Buyer Beware: Halloween Costume Contact Lenses Are No Treat for the Eyes

It’s no scare tactic: wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to permanent vision loss.

Wearing fashion contact lenses to enhance your Halloween costume’s fear factor may seem like a good idea, but these non-prescription lenses can cause something far more terrifying—blindness.

A recent study found that several varieties of over-the-counter decorative lenses tested positive for chemicals that can cause painful eye infections, which may lead to permanent eye damage and vision loss. The chemicals may come from colorants used to tint and create playful patterns on the lenses. Chlorine was found in three types of non-prescription costume contact lenses, and iron was found on four pairs of lenses.

The study also noted that colorants printed or pressed onto some decorative lenses create an uneven texture. Those rough surfaces can scratch your eyes, potentially allowing in bacteria that can cause infection and even blindness.

While it is illegal to sell non-prescription contact lenses, they can still be easily purchased at many places such as costume shops, beauty supply stores, and online. During the Halloween season, these lenses are often falsely advertised as “one-size-fits-all” and “no prescription necessary.”

Dr. Guillermo Amescua, at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, advises, “Contact lenses worn without a doctor’s prescription greatly increase the possibility of serious complications. These lenses may cause injuries such as cuts and open sores in the cornea, as well as bacterial infections, which could lead to corneal scarring and vision loss.”

Additional risks include conjunctivitis (pink eye), swelling of the eye (corneal edema), sensitivity to light and allergic reactions. If contacts are not professionally fitted to your eye, they can scratch the clear front window of the eye, which is called a corneal abrasion. Whether from a corneal scratch or infection, wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to decreased vision.