Costume contact lenses are an easy way to upgrade your look for Halloween and other occasions, but there are risks involved when using a product on your eyes. Corrective contact lenses – traditional and custom-made – are intended to improve your vision and are prescribed by an eye care professional. Costume lenses, also known as “fashion,” “theatre,” and “colored” lenses, offer no benefit to your vision and only exist to transform the appearance of your eyes. You would never purchase prescription lenses over-the-counter or at a mall kiosk, so why would you buy costume contacts there?

“I usually see them sold where they shouldn’t be sold, in shopping centers, swap meets, and Halloween stores,” explains Dr. Vivienne Velasco of iFocus Vision Center. “This is a red flag, because contact lenses should only be dispensed by licensed professionals with a valid prescription written by an eye care physician.”

Dangers of Over-the-Counter Contact Lenses

Anyone selling you costume contact lenses over-the-counter is not going to tell you about the risks involved. But Dr. Velasco is quick to warn patients, especially during the Halloween season when lenses are purchased for one-time use, about what can happen when putting an unknown foreign object – purchased legally or illegally — on your eye.

“These lenses may not be sterile and can cause a severe eye infection that can lead to vision loss,” she says. “”Often they do not fit well and become uncomfortable to wear, and if you’re a not used to wearing contact lenses you most likely haven’t been trained how to properly apply, remove, and take care of these lenses.

“You can end up inadvertently hurting yourself.”

Signs of a possible eye infection caused by unsafe costume contact lenses include redness or pain in the eye, decreased vision, and even allergic reactions.

“I had a patient who had purchased contact lenses from a swap meet, and she came to our office with a very red, irritated eye,” Dr. Velasco says. “She only wore the lens once and ended up with a corneal ulcer, which is an infection in the clear outer surface of the eye due to a non-sterile lens.”

The patient, Dr. Velasco adds, needed an antibiotic and steroid eye drops to treat her condition. In worst case scenarios, however, vision loss can be permanent.

Why You Should See Your Eye Doctor First

Costume contact lenses that are purchased through Dr. Velasco and other eye care professionals are FDA-approved, unlike over-the-counter lenses, which may come from many different (and possibly) unreputable distributors.

Even if you’re in a pinch, trying to find the right accessory for your Halloween costume at the last minute, Dr. Velasco says you must make time to see your eye doctor – it’s too risky not to.

“We’ll make sure it fits properly, an you’ll be taught the proper way to apply, remove, and clean your lenses,” she says. “Most importantly, you’ll know if you’re a good candidate to wear contact lenses.

“If your eyes are not healthy enough to wear contacts, an eye care professional won’t dispense them to you.”

What to Do If You Spot Costume Contact Lenses Sold Illegally

If you see a person or a business selling contact lenses without a professional license, they need to be reported immediately because they are practicing medicine illegally, Dr. Velasco warns.

To report illegal activity, send an email to StopIllegalCls@aoa.org.

Have questions about your contact lenses? Contact iFocus Vision Center online or call 702-473-5660.