Don't Buy Contact Lenses from Any Store or Website If It Doesn't Require a Prescription

Decorative Lenses

Wearing lenses without a prescription can put your eye health at risk.

Decorative contact lenses can change a person's eye color or create the effect of a character like a cat, zombie or vampire as part of a costume. However, buying these lenses without a prescription from an eye doctor can lead to serious health issues and potentially (and permanently) damage your eyesight.

All contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and require a valid prescription, whether they correct your vision or are worn simply for a special occasion, like Halloween, proms or weddings.

"Even though these are non-corrective lenses, they still pose the same potential health and safety risks as other contact lenses," says Glenda Secor, O.D., past-chair of the AOA's Contact Lens and Cornea Section.

However, some decorative lenses are sold illegally through flea markets, the Internet, beauty salons, convenience stores and even national retailers. The AOA warns that you should never buy lenses from these sources.

"When purchased over the counter, decorative contact lenses can put people at risk for bacterial infections, allergic reactions, or even significant damage to the eye's ability to function, with the potential for irreversible sight loss. Sadly, numerous cases of serious harm have been documented," says Dr. Secor.

According to the AOA's 2015 American Eye-Q® consumer survey, 16 percent of Americans have worn decorative contact lenses that don't provide vision correction as part of a costume or for other cosmetic purposes. Of those individuals, 26 percent purchased them without a prescription from a source other than an eye doctor-a great concern to doctors of optometry.

"Don't buy contacts from any store or website that doesn't require an eye doctor's prescription," adds Dr. Secor. "In other words, if you can walk in off the street, or log on to a website and buy them without verification of your prescription, the lenses are not being sold legally."

It's important to have a medical eye and vision examination from your optometrist to be sure you are a good candidate for contact lenses and your cornea can safely tolerate the lenses. Your eye doctor will also make sure your lenses fit properly and teach you how to safely care for your lenses.

The AOA offers the following recommendations for all contact lens wearers:

  • Wear contact lenses only if they are fitted and prescribed by an optometrist.
  • Do not purchase contact lenses from gas stations, video stores, websites or any other place not authorized by law to dispense contact lenses.
  • Properly clean and disinfect your contact lenses as instructed by your eye-care professional.
  • Wash and thoroughly dry your hands before handling and cleaning your contact lenses.
  • Never swap or share contact lenses with anyone.
  • Never sleep while wearing contact lenses unless they are extended-wear lenses designed for that purpose.

You can report contact lens sale violations to the FTC through the FTC website.

Click here for more information about contact lens hygiene and safety.