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Colored Contacts: Are They Safe?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on July 09, 2020

Colored contact lenses look like a fun way to change up your look. Sometimes called costume or decorative lenses, they give your eyes a different color. Some even reshape your pupils for a cartoon-like effect.

But color-changing contact lenses aren’t toys or accessories. They may harm your eyes if you don’t use them right.

Are Colored Contacts Safe?

The FDA classifies contact lenses as medical devices. Prescription colored contact lenses are safe.

An optometrist or an ophthalmologist will check your eyes to make sure you’re a good candidate for contact lenses. Then, they write a prescription based on your eye measurements. Lenses that fit right lower your risk of eye injury or damage.

You can wear colored contact lenses even if your vision doesn’t need correcting. But you still need a prescription.

Possible Problems

It’s illegal to sell colored contact lenses without a prescription. But some online vendors and stores still do. Those lenses can cut, scratch, or infect your eyes. In some cases, decorative contacts can hurt your vision and even cause blindness.

Despite what the package may say, nonprescription colored contact lenses are not one-size-fits-all. Ill-fitting lenses can scrape the outer layer of your eye called the cornea. This can lead to corneal abrasion and scarring. The dye and printed pattern can also create an uneven surface on the inner surface of the lenses. This can also scratch your eye.

Decorative contacts are thicker, more rigid, and less breathable than regular lenses. That makes infections more likely. If bacteria or other microorganisms get trapped underneath your contact lenses, they may cause sores called corneal ulcers. This can also lead to a serious eye infection called keratitis.

Contact lens makers use different chemicals to tint color-altering lenses. Some of these chemicals can harm or irritate your eyes.

How to Wear Colored Lenses Safely

Start with a visit to your eye doctor for an exam and a prescription. Follow the same rules whether you wear corrective contact lenses or are interested in noncorrective lenses.

Buy your contact lenses from a reputable retailer. Look for FDA-approved contact lenses from a reputable maker. Deal only with vendors that require a prescription. Avoid buying lenses from beauty stores, costume stores, or street sellers.

Handle your contacts correctly. Take care to follow your eye doctor’s directions on how to clean, disinfect, store, and wear your colored lenses. Don’t use tap water or your own spit. And don’t forget to wash your hands before handling your contact lenses.

If you feel discomfort, redness, eye pain, or blurred vision, call your eye doctor right away.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: “‘Colored’ and Decorative Contact Lenses: A Prescription is a Must.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Are Colored Contact Lenses Safe?”  “Over-the-Counter Costume Contacts May Contain Chemicals Harmful to Eyes,” “Four Ways Over-the-Counter Costume Contact Lenses Can Ruin Vision,” “Contact Lens-Related Eye Infections.”

Eye & Contact Lenses: “Scanning Electron Microscopy Findings With Energy-Dispersive X-ray investigations of Cosmetically Tinted Contact Lenses.”

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