Decorative contact lenses

On Halloween, we adults have permission to be somebody or something else. We can put on funny costumes, change our hair and even our eyes. We can sport cat eyes, vampire eyes, a different eye color or even smiley faces. The options are nearly limitless, but 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 as it does for contact lenses used for vision correction.

Decorative contact lenses are sometimes called by other names, including:

  • Fashion contact lenses
  • Halloween contact lenses
  • Color contact lenses
  • Cosmetic contact lenses
  • Theater contact lenses

Decorative contact lenses just change the look of your eyes. They do not correct your vision. Many decorative contact lenses are available without a prescription, but they may not be safe or legal. Just like regular contact lenses, you should never buy contact lenses from a street vendor, beauty supply store, flea market, novelty store or Halloween store — and you should always have a prescription.

Before you purchase decorative contact lenses, consider the FDA’s recommendations:

Know the risks

Wearing decorative contact lenses can be risky, just like wearing contact lenses that correct your vision. Any kind of contact lenses, including decorative ones, can cause serious damage to your eyes if the lenses are not used correctly.

These risks include:

  • A cut or scratch on the top layer of your eyeball (corneal abrasion)
  • Allergic reactions such as itchy, watery, red eyes
  • Decreased vision
  • Infection
  • Blindness

When wearing any type of contact lenses, be aware of signs of possible eye infection, which include:

  • Redness
  • 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, 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 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 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 that come with your contact lenses for wearing, cleaning and disinfecting them. If you do not receive instructions, ask your eye doctor for them.

Do seek medical attention right away and remove your contact lenses if your eyes are red or 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, 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 chance of any undetected damage to your eyes.

Buying decorative contact lenses

You can buy contact lenses, including decorative ones, from an eye care doctor, on the Internet or from a mail-order company. It's very important that you buy contact lenses only 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. The seller should request not only the prescription, but the name and phone number of your doctor. Sellers who do not ask for this information are breaking federal law and could be selling you illegal contact lenses.

Remember — buying contact lenses without a prescription is dangerous!