Medical Devices

Buying Contact Lenses

Contact lens sales are regulated by both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Before you buy any contact lenses from someone other than your eye care professional, the FDA wants you to be a wise consumer. With a valid contact lens prescription, it is possible to purchase your contact lenses from stores, the Internet, over the phone or by mail. The following questions and answers should help you take simple precautions to make your purchase safe and effective.

What do I need to consider when buying contact lenses?

  • Is your contact lens prescription current? You should always have a current, valid prescription when you order contact lenses.
  • If you have not had a check-up in the last one to two years, you may have problems with your eyes that you are not aware of, or your contact lenses may not correct your vision well.
  • The expiration date for your prescription is currently set by your state. Some require a one-year renewal, some a two-year renewal. If your state has not set a minimum expiration date, Federal regulation sets a one year date unless your eye care professional determines that there’s a medical reason for less than one year.
  • To be sure that your eyes remain healthy you should not order lenses with a prescription that has expired or stock up on lenses right before the prescription is about to expire. It’s safer to be re-checked by your eye care professional.

What does a valid contact lens prescription include?

As defined by FTC regulations, a prescription should contain sufficient information for a seller to completely and accurately fill the prescription. This includes the following items:

  • Patient’s name
  • Examination date
  • Date patient receives prescription after a contact lens fitting (issue date) and expiration date of prescription
  • Name, address, phone number and fax number of prescriber
  • Power
  • Material and/or manufacturer of the prescribed contact lens
  • Base curve or appropriate designation of the prescribed contact lens
  • Diameter, when appropriate, of the prescribed contact lens
  • For a private label contact lens, the name of the manufacturer, trade name of the private label brand, and if applicable, trade name of equivalent brand name

Will I get in legal trouble if I buy contact lenses without a copy of my prescription?

  • You won’t break any laws, but the company is selling you a prescription device as if it were an over-the-counter device. In legal terms, this misbrands the device. The company is also violating FTC regulations by selling you contact lenses without having your prescription. For more information, see the The Contact Lens Rule: A Guide for Prescribers and Sellers.

What can I do to avoid serious problems when buying my contact lenses?

  • Order your contact lenses from a supplier you are familiar with and know is reliable. Contact lenses are often more complex than they appear.
  • Request the manufacturer’s written patient information for your contact lenses. It will give you important risk/benefit information as well as instructions for use.
  • Beware of attempts to substitute a different brand than you presently have. While this may be acceptable in some situations, there are differences in the water content and shape between different brands. The correct choice of which lens is right for you should be based only on an examination by your eye care professional, not over the phone.
  • Carefully check to make sure the company gives you the
    • exact brand
    • lens name
    • power
      • sphere
      • cylinder, if any
      • axis, if any
    • diameter
    • base curve
    • peripheral curves, if any

If you think you have received an incorrect lens, check with your eye care professional. Don’t accept a substitution unless your eye care professional approves it.

Where can I report problems that I have when buying contact lenses?

  • If you find a Web site you think is illegally selling contact lenses over the Web, you should report it to FDA.
  • If you do not get the exact lenses that you ordered, you should report the problem directly to the company that supplied them.
  • To file a complaint about prescribing practices to FTC, use the FTC Consumer Complaint Form.

Page Last Updated: 10/12/2011
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