Having spiderwebs for irises eyes may seem like an easy and cheap way to give your Halloween costume some edge, but if you’re not careful about where you buy them and how you use them, those decorative lenses could cause serious damage.
“The eye is an extremely sensitive organ and can be damaged very easily,” explained Sureen Bachra, co-owner and chief optometrist at Lifetime Eyecare in New Westminster.
Contact lenses need to be properly fitted to the shape of your eye, and many decorative lenses don’t provide a lot of options in that regard. However, that is not the only trouble with these lenses. Bachra shared that “the biggest problem is improper insertion technique and care.” For these reasons, buying over-the-counter decorative lenses risks scratches to the cornea, infection, or in extreme cases, decreased vision or blindness.
All forms of contact lenses, including decorative and prescription lenses, are medical devices according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Health Canada will be implementing similar regulations into effect in July. However, Bachra clarified that “federally, they are considered to be medical devices, but unfortunately, the province of British Columbia deregulated the purchasing and selling of contact lenses.”
Therefore, anywhere that sells them in the United States or elsewhere in Canada as cosmetic devices is breaking the law; this includes street vendors, novelty stores, and boutiques. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is actively trying to stop them. An investigation called Operation Double Vision, which is now in its third year, and has seized over 20,000 pairs of counterfeit and decorative lenses in 2014 alone.
Optometrist’s studies have shown that 11 per cent of consumers have worn decorative lenses, with most of them purchased from sources selling their wares illegally. Nearly 60 per cent of individuals using contact lenses admit to wearing them longer than recommended, according to the ICE.
The FDA recommends only purchasing lenses only from sellers that ask you to provide your prescription; they should also provide you directions for cleaning, disinfection, and lens usage. If you are using decorative lenses and experience any discomfort, redness, or decrease in vision, you are encouraged to contact an eye care professional as soon as possible.
In order to purchase decorative lenses safely this holiday season, Bachra advised, “Go see your eye care professional first,” regardless of whether you think you have perfect vision. “What you actually need is a professional to check and see if your eyes are healthy and they can tolerate a contact lens, and that they are they are actually fit by a professional — that’s the difference.”