Colored contact lenses are specialized medical devices that need to be treated and worn with care.

Just like with regular contact lenses, wearing colored contacts can increase the odds for eye and corneal infections, scratches on the cornea, possible allergic reactions, impaired vision, and even potential blindness. (Learn More)

Colored contacts can slide around on the eye, which can impair vision. It can also make it clear that you’re wearing colored contacts when both your natural color and the colored contact are visible. (Learn More)

It is essential to get a prescription from an optometrist for colored contacts even if you don't need them to correct your vision.

Follow all directions and recommendations regarding purchasing, cleaning, wearing, storing, disposing of, and replacing your colored contact lenses. (Learn More) This can help to decrease the possible risks.

Eye Infections and Possible Hazards

man covering eye in pain

The FDA warns that wearing contact lenses can irritate the eyes and lead to pink eye (conjunctivitis), corneal infections, scratches on the cornea, possible impaired vision, and blindness. Allergic reactions are possible too.

Putting something into your eye can increase the odds for bacterial infections like keratitis. This can become serious and have irreversible consequences if not handled promptly and properly.

Colored contacts sit on top of your cornea just as other contact lenses do. As a result, they have many of the same possible risk factors.

Decorative contacts may be thicker or have more pigment than traditional contacts. They can therefore let less oxygen through into the eye. This can cause dry eyes and increase the risk for infection.

Decreased Vision Related to Colored Contact Lenses

Colored contacts that use an opaque tint, which is a tint that is not transparent, have color on the part that is designed to fit over the iris of the eye. This is the part of the eye that gives it the color. The middle of the lens is left clear for the pupil to be able to see through it openly.

An opaque tint uses lines, shapes, and dots in the desired color to completely change the look of your original eye color. This type of tint is essential for dark eyes.

Contacts can move around on your eyes, however. They don't stay in just one place, especially when you blink. When this happens, the colored lens can move. Then, the "hole" in the center of the lens may not line up exactly with your pupil. Not only does this look unnatural as your true eye color is exposed underneath, but it can also impair your vision.

An opaque tint with a clear center can lead to decreased vision when the pupil expands due to low-light situations. This can make it more difficult to see out of colored contacts, especially at night.

As light decreases, your pupils get bigger to try and take in more light. Colored contacts only have so much room to allow your pupil to expand. The transparent center of the lens can only be so big. Your pupil will continue to expand, but your vision will be blocked by the colored portion of the contact.

Minimizing Risks of Colored Contacts

Smiling mature patient consulting with optometrist for an eye checkup

All contacts, even plano colored contacts that do not correct for vision, are classified as medical devices by the FDA. They need to be approved and used only through a prescription.

Colored contacts need to be fitted to your eye specifically and then purchased through an FDA-approved source. Unapproved retailers selling colored contacts are doing so illegally. These non-prescription lenses can lead to serious complications, including impaired vision, eye infections, and blindness.

When looking into colored contacts, you will need to have your eyes specifically measured and then obtain a customized prescription from an optometrist. Contacts that don't fit your eyes properly drastically increase the odds for infections, ulcerations, and eye-related problems.

Here are some tips for preventing issues related to colored contacts:

  • Get fitted for colored contacts from an optometrist and obtain a prescription.
  • Buy your colored contacts from a source that requires a prescription and is approved by the FDA. Do not buy colored or decorative contacts from a beauty salon, convenience store, online retailer that doesn't ask for a prescription, or street vendor.
  • Use only colored contacts that are prescribed for you directly, and don't share them with others.
  • Practice good hygiene. Always wash your hands before touching your contacts or your eyes.
  • Clean and store your colored contacts exactly as directed. Use only the specialized contact solution recommended by the contact manufacturer to clean and store your contacts.
  • Replace your colored contacts at the scheduled times, and wear them only as directed. Take them out, dispose of them, and replace them when the manufacturer dictates.
  • Take out your contacts immediately if you experience any discomfort, irritation, redness, or discharge in your eyes. Contact your eye care professional right away.

Colored contacts can be used safely if all directions and recommendations by your optometrist and the FDA-approved manufacturer are followed exactly.

Even when used as directed, however, colored contacts can have some risks and may not be suitable for everyone. Talk to your eye doctor to see if they will work for you.

References

Contact Lens Risks. (September 2018). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Are Colored Contact Lenses for Halloween Safe? (September 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

Color Contact Lenses: Which Are Best for You? (April 2019). All About Vision.

'Colored' and Decorative Contact Lenses: A Prescription is a Must. (February 2016). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Halloween Contact Lenses and Other Special-Effect Contacts. (October 2018). All About Vision.

If You Want to Wear Colored Contact Lenses, FDA Has a Warning. (October 2018). Forbes.

List of Contact Lenses. (April 2019). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).