Despite the recent resurgence of color contact lenses, the shaded eye accessories aren’t exactly new. (Back in the early ’00s, I practically begged my parents to let me wear them to high school dances.) Kim Kardashian West, Selena Gomez, and Paris Jacksonhave all tried the “trend,” casting colored lenses back into the (literal) spotlight. However, altering your eye color with colored lenses can actually carry quite a bit of risk to your overall eye health. Read on to learn more.
First of all, are color contact lenses safe?
Short answer: Yes, but only if you have a prescription for those lenses. “All contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and require a valid prescription,” says Andrea Thau, past president of the American Optometric Association. That said, you should never, ever put them in your eyes without consulting a doctor, she says.
But what if I don’t need corrective lenses or glasses?
Even if you don’t normally wear lenses for corrective purposes, it’s still necessary to get a prescription to make sure your eyes will be safe while using them. “It’s extremely important that patients receive an annual eye examination and only wear contact lenses — with or without vision correction — that are prescribed for and fitted to your eyes by a doctor of optometry,” explains Thau. “When not used as directed, the consequences may be dire. Purchasing decorative contact lenses without a prescription from a questionable source can result in corneal ulcers, infections, allergic reactions, or other dangerous conditions that can lead to irreversible vision loss.”
Beware of Halloween-inspired lenses, too
The FDA has issued its own warning for these types of lenses, echoing Thau’s sentiments that serious damage can be done if they aren’t used correctly. “They are not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise. They are medical devices regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” the agency writes on its website. “Places that advertise them as cosmetics or sell them over-the-counter, without a prescription, are breaking the law.”
You need to purchase them through your eye-care provider
That said, steer (very) clear of those color lenses sold at beauty retailers, costume shops, and even your local bodega. And if you’re ordering them online, only add to cart if the company asks you to enter your prescription before checkout. “Lenses made by reputable manufacturers that are approved by the FDA are safe,” says Thau. “Counterfeit lenses from questionable sources are not.”
If you do wear them, keep them clean
Once you safely order your lenses, it’s still important to practice proper care to avoid any infections. “Neglecting to thoroughly wash and dry your hands before handling contacts can cause real problems and lead to infection due to dirt, bacteria, and oils that build up on the skin,” says Mark Jacquot, optometrist and the clinical director of LensCrafters, who also urges all contact lens wearers to, please, stop cleaning them with their spit. (Because yes, apparently this is a thing people actually do.) “To further reduce the risk of contact lens-related infection, always use fresh lens-care products and lenses before expiration dates.”
Moral of the story: As cool as color contact lenses may look on the red carpet,
eye I think this beauty trend is better left in the early aughts, after all.