Woman with cat eye Halloween contact lenses

Are Halloween costume contact lenses safe?

Are those decorative novelty contact lenses so popular around Halloween — like tiger eyes or ones that make it look like you have huge pupils — safe to wear? They can be! But you have to get the right ones, the right way.

Funky fashion contacts for Halloween & beyond

Costume contact lenses — featuring cat’s eyes, white-outs, glow in the dark, colors, snowflakes, flags, team logos, big pupils — can be perfectly safe to wear… as long you get them from an eye professional and have a prescription.

The problem with buying Halloween contact lenses (also called crazy lenses, special FX, costume contacts, theatrical or fashion contact lenses) over-the-counter, via the internet or even at a flea market is that the lenses may not correctly fit your eyes — rubbing your cornea and damaging and/or scarring your eyes.

“Many people mistakenly think decorative contact lenses are just like sunglasses. If you’re not wearing the lenses to correct [eyesight problems], you don’t need a prescription,” says Thomas L Steinemann MD, of the MetroHealth Medical Center Eye Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. “This is a dangerous misconception.”

Another risk is that the lens may not fit the cornea properly in the first place. “Imagine trying to fit a size nine foot into a size six shoe,” Dr Steinemann says.

Woman with white costume contact lenses
Photo by pepperbox/Deposit Photos

A 2003 study that appeared in Eye & Contact Lens presented six case studies of people who experienced problems associated with decorative lenses, including bacterial infections, corneal abrasions and some allergic reactions.

One 14-year-old needed a corneal transplant following a serious eye infection, while another patient was left legally blind in one eye.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology even has a cautionary tale posted on their website about a teen who “wanted costume contact lenses to change his eye color. They ended up changing his life by taking away vision in one eye.”

Proper lens care is super important

“People who wear lenses purchased from unlicensed vendors have been given no instructions and often practice risky behavior,” Steinemann says. They don’t clean or disinfect the lenses. They sleep in them. They even swap them with their friends.”

Once you have a safe set, contact lenses — whether for a costume or everyday wear — need to be cared for correctly to avoid infection.

If you’re going to do it, do it right

“Novelty lenses are fine, but they should be prescribed, fit and maintained like any other lenses,” said Damien Macaluso, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology, Division of Cornea and Refractive Surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine. “The complications that can result from cosmetic or novelty contacts are rare, but they can be very serious.”

“We tell patients to wear new lenses for no more than a couple hours the first day. With cosmetic lenses, people often buy them, wear them to a party, and take them off eight or more hours later,” says Mark Andre, FAAO, director of Contact Lens Services at Casey Eye Institute.

“This alone can cause cornea breakdown and irritation. A corneal infection can place patients literally within a couple of days of losing their eyes.”

Also gaining popularity are scleral lenses — essentially huge contact lenses that cover the entire visible portion of the eyeball. These cover much more surface area, are more difficult to insert, and — if not used with the supervision of an eye care professional — can cause all the problems of regular contact lenses and more.

Dr Macaluso says that if you experience pain, redness, discharge or decreased vision — whether from prescription lenses or ones you even went ahead and bought from another source — immediately remove the lenses and seek the care of an eye health care provider.

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