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The Eyes Have It: Dos and Don’ts Of Costume Contact Lenses

It’s that time of the year again, when fun-and-candy seeking goblins and trolls take to the streets. You or someone you know might be planning a costume… and considering the latest trend in fantasy and cosplay: special effects, novelty or “crazy” contact lenses.

Here’s a word of advice: don’t.

A contact lens is a medical device, and as such must be fitted and selected by a qualified professional – your optometrist or ophthalmologist- and dispensed under prescription, from a reputable vendor. Your eye doctor will choose the right pair for your condition, and show you the best and safest way to handle your contact lenses. Unheeded, all this professional advice can lead to dire consequences: eye damage occurs in nearly 20 percent of contact lens-related eye infections reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over 10 years, researchers say.

Improper and unsafe use of regular, corrective contact lenses – such as sleeping with them in place, keeping them in old, non-sterile solutions, improper handling or using the same pair too long – can cause serious eye injuries, running from inflammation to infection and corneal damage so severe that can only be corrected by surgery.

And all this with FDA-approved contact lenses, obtained with a prescription and under the supervision of your eye doctor. Imagine what can happen if you decide to wear lenses of uncertain provenance, manufactured in unknown conditions, from unlicensed vendors…

Special effects lenses have been safely used in movies and TV shows since the late 1950s, when Sherman Oaks optometrist Morton Greenspoon –a pioneer in the field- changed Elvis Presley’s eyes from blue to brown for the musical western Flaming Star, in which Elvis played the son of a Kiowa Indian (Dolores DelRio). Dr. Greenspoon acquired immediate notoriety in 1983, when Michael Jackson donned Dr. Greenspoon’s all-yellow, scary-looking lenses created especially for the music video Thriller.

Special-effect contact lenses are selected, fitted and dispensed by trained medical professionals, on set. They have an opaque (non-transparent) tint to completely mask the natural eye color. The center of the lens, which lies over the pupil, is clear so the user can see.

Most novelty or costume contact lenses, available to the general public, cover just the colored portion of your eye (iris), but special-effect scleral lenses, like all-black, red, yellow or white contacts, cover both the iris and the "white" (sclera) of your eyes to create a more dramatic look.

If you are truly committed to going all-out on your costume, contact your doctor – she can prescribe a special effects or fantasy pair of lens from a trusted, licensed provider. But with so many makeup and mask options out there… why not play it safe? Halloween comes and goes once a year, but your eyes, delicate and precious, are forever.

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