Buyer's Guide to Colored Contact Lenses

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Contact lenses can correct many vision problems and allow you to ditch the glasses. But these small, plastic disks can also be used to change the color of your iris and give you a whole new look.

There are many styles of colored contacts to choose from, depending on how much of a change you’re looking for:

  • Subtle. These enhance your natural eye color, usually deepening or adding vibrancy.
  • Color-changing. These lenses give your iris the appearance of a totally different color, and can work on even the darkest eye colors.
  • Light filtering. Athletes like this type because these lenses improve color vision, such as brightening the color of the ball during a tennis match.
  • “Party” lenses. These lenses completely change the iris or even the whole eye, to another, often unnatural, color or pattern. Typically used in movies and for other theatrical uses.
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Use FDA-Approved Contacts Only, Please

Contact lenses worn for cosmetic purposes must be fitted by an eye care professional. In the fall of 2005, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation that declared colored contact lenses to be medical devices — making it illegal to sell non-prescription colored lenses.

Thomas Steinemann, MD, a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says you should be wary of lenses you can get without a prescription: “How do you know if they’re sterile, if they’re approved by the FDA, or if they’re damaged?”

“Anyone getting colored lenses has to have their eyes professionally measured and the lenses correctly fitted,” Dr. Steinemann says. “And a follow-up eye examination must be carried out to assess whether the patient is having any trouble using the lenses or if there is any eye damage.” Why? “Because even though colored contact lenses may not correct vision, they still have the same potential to cause harm,” he explains.

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Possible issues with contact lenses include allergic reactions, accumulation of protein on the lenses, and eye irritation due to improper lens care. If contact lenses are not properly stored and disinfected, frequent eye infections, scarring, and even blindness, can occur.

Follow the Recommended Lens-Wearing Schedule

Most eye doctors recommend that users wear contact lenses for just a few hours a day during the first few days. Even if you are wearing colored contacts cosmetically, you should try out lenses for only a short period at first to make sure your eyes do not become overly irritated.

It’s normal for eyes to feel slightly itchy or teary when you first put lenses in, but this should improve with wear. If eyes become red or painful, or your vision is foggy or cloudy, the lenses should be removed immediately. If the problem continues, return to your eye doctor to assess the problem.

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Care and Maintenance of Colored Contacts

The care and use of colored contacts is the same as for normal contact lenses. Basic contact lens hygiene tips include:

  • Always wash and rinse your hands with a mild soap before handling lenses.
  • Clean and rinse lenses with, and only with, an approved sterile solution after taking them out and before putting them in. Don’t use tap or even bottled water since they aren’t sterile and have been linked to severe bacterial eye infections.
  • Keep fingernails short and smooth to avoid scratching your lenses.
  • Make sure your lens case is always clean.
  • Inspect lenses for any foreign particles, tears, or damage before inserting.
  • Apply cosmetics after inserting lenses.
  • Don’t wear soft lenses when swimming.
  • The only eye drops that can safely be used with soft contact lenses are re-wetting drops that your eye doctor recommends.

Even if you don’t wear your colored lenses on a regular basis, you still need to clean and place them in new solution every month. And remember to disinfect the lenses 24 hours before wearing them.

How Much Do Colored Contacts Cost?

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