The Dangers of Costume Lenses

Simple Contacts

Costume contact lenses. They look great and are cheap and easy to buy. Why not pick up a pair for your next costume? Well, at the end of the day, they are still contact lenses—i.e. a medical device—and should be treated as such. It's important to get a prescription for any type of contact lens you'll wear, and when it comes to costume lenses, the process should be no different.

To start, not all costume contact lenses are created equal. Legitimate costume lenses can be purchased through a doctor or licensed retailer with a valid prescription, but if you go online or stop into a novelty shop, you’ll find lots of illegitimate (read: not FDA approved) lenses. How can you tell the difference? Unapproved lenses can easily be purchased without a prescription.

And these unapproved lenses can pose a huge risk. Just look at a recent study of bacterial growth in decorative, non-corrective contact lenses, conducted by the FDA’s Forensic Chemistry Center in Ohio and published in 2017 by the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Over 300 lenses were used in the test, with the majority of these products being sourced from tattoo parlours, novelty shops and the internet. Findings showed 60% of the counterfeit costume lenses and 27% of the unapproved lenses tested positive for microbial contamination—an alarming number for anyone who’s worn these products.

Bacteria found in the study included Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can lead to blindness. Another bacteria found, Bacillus cereus, can cause bacterial endophthalmitis and, ultimately, pain, vision loss and even the loss of an eye. On top of all that, a costume lens that isn’t fitted to your eye is far more likely to scratch your cornea, something that will make you even more susceptible to a serious bacterial infection.

The study’s findings make it very clear: buying costume contacts without a doctor issued prescription poses a serious risk for whoever wears them.

It’s easy to purchase these illegitimate lenses—far easier than scheduling an office visit—but they pose a significant threat to your health. Convenience is important, but it only comes a close second to your safety. Taking the cheap and easy route is just not worth the massive risk to your eyes, so if you’re considering costume lenses, start with talking to your eye doctor first.