You may want to look like your favorite movie star or singer, or have the perfect look for Halloween, but choosing to change the look of your eyes with contact lenses could cause a lot of damage to your eyesight if you get them without the input of your eye care professional. Decorative contact lenses are sometimes called, among other names:
- fashion contact lenses
- Halloween contact lenses
- colored contact lenses
- cosmetic contact lenses
- theatre contact lenses
Decorative contact lenses just change the look of your eyes. They do not correct your vision. They can temporarily change your brown eyes to blue or make your eyes look like cat eyes or vampire eyes for Halloween.
Did you know that these decorative contact lenses are actually medical devices? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversees their safety and effectiveness, just like contact lenses that correct your vision.
Just like corrective contact lenses you should never buy contact lenses from a street vendor, a beauty supply store, flea market, novelty store or Halloween store—and you should always have a prescription.
Before stepping out with your new look, here's what you need to know.
Know the Risks
Pseudomonas eye infection. Image courtesy
of Thomas Steinemann, MD and MetroHealth
Wearing decorative contact lenses can be risky, just like the contact lenses that correct your vision.
Wearing any kind of contact lenses, including decorative ones, can cause serious damage to your eyes if the lenses are obtained without a prescription or not used correctly.
These risks include:
- A cut or scratch on the top layer of your eyeball (Corneal Abrasion)
- Allergic reactions like itchy, watery red eyes
- Decreased vision
When wearing any type of contact lenses, be aware of signs of possible eye infection, which include:
- Pain in the eye(s) that doesn't go away after a short period of time
- Decreased vision
If you have any of these signs, you need to see a licensed eye doctor (optometrist or ophthalmologist) right away! An eye infection could become serious and cause you to become blind if it is not treated.
You can avoid some of these risks by getting any type of contact lenses from your doctor. Be sure to follow the directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses that your doctor gives you. If your doctor doesn't give you any directions — ask for them!
Dos and Don'ts
Do get an eye exam! A licensed eye doctor will examine your eyes to make sure the contact lenses fit properly. The fit of your contact lenses is very important. A wrong fit can cause damage to your eyes. Be sure to always go for follow-up eye exams.
Do get a prescription! Your eye doctor will write you a prescription for all contact lenses, including decorative lenses. The prescription should include the brand name, correct lens measurements and expiration date.
Do follow the contact lens care instructions! Follow the instructions for wearing, cleaning and disinfecting your contact lenses that come with your contact lenses. If you do not receive instructions, ask an eye doctor for them.
Do seek medical attention right away and remove your contact lenses if your eyes are red, have ongoing pain or discharge! Redness, pain and discharge from the eyes are signs of an eye infection. If you think you have an eye infection from your contact lenses, remove them and see an eye doctor right away.
Don't share your contact lenses with anyone else! You wouldn't share your toothbrush would you? All eyes are not the same size and shape and your contact lenses are fitted just for you.
Don't buy any contact lenses without a prescription! If you don't see an eye doctor and get a prescription, then the contact lenses you get may not fit properly and may not work well. They could even damage your eyes. Sometimes wearing contact lenses can damage the top layer of your eyeball (cornea). Even if you aren't having any problems now, the lenses still could be causing damage to your eyes. By having regular checkups and buying contact lenses with a prescription, you will reduce the chances of any undetected damage to your eyes.
Buying Decorative Contact Lenses
You can buy contact lenses, including decorative contact lenses, from your eye doctor, on the Internet or from a mail-order company. It's very important that you only buy contact lenses from a company that sells FDA-cleared or approved contact lenses and requires you to provide a prescription.
Anyone selling you contact lenses must get your prescription and verify it with your doctor. They should request not only the prescription, but the name of your doctor and their phone number. If they don't ask for this information they are breaking federal law and could be selling you illegal contact lenses.
Remember — Buying contact lenses without a prescription is dangerous!
Right now there are a lot of products that you can buy without a prescription but they may not be safe or legal. Never buy contact lenses from a street vendor, a beauty supply store, flea market, novelty store or Halloween store.
It's your job to make sure you protect your eyes by having an eye exam, getting a prescription and buying contact lenses from a legal source.
For more information about decorative contact lenses, go to:
Infographic: Don’t Lose Sight of Your Vision(PDF - 276KB) Decorative Contact Lenses
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
FDA Teams Up for Novel Campaign on Risks of Decorative Contact Lenses
FDA Consumer Updates – July 24, 2014
'Colored' and Decorative Contact Lenses: A Prescription Is A Must
FDA Consumer Updates - October 12, 2011
Buying Contact Lenses Without a Prescription is Dangerous!(PDF - 114KB)
FDA Educational Flyer - October 12, 2011
American Academy of Ophthalmology: Get Eye Smart: American Academy of Ophthalmology: Lentes de Contacto Decorativos
Article on Decorative Contact Lenses (Espanol)
Decorative, Non-corrective Contact Lenses
Guidance for Industry, FDA Staff, Eye Care Professionals, and Consumers - November 24, 2006
Instructions for Completing the MedWatch Voluntary Reporting Form for Adverse Events involving Decorative Contact Lenses(DOC - 33KB)