The recent interest in "circle-tinted" contact lenses being sold on the Internet to obtain an anime-style look popularized by Lady Gaga in her "Bad Romance" music video is of concern to optometrists. A recent article in the New York Times entitled "What Big Eyes You Have, Dear, But Are Those Contact Lenses Risky?" (July 3, 2010) highlighted the issues surrounding these lenses. Contact lenses are considered safe for the correction of vision when appropriately fitted by licensed eye care providers. However, when contact lenses are obtained without a prescription and without appropriate training, fitting and follow-up, their use can result in complications including eye infections and permanent loss of vision.
In 2005, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified all contact lenses, whether they correct vision or are used simply for cosmetics, as medical devices. In the United States, contact lenses cannot be obtained legally without a prescription. Several reports have been published linking severe eye infections to the use of cosmetic contact lenses obtained without a prescription. In fact, several of our doctors have encountered patients with complications as a result of inappropriate use of such lenses.
The circle lenses referred to in the New York Times article as well as in other media outlets are currently not approved by the FDA and are being obtained without a prescription in significant numbers, primarily by teenagers and young women. Our concern is that the fitting, and professional follow-up care to determine the eye health response to lens wear, are not provided when these lenses are obtained without a prescription. The purchasers may also not be provided with appropriate lens care instructions. It has been scientifically established that individuals who obtain lenses via the Internet or mail order have an increased risk of infection of more than four times.
Swapping or sharing of contact lenses is also of great concern. These seemingly innocuous cosmetic devices, if not individually prescribed for maximum fit and properly disinfected, can lead to serious vision loss. Therefore, in agreement with FDA federal guidelines, contact lenses are medical devices and must be fitted and cared for properly. Consumers desiring cosmetic contact lenses to enhance their appearance should do so in consultation with their eye care provider.