elizabeth Taylor's death?

Though Taylor understandably kept much of her medical information private, including whether or not she suffered from LDS, she was known to have a history of heart problems. According to The OC Register, she underwent surgery to repair a leaky valve in 2009 and died from congestive heart failure two years later.

That said, it was well documented that Taylor often suffered from ill health throughout her life, including a serious bout of pneumonia that almost killed her. In an interview with Larry King, the "National Velvet" star recalled how doctors "pronounced [me] dead four times, so they could give me anything just to see if they could make me breathe" (quoted by Everyday Health).

Though it remains pure speculation as to whether Taylor's double eyelashes contributed to her medical issues, most fans believe that it did contribute to her massive success as a movie star. As fellow actor and long-time friend Roddy McDowall said of her, "Who has double eyelashes except for a girl who was absolutely born to be on the big screen?" (via Time).