AOA warns of hazard of cosmetic contact lenses without valid prescriptions

AOA’s annual ‘31 in 31’ campaign targets illegal contact lens sales during October

For most people, Halloween includes fun costumes and a good scare. But people may not realize that noncorrective, decorative contact lenses purchased without a prescription from a source other than their eye doctor can lead to a different kind of horror. That's why it's up to doctors of optometry to ensure patients have a safe Halloween-and there are a number of ways to do so.

Unfortunately, people may buy their decorative lenses illegally without a prescription ...The consequences for their vision can be very serious.

Doctors can report suspected violations of the law regarding the sales of illegal costume contacts lenses. Under the law, decorative contact lenses, whether they correct vision or not, require a prescription from an eye doctor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each October, the AOA rolls out its annual "31 in 31" letter-writing campaign, calling out online vendors, brick-and-mortar shops and other sellers who may be distributing contacts to the public without valid prescriptions, in violation of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act and the Contact Lens Rule.

Copied to the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, these letters are disseminated to businesses reported to the AOA. Doctors can report suspected violations to the AOA here or direct questions to  

In its fourth year, 124 retailers will have been informed by the AOA of the law on the sale of illegal contacts, which are considered regulated medical devices.

"Decorative contact lenses are a cool accessory to a Halloween costume but only if they're prescribed and fitted by a doctor of optometry," AOA President Barbara L. Horn, O.D., says. "Unfortunately, people may buy their decorative lenses illegally without a prescription from a street vendor, at a beauty supply store, on the internet, or in a novelty shop. The consequences for their vision can be very serious.

"Doctors of optometry are well aware of the risks to their patients from contaminated, poorly fitted decorative lenses," Dr. Horn says. "If they want to wear decorative contact lenses, patients should see their doctors of optometry for proper fitting. They should seek immediate care from their doctors of optometry if any symptoms develop from wearing illegal lenses. We want patients to have a safe, fun Halloween."

How to report suspicious sales   

Although the AOA is not a regulatory enforcement agency, one of its key missions is to serve as a resource to the public for reliable and current information related to safe management of contact lenses.

With Halloween fast approaching, doctors can report suspicious sales of decorative contact lenses through various federal and AOA channels, including:

For more information on illegal retailer or incident reporting, contact the AOA's Director for Coding and Regulatory Policy Kara Webb at

October 10, 2019

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