Colored and Decorative Contact Lenses

Colored and Decorative Contact Lenses:
A Prescription Is a Must

Wouldn’t it be cool to have vampire eyes for Halloween? Or deep violet eyes to match your purple sweater? How about your favorite sports team’s logo on your eyes just for fun?

You can have all of these looks with decorative contact lenses (sometimes called “fashion,” “costume,” or “colored” contact lenses). These lenses don’t correct vision—they just change how your eyes look.

But you need a prescription to avoid eye injury. Before buying decorative lenses, here’s what you should know.

They are not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise. They are medical devices regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Places that advertise them as cosmetics or sell them over-the-counter, without a prescription, are breaking the law.

They are not “one size fits all.” An eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) must measure each eye to properly fit the lenses and evaluate how your eye responds to contact lens wear. A poor fit can cause serious eye damage, including:

  • scratches on the cornea (the clear dome of tissue over the iris—the part of the eye that gives you your eye color)
  • corneal infection (an ulcer or sore on the cornea)
  • conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • decreased vision
  • blindness

Where NOT to Buy Contact Lenses

FDA is aware that many places illegally sell decorative contact lenses to consumers without valid prescriptions for as little as $20.

You should never buy lenses from:

  • street vendors
  • salons or beauty supply stores
  • boutiques
  • flea markets
  • novelty stores
  • Halloween stores
  • record or video stores
  • convenience stores
  • beach shops
  • Internet sites that do not require a prescription

These are not authorized distributors of contact lenses, which are prescription devices by federal law.

How to Safely Wear Decorative Contact Lenses

Get an eye exam from a licensed eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist), even if you feel your vision is perfect.

Get a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and an expiration date.

Don’t buy anime or circle lenses—and don’t expect your eye doctor to prescribe them. These bigger-than-normal lenses that give the wearer a wide-eyed, doll-like look have not been cleared by the FDA.

Buy the lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription, whether you purchase them in person or shop online.

Follow all directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses, and visit your eye doctor for follow-up eye exams. It‘s especially important to read and follow all instructions because you can injure your eyes if you do not use these medical device products according to the labeling.

Types of Color Contacts

Color contacts come in three kinds of tints:

  • Visibility tint. This usually is a light blue or green tint added to a lens, just to help you see it better during insertion and removal, or if you drop it. Visibility tints are relatively faint and do not affect your eye color.
  • Enhancement tint. This is a solid but translucent (see-through) tint that is a little darker than a visibility tint. As the name implies, an enhancement tint is meant to enhance the natural color of your eyes. Colored contacts with this type of tint usually are best for people who have light-colored eyes and want to make their eye color more intense.
  • Opaque tint. This is a non-transparent tint that can change your eye color completely. If you have dark eyes, you'll need this type of color contact lens to change your eye color.

Choosing the Right Color

The contact lens color that will suit you best depends on numerous factors, such as your hair color and skin tone. But, ultimately, it depends on the kind of look you want to achieve — subtle and natural-looking or dramatic and daring.

Custom Tinted Contact Lenses

If you're after a truly individualized look, some contact lens manufacturers specialize in creating custom color tints for both prescription and non-prescription contact lenses.

Custom-made tints are created from a variety of colors in varying densities. Customized color lenses typically are semi-translucent, creating a natural-looking appearance. They can even camouflage a congenital eye defect or eye injury, or mimic the appearance of a healthy pupil.

Custom-tinted contacts aren't just for cosmetic reasons. Color tints are increasingly popular among professional athletes to increase their visual performance.

Key benefits of "sport tint" contact lenses are reduced glare, enhanced contrast sensitivity and heightened depth perception. A green tint, for example, can enable a tennis player to see the ball more clearly on the court.