One popular, non-medical use of contact lenses that has surged in popularity in recent years is the wearing of cosmetic lenses that change the colour of the user’s eyes. There is a high novelty appeal to being able to change eye colours more or less at will. Many are used at parties, when people don “costume contacts” to complete their outfits, whether they are dressed as celebrities, vampires, aliens, orcs, or whatever else strikes their fancy.
Though cosmetic contact lenses are not in themselves more dangerous than any other contact lens, they are used far more carelessly by the majority of people who wear them. They are usually inserted carelessly, are seldom cleaned properly (or, in many cases, are not cleaned at all), and are stored either in improperly cleaned cases or in cases not designed for contact lenses.
In fact, cosmetic lenses are seldom even fitted properly, since people usually use them without consulting an eye care professional. Cosmetic lenses are perceived as being non-medical in nature, so it does not even occur to the majority of cosmetic lens users to consult a medical eye care professional for a proper fitting, or to follow hygiene instructions, which they may be unaware of in the first place.
The risks of cosmetic contact lenses
Cosmetic contact lenses are not actually any more dangerous to eye health than any other type of contact lens if they were worn and cleaned properly. This includes buying contact lenses that match the eye of the wearer (proper fit, thus lessening irritation and potential damage to the cornea), putting them into the eye properly, and going for regular eye checkups after wearing the lenses for a while.
Additionally, properly cleaning and storing of the lenses would greatly lessens the risks of potential infections. Cosmetic lenses should be cleaned with a multipurpose or two-step hydrogen peroxide solution, in the same way as with other contact lenses, and should be treated with a daily protein remover or with weekly enzymatic cleaners (in tablet form) to prevent protein buildup. The lenses should be stored in properly-cleaned contact lens cases that are purified with solutions.
Clearly, though, these precautions are not observed by huge swaths of the cosmetic contact-wearing public. This has been proven quite strongly by research. Eye infections of all kinds are 1,200% more likely in cosmetic contact wearers than in those who wear contacts purely to correct vision. This means that at least 12 infections are caused by cosmetic contact lenses for every 1 infection caused by properly prescribed lenses.
The outcomes of these infections are also far worse than those wearing contact lenses as a vision aid. Around 13% of regular contact lens infections result in permanent damage to the eye, but among cosmetic infections, however, the rate of permanent damage skyrockets to 60%. Therefore, it is important to remember to plan in advance if you are considering wearing cosmetic contact lenses for a party or an event. They can be fun, glamorous and striking but remember that they are not toys and that hygiene guidelines need to be followed.