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Decorative Contact Lenses

October 2, 2011

Around Halloween time, health experts fear that consumers will harm their eyes with unapproved decorative contact lenses. These are contact lenses that some people use to temporarily change their eye color or to make their eyes look weird — for example, giving them an “eye-of-the-tiger” look. Dr. Rachel Bishop, chief of the Consult Service at the National Eye Institute, talks with Joe Balintfy of NIH Radio about this potentially harmful practice.

Balintfy: Health experts warn that one part of a Halloween costume comes with three serious risks.

Bishop: The first and most concerning risk is infection.

Balintfy: Dr. Rachel Bishop is an ophthalmologist at the NIH. She explains that any contact lens that’s not handled properly — kept clean and sterile — can produce a corneal infection which can cause vision loss.

Bishop: The second concern is an ill-fitting contact lens. Contact lens that’s too tight on the cornea will deprive the cornea of needed nutrients and oxygen and can lead to tight lens syndrome, very uncomfortable.

Balintfy: Dr. Bishop says a third serious risk is physical trauma, especially for those not used to or trained with putting contacts in or taking them out.

Bishop: A person can develop a corneal abrasion which is a scratch on the surface of the eye.

Balintfy: Health experts advise that the best way to avoid these risks it to make sure to get lenses only with an eye examination, proper fitting and a prescription from a licensed eye care professional.

Bishop: A person needs to be instructed on how to wear and use the contacts and care for them, and they must be fitted properly by someone who knows how to do that, an eye doctor, an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.

Balintfy: Dr. Bishop adds that decorative contact lenses are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Bishop: Whether they’re for prescription purposes or for decorative purposes, they’re still under the category of regulated medical devices and they should be purchased only at a source that requires a prescription to ensure that they are in fact of a quality that is appropriate for contact lens use on the eye.

Balintfy: She points out that a prescription may indicate that no vision correction for nearsighted or farsighted is needed.

Bishop: The concern, of course, is that people can acquire these with the intention of wearing them for a party or for decoration for a brief period of time, not be properly instructed on how to use them.

Balintfy: With an exam, proper measurements for fitting, and a prescription however:

Bishop: I do think they’re fine, but I don’t think it’s fine to skip the step of seeing an eye doctor. They really must be treated with the exact same level of concern and diligence as regular contact lenses. They are regular contact lenses. They’re just decorated.

Balintfy: Dr. Bishop notes that both those using contact lenses for vision correction and those only interested in decorative contact lenses must balance the risks against the benefits. For more information on eye health and vision research, visit

Download MP3 File of this Interview (MP3 - 2:42, 2.3 MB)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Consumer Update—Decorative Contact Lenses: Is Your Vision Worth It?