Colored contacts, like any type of contact, are medical devices that must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA publishes that all contacts, colored or otherwise, must be obtained through a valid prescription.
You can wear colored contacts to alter the appearance of your natural eye color, whether or not you need prescription eyewear. They make colored contacts for nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), and irregularly shaped corneas (astigmatism).
Just like with any contact lenses, there are some risks associated with colored contacts, including the potential for an eye infection, allergic reaction, decreased vision, or scratches on the cornea.
You will need a prescription from your eye doctor to obtain colored contacts. It is important that you only buy them from an FDA-approved source and that you take proper care of both the lenses and your eyes.
Specifics of Colored Contacts
Colored and decorative contacts change the appearance of your eyes, and they can also work to correct vision.
In the US, over 45 million people wear contact lenses to correct their vision, and many of these people opt to wear colored contacts for aesthetic purposes.
All contacts are considered medical devices, even if they are not corrective. As a result, they must be approved by the FDA.
The colored part of your eye (the iris) is made up of lines, shapes, and dots. Colored contacts will also contain these to change or enhance the appearance of color. The part of the lens that goes over the pupil in the center of the eye is left clear, you can still see clearly.
Colored contacts are more expensive than traditional contact lenses. They will typically cost 70 to 80 percent more. Special effect contacts can cost as much as $50 to $200 per lens.
Regardless of the look you are going for, it is important to be fitted for colored or decorative contacts by an eye doctor. You can then receive a specialty prescription for these lenses.
Colored contact lenses are used for:
- Aesthetic purposes. They can alter eye color and look subtle, or the change can be more drastic. The choice is up to you, depending on how much of a difference and what kind of look you are going for. They can be used to make your eyes appear lighter, enhance their natural color, or change their color altogether.
- Correction. You can get customized colored contacts to alter the appearance of the eye if it has been injured or if you suffer from a congenital eye defect. These customized lenses can be designed to look like a healthy pupil, and colors can help to create a more natural look.
- Sports. Customized color contacts can also be used specifically for sports to improve vision under specific circumstances. These colored contacts often have a "sports tint" that can help to deflect glare, increase depth perception, and make contrast more defined.
- Special effects. There are contact lenses called "special effect contact lenses," or novelty contacts, that can make your eyes appear cat-like or give you a vampire look.
Types of Colored Contacts
There are two main types of colored contact lenses: plano and vision-correcting lenses.
Plano color contact lenses are only worn for cosmetic reasons and do not actually have a vision-correcting purpose.
If you have a prescription for hyperopia, myopia, or astigmatism you can get colored contacts with vision-correcting properties.
Both types of colored contacts require a prescription even if you don't need prescription eyewear, as both are considered medical devices that are being put into your eyes. The FDA must approve all contacts and oversees these products to ensure they are safe.
Colored contacts come in different tints depending on the look you are going for. These include:
- Enhancement tint. These are great for light-colored eyes. An enhancement tint can bring out the natural color of your eyes and help to make them really pop. This is a see-through (translucent) tint that can make eye color more vibrant.
- Visibility tint. This type of tint is typically very minor and often does not change the color of your eyes. It is designed to make contacts easier to see and handle when putting them into your eyes.
- Opaque tint. These tints are not transparent and can completely alter your natural eye color. If you have dark eyes, you will need an opaque tint to change the color of your eyes. Opaque tints come in a wide range of color options. Special effect contact lenses are typically opaque tints as.
- Custom tints. You can get colored contacts specially made and customized to suit your specifications. If you are trying to change the look of your eyes due to a defect or injury, if you are an athlete and looking for a special sports-related tint, or if you just want something unique, you can obtain a custom tint.
Colored contacts, like traditional contacts, come in a variety of forms, including daily disposable, weekly use, or monthly use.
These brands make popular versions of colored contacts:
- Alcon: Their Air Optix colored lenses come in a variety of colors. They also make Dailies Colors, which offer daily contact lenses in a range of colors.
- Acuvue: Their Define colored contacts are very popular.
- FreshLook: Their Dimensions colored lenses are made specifically for lighter eyes. Their Colorblends lenses offer subtle results.
If you are only wanting to change your eye color sometimes and not every day, then daily disposable colored contact lenses can be a great idea. These lenses allow you to experiment with different eye colors and see if you like them without committing to them long term.
Possible Risks of Colored Contact Lens
All contact lenses come with some measure of risk. Typically, if you follow all cleaning, wearing, and storing directions, you can minimize the potential risks.
Injuries and issues may be more common with colored contacts than regular contacts because many people purchase them from costume stores that are not authorized retailers. There is increased risk if the lenses are not properly fitted to your eyes.
Infection in the eye is one of the biggest issues related to contact lens wear. Proper hygiene can help to decrease the odds of this.
Colored contacts will need to be fitted and prescribed to ensure proper fit. If contacts don't fit correctly in your eyes, the following side effects are possible:
- Corneal abrasions or scratches
- Infection of the cornea and possible ulcerations
- Decreased vision
- Allergic reactions
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
Vision can sometimes be impaired by colored contacts. The size of your pupil can change throughout the day and in different lighting conditions. The clear part of the colored contact may not be exact, and if your pupils enlarge beyond it, this can decrease vision.
Colored contacts can also slide around at times. This can make it clear that the color is not natural.
Colored contacts obtained through a valid prescription and taken care of properly are typically considered safe to wear. Forbes warns, however, that they are still not without risk. If your eyes get irritated from wearing colored contacts, take them out and talk to your doctor.
It is vital to obtain a prescription for any kind of contacts, even those only worn for cosmetic reasons. They will need to be fitted specifically to your eyes.
Even if you don't need your vision corrected with prescription contacts or eyeglasses, you will need to get a special prescription from an eye doctor in order to use colored contacts. These are still medical devices that are going to be placed into your eyes. It is important to make sure they are comfortable and will fit your eyes specifically.
Only buy colored contacts from an FDA-approved retailer. Do not buy them from a street or fair vendor, a beauty salon, a novelty store, or an internet retailer that does not ask for a prescription. Anyone selling colored contacts that does not ask for a prescription is doing so illegally, and these lenses may not be safe to wear.
In order to avoid possible complications, an optometrist will need to ensure that the prescription and sizing of colored contacts are right for you.
Follow all directions regarding your color contacts. Use them on the specific wear schedule and replace them as directed. If they are daily disposable lenses, for example, be sure to take them out each night and replace them with new ones each morning.
Only use the contact solution designed for your lenses. Store them as recommended by the manufacturer.
Discuss your options for colored contacts with your optometrist. Only wear lenses that are prescribed for you directly.
Colored contacts can be a fun way to change up your look. They can be safe when used exactly as prescribed.
'Colored' and Decorative Contact Lenses: A Prescription is a Must. (February 2016). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Healthy Contact Lens Wear and Care. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Decorative Contact Lenses. (September 2018). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
If You Want to Wear Colored Contact Lenses, FDA Has a Warning. (October 2018). Forbes.
Are Costume Contact Lenses Safe? (September 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology.