Decorative Contact Lenses: Is Your Vision Worth It?

Be very careful -- you have only one pair of eyes

Wouldn’t it be cool to have Twilight vampire eyes for Halloween? Or deep violet eyes to match your purple sweater? How about your favorite sports team’s logo on your eyes just for fun?

You can have all of these looks with decorative contact lenses (also called fashion contact lenses or color contact lenses, among other names). These lenses don’t correct vision -- they just change the appearance of the eye.

But before buying decorative lenses, here are some things the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thinks you should know.

They are not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise. They are medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Places that advertise them as cosmetics or sell them without a prescription are breaking the law.

They are not “one size fits all.” An eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) must measure each eye to properly fit the lenses and evaluate how your eye responds to contact lens wear. A poor fit can cause serious eye damage, including:

  • scratches on the cornea (the clear dome of tissue over the iris - the part of the eye that gives you your eye color)
  • corneal infection (an ulcer on the cornea)
  • conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • decreased vision
  • blindness

Places that sell decorative lenses without a prescription may give you few or no instructions on how to clean and care for your lenses.

Failure to use the proper solution to keep contact lenses clean and moist can lead to infections. “Bacterial infections can be extremely rapid, result in corneal ulcers, and cause blindness -- sometimes within as little as 24 hours if not diagnosed and treated promptly, , says Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed., an optometrist at FDA. “The problem isn’t with the decorative contacts themselves. It’s the way people use them improperly -- without a valid prescription, without the involvement of a qualified eye care professional, or without appropriate follow-up care.”

Where NOT to buy contact lenses

FDA is aware that many places illegally sell decorative contact lenses to consumers without valid prescriptions for as little as $20.

You should never buy lenses from:

  • street vendors
  • salons or beauty supply stores
  • boutiques
  • flea markets
  • novelty stores
  • Halloween stores
  • record or video stores
  • convenience stores
  • beach shops
  • Internet (unless the site requires a prescription)

These are not authorized distributors of contact lenses, which are prescription devices by federal law.

How to buy decorative contact lenses safely

Get an eye exam from a licensed eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist), even if you feel your vision is perfect.

Get a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and an expiration date. But don’t expect your eye doctor to prescribe anime, or circle, lenses. These bigger-than-normal lenses that give the wearer a wide-eyed, doll-like look have not been approved by FDA.

Whether you go in person or shop online, buy the lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription.

Follow directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses, and visit your eye doctor for follow-up eye exams.

See your eye doctor right away if you have signs of possible eye infection:

  • redness
  • eye pain that doesn’t go away after a short time
  • decrease in vision
Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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