Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and contemplated changing your look? Well, you’re not alone.

People are often looking for ways to change their appearance, whether through a different hairstyle or hair color or even changing their eye color. During certain times of the year, specifically around Halloween, there seems to be a surge of people using costume contact lenses. However, while trying to achieve that perfect costume, people may be unaware of the damage they can cause to their eyes with these lenses. Recently, the American Academy of Ophthalmology issued a warning about over-the-counter lenses after a study found that several costume contacts tested positive for chlorine and other harmful chemicals.

While costume contacts might seem fun if you’re trying to transform your look or perfect your costume, wearing these lenses may be dangerous to your eye health if they’re not prescribed by a doctor. Continue reading to learn more about these lenses and how to make sure what you’re wearing is safe, and FDA approved.

What Are Costume Lenses?

Costume contact lenses, also known as cosmetic or decorative contact lenses, are lenses that are intended to change the color or shape of your eye. Other lenses can change pupil shape or give your eyes cartoon or film character effects. Some examples of these contact lenses are blackout contacts, black sclera contact lenses, cat eyes, and zombie eye contacts. Costume contacts can also be made with or without vision correction.

Are Costume Contacts Legal?

While they might be sold in stores or online, some of these lenses are not FDA-approved and are sold illegally. This means that the stores are not authorized distributors of contact lenses. Since contact lenses are prescription devices by federal law, the lenses sold in these stores could be counterfeit or may not have been cleared or approved by the FDA. You should talk with an eye care provider before purchasing or wearing any of these costume lenses.

According to the FDA, you should not buy costume lenses from the following places:

  • Halloween stores
  • Internet sites that do not require a prescription
  • Salons or beauty supply stores
  • Street vendors
  • Boutiques
  • Flea markets
  • Novelty stores
  • Record or video stores
  • Convenience stores
  • Beach shops

However, there are colored contacts available with a corrective lens power or in Plano (without lens power) forms through your eye doctor. While these may not be as “spooky” as some of the costume lenses, they are most likely safer— and ultimately less “scary” for your eye health. It’s important to remember to never buy colored contact lenses from a vendor that does not require a prescription.

Will Costume Lenses Cause Eye Damage ?

Even if you have perfect vision, you still need an eye exam and prescription before you wear any contact lens. If not fit properly, contact lenses may cut, scratch and/or cause corneal infections.

Poorly fit or improperly designed contact lenses may also allow less oxygen through to the eye. Since these costume contact lenses have paints and pigments added to create the color, the lenses

become thicker and less breathable. Many of these costume contact lenses are mis-sized, and the lenses can cause corneal abrasions, corneal ulcers and potentially blinding painful bacterial infections. Treating these types of injuries may require surgery, like a corneal transplant, and may even result in blindness.

What Are the Safety Guidelines for Costume Lenses?

Like any type of corrective lenses, there are guidelines that should be followed to safely wear costume contacts. These guidelines can include buying legal lenses and obtaining an appropriate prescription. For more information, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following:

  • Buy costume/decorative contact lenses from retailers who require a prescription and sell FDA-approved products.
  • Obtain a valid prescription and eye exam from an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
  • Get examined and fitted for the right size contacts by an eye health professional: ill-fitting lenses can damage the surface of the eye, creating an opening for infection.
  • If you have any symptoms, immediately see an ophthalmologist: Redness, swelling, excessive discharge, pain or discomfort can be symptoms of an eye infection.

What Can I Expect from an Eye Exam for Costume Contacts?

If you have been fitted for contacts before, then getting fitted for costume contact lenses isn’t usually much different. During an exam, an eye care professional, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, will:

  • Measure your eyes to properly fit the contacts.
  • Assess if you are a good candidate for contacts in general: If you have frequent eye infections, severe allergies, dry eye, exposure to dust or smoke, you may not be a suitable candidate for costume contacts or even regular corrective contacts.
  • Provide instructions for appropriate contact lens care: Lenses that are not cleaned and disinfected appropriately will likely increase the risk of developing an infection.
  • Tell you how long you can wear the costume contact: An example of this can include not sleeping in any contact lenses that aren’t designed for overnight wear.

Be Smart When Changing Your Look

While costume contacts might seem fun, wearing a pair of lenses that are not prescription can be dangerous to your eye health. If you have worn these types of contacts recently and experienced any symptoms of discomfort or irritation, it’s important that you take your contacts out and see an eye care professional immediately. Eye infections can become serious very quickly and sometimes the damage is irreversible. Remember, be smart when it comes to what you put on your eyes!

Speak to your eye care provider if you have questions or concerns about costume contact lenses.