Are coloured contact lenses safe for your eyes?
03 August 2021
Just how safe is it for your eyes to be all the colours of the rainbow?
Coloured contact lenses are cosmetic lenses that are most popular during Halloween, as many people who dress up in costume also decide to wear coloured contact lenses as part of their look. You should be wary of them, however, as coloured contact lenses can blind you if they are not used correctly.
So what are coloured contact lenses?
Coloured contact lenses – also known as cosmetic or costume contact lenses – are contact lenses that can change the way your eyes look. These contact lenses can alter the appearance of your eyes in a variety of ways, from changing the colour of the eyes to its pupil shape, which can give a cartoon-like effect depending on the design of the lenses. These lenses can also be made with or without a prescription for vision correction.
While coloured contact lenses may be fun to wear when dressing up (whatever the occasion), they may still harm your eyes and should be worn with caution.
Can coloured contact lenses damage your eyes?
In the UK, all contact lenses – including Plano (non-prescription) and coloured contacts – must be provided or be supervised by a registered optometrist, suitably qualified dispensing optician or medical practitioner. Despite this, many people continue to put their sight at risk by importing contact lenses from unregulated overseas websites.
One form of coloured/cosmetic contact lenses are ‘Circle lenses’ which cover part of the sclera (the whites of your eyes). The lenses tend to have a black border intended to enhance the iris and make your eyes appear bigger. As the lenses sit directly on top of the sclera, the risk of infection and injury is much higher as the sclera is a sensitive surface of the eye. Poorly fitted lenses, extended wear and poor hygiene while using cosmetic contact lenses could lead to a serious eye infection as well as corneal ulcers, abrasions and unfortunately even vision loss – so it might not be worth adding to your look!
Some of the problems most commonly associated with unsafe contact lens use include:
- Watery discharge
- Red, sore or gritty eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Dry eyes
- Reduced visual acuity
- Blurry vision
To reduce the danger of wearing coloured and other cosmetic contact lenses you should always make sure that your lenses are checked by an experienced optical professional. This is because contact lenses are not ‘one size fits all’ and should be suitable for your eyes specifically. They should also be dispensed and fitted by qualified and General Optical Council-registered professionals.
Is it safe to wear coloured contact lenses every day?
Coloured contact lenses are worn the same as normal contact lenses, and the amount of time you can wear them depends on whether your lenses are made for daily or extended wear, and whether you have any vision or eye health issues, such as dry or sensitive eyes. If you use daily-wear contact lenses, they must be taken out before bedtime and you can only wear them for a maximum of 10 to 12 hours a day. If you use extended-wear contacts, you can wear them overnight and keep them in for up to 7 days – depending on the lenses, you could even wear them for up to 30 days.
However, you should be especially careful if you choose to use extended wear lenses. The risk of eye infections is much higher for people who sleep with contact lenses. This is because wearing contacts for a prolonged period of time increases the risk of dangerous bacteria getting caught between the lenses and your eyes.
One eye infection that both normal and coloured contact lenses could lead to is called Acanthamoeba keratitis. Acanthamoeba keratitis is both a serious and painful infection of the cornea. This infection is caused by a single-cell microscopic organism that is found in soil and water around the world. It can lead to permanent vision loss and even blindness. This is why proper lens care is paramount for those who wear contacts, cosmetic or otherwise.
Do coloured contact lenses expire?
While the lenses themselves don’t expire, the saline solution in the blister pack does. When contact lenses are manufactured, each lens is sterilized and packed into an air-tight blister with saline solution. The saline solution and packaging can keep its condition for 1-4 years after manufacturing. After this date, the active ingredients in the saline solution become either more acidic or more alkaline which can damage the lens, causing corneal ulcers and eye infections.
This can happen with all kinds of contact lenses – daily wear, extended wear and coloured contact lenses too! If you wear expired contacts you may experience headaches, blurry vision and serious eye infections, so it’s best you stick to the expiration date for the sake of your eye health.
To summarise, coloured and other cosmetic contacts may be rising in popularity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe to use. They’re more likely to harm you than not, so you’d be better off without them the next time you fancy dressing up. If you do choose to wear them, see an eye-care professional and take good care of your lenses to prevent infection as much as possible.
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