Costume contacts are a serious case of “buyer beware.” The American Academy of Ophthalmology states, “People have been blinded by costume contact lenses.” The only safe way to wear decorative or colored lenses is with a prescription from your eye doctor.
For more than a decade, it has been illegal to sell contact lenses without a prescription in the U.S., whether for fashion purposes or as regular daily wear.
However, plenty of pop-up costume stores and online retailers are willing to take the risk of breaking the law. If a package says that it is safe to wear without seeing your optometrist, or that one size fits all, this is false. See other tips from the FDA here.
But Halloween is only one day of the year. What is the harm in popping in a pair of novelty contacts just for a Halloween party, especially if it adds a realistic dimension to your costume? There are actually many reasons why doing so could result in serious injury.
Contact lenses are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) precisely because they are medical devices. They need to fit to the exact shape of your eye and be manufactured of certain material.
Some illegal retailers repackage the lenses and transfer germs and contaminants into the fluid in the packaging, which causes infection.
Sometimes the original packaging simply isn’t sterile to begin with.
Similarly, if the lenses are not made of the correct material, they are more likely to transmit infection. Bootleg contacts are sold by middle and high school students out of their lockers, according to ABC News, who did a hidden camera investigation.
Most materials that are used for contacts are breathable. They let oxygen through the lens to the surface of your eye. This is crucial for your eye's continued health. Costume lenses that are painted or decorated could be thicker and prevent oxygen from getting through the layer of pigment.
Injuries like scratches and cuts are another significant danger. Corneal abrasions are painful scrapes on the surface of the eye that can cause a loss of vision.
Infections is a significant risk, from conjuctivitis (pink eye) to bacterial keratitis, viral keratitis, fungal keratitis, or even parasitic keratitis from amoeba.
Complications from infection can give rise to:
- permanent bumps called chalazions or styes.
- inflammation of the tear ducts called dachryostenosis.
- a type of inflammation called uveitis, which causes chronic issues such as pain, light sensitivity, and vision problems.
Open sores on the surface of the eye are a common result of infection and are called corneal ulcers.
Hollywood film industry professionals and special effects artists use decorative contacts on sets. But in these cases, the contacts are fitted by an eye doctor, sold by an FDA-licensed manufacturer, and used by prescription only. It is possible to do the same thing for lenses to go with your Halloween costume.
See your optometrist at Bard Optical to help you choose a pair of colored lenses that is safe for your eyes. Your eyes are too precious to risk for a costume.