Thinking about decorative contact lenses?

Girl putting in contacts

6 watch-outs you should know

Here’s a hair-raising statistic: More than 80% of contact lenses wearers admit they put themselves at risk for eye infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control.1 We have a hunch that many of them do so around Halloween.

The approach of costume season could lead many trick-or-treaters and party-goers to experiment with decorative contacts lenses, but beware — they can play tricks on your eyes! If not properly applied, cared for — even purchased — decorative contacts, also called cosmetic, colored or special-effect contacts, can cause a variety of eye ailments.

This is why the Food and Drug Administration regulates the sale of such contacts, requiring a prescription for purchase. It doesn’t matter if you have perfect vision and do not need glasses; all contact lenses are classified as medical devices. Any retailer that is selling them without a prescription is doing so illegally.2

Here’s why: Contact lenses aren’t like socks or rubber masks; they don’t just conform to the shape of your eye. They have to be specially measured to fit the eye’s curvature and diameter,3 and only an eye doctor can do that. A poor fit can lead to scratched corneas (the clear tissue over the iris), infections, pink eye and compromised vision.4

In fact, those who wear cosmetic contact lenses are 16 times more likely to develop bacterial infections than those who wear regular corrective contacts, according to Prevent Blindness. 5

Decorative lenses include:

  • Color contact lenses: Tinted to change your eye color subtly or dramatically.
  • Special-effect contact lenses: From cat or zombie eyes to spider web and neon designs, these are typically used for the screen, Halloween or other novelty purposes.
  • Sclera lenses: Special-effect contacts that cover the iris and part of thewhite (sclera) of the eyes, for another worldly look. If you’ve watched True Blood or Twilight, you’ve seen them in action.6

When wearing any of these contact lenses, play it safe. Here are 6 decorative-lenses do’s and don’ts.

The boos! 3 cosmetic contact lens warnings

  1. Buyer beware! Don’t purchase decorative or special-effect contact lenses from pop-up shops, beauty salons, Halloween stores or any merchant that doesn’t require a valid contact lens prescription.
  2. Don’t go in circles! Avoid circle, or anime, contacts. These bigger-than-normal lenses, which give the wearer a giant-eyed doll look, have not been cleared by the FDA,7 in part because their size makes it difficult for oxygen to reach the eye.8 Even if you go to the eye doctor, they will not be prescribed.
  3. No swapping! By all means share your candy corn and lollipops, but never, ever borrow or lend contact lenses. Doing so increases the risk of spreading bacteria and may result in eye health problems, including painful infections.9

3 tricks for safe cosmetic contact lens use

  1. Get a valid prescription. Schedule acontact lens examination to have them properly fitted and prescribed, even if you don’t need corrective eyewear.10 A valid prescription includes the contact lenses’ brand name, measurement and expiration date.11
  2. Turn the prescription in. Purchase the contact lenses only from a licensed eye-care professional or eyewear retailer (including online merchants) that requires a prescription.
  3. Treat them like the real deal. Cosmetic lenses are worn like regular vision-correction lenses and therefore should be cleaned, disinfected and stored like them. Read and follow all contact lens instructions and use the proper solution to avoid eye injuries and ailments.12

Lastly, use common sense. Contact lenses adhere directly to the surface of your delicate eyes, so improper handling could result in serious infections and corneal ulcers (sores).13 You wouldn’t throw mud in your eye, so why apply an unproven, unprescribed (and — yuck — unclean) material smack against them?

That being said, discomfort can occur even with prescribed lenses. If you experience redness, swelling, excessive discharge or pain from contact lenses, remove them and call your eye doctor.14 No color is vibrant enough, and no zombie look so scary, that it’s worth losing your sight over.

  1. More than 80 percent of contact lens wearers are at risk for an eye infection from unsafe use. Prevent Blindness, Accessed October 2018.
  2. ‘Colored’ and decorative contact lenses: A prescription is a must. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Feb. 26, 2016, Accessed October 2018.
  3. Eye exams for contact lenses., April 2018, Accessed October 2018.
  4. ‘Colored’ and decorative contact lenses: A prescription is a must,” U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Feb. 26, 2016, Accessed October 2018.
  5. The dangers of wearing cosmetic contact lenses. Prevent Blindness, Accessed October 2018.
  6. Halloween contact lenses and other special-effect contacts. All About Vision, June 18, 2018, Accessed October 2018.
  7. ‘Colored’ and decorative contact lenses: A prescription is a must. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Feb. 26, 2016, Accessed October 2018.
  8. Colored contact lenses. American Academy of Ophthalmology, Dec. 11, 2015, Accessed October 2018.
  9. Halloween Contact Lenses and Other Special-Effect Contacts., June 18, 2018, Accessed October 2018.
  10. Halloween contact lenses and other special-effect contacts., June 18, 2018, Accessed October 2018.
  11. ‘Colored’ and Decorative Contact Lenses: A Prescription Is A Must. U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Accessed October 2018.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Don’t turn a blind eye to contact lens safety. Prevent Blindness, Accessed October 2018.
  14. Halloween hazard: The hidden dangers of buying decorative contact lenses without a prescription. American Academy of Ophthalmology, Sept. 26, 2013, Accessed October 2018.