What You Should Know Before Getting Colored Contacts

Photo: Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock.
First came hair extensions: Plenty of people were wearing them, but it took Hollywood’s obsession with the strands to really bring them to ubiquity. Next up for a revival? Colored contacts. Selena Gomez wore a bluish-gray pair at the Victoria's Secret show; Kanye West had on blue ones at the Met Ball, and Zayn Malik donned a freaky orange set in his "Like I Would" music video. That's right, friends, colored contacts are no longer an over-the-top Halloween happening. They've gone fully mainstream, and fast.
And because red carpet trends trickle down to the general public, even if you think they're kind of weird right now, you'll probably consider trying a pair soon enough. To help you do it safely when the time comes, we chatted with Thomas L. Steinemann, MD, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, to get the lowdown on how you can get your lookers up with the latest trend.

What It Takes
First things first, you definitely should not, under any circumstance, be picking up a set of colored contacts — or, costume contacts, as some refer to them — off the street, online, or any other place that's not directly linked to licensed healthcare personnel. "A lot of lenses are sold on the internet. Most of them are black market versions that aren't approved by the FDA," Dr. Steinemann says. "Others are counterfeit and cheaply manufactured. Any website that says 'Oh, we'll sell you contacts, no questions,' is doing something illegal, and what you're buying is potentially unsafe."

As he explains, all contact lenses — both corrective and colored — are medical devices and can't be legally purchased without an ophthalmologist or optometrist's prescription. Understandably so. One's sense of sight is irreplaceable.
While seeing a doctor to chase a beauty trend may seem overly cautious, it's well worth the extra step. "Eye care professionals have your best interest at heart," Dr. Steinemann says. "They can look at your eyes, assess the lens fit, and give you instructions on care. And, beyond that, they'll see how you're doing once you start wearing the lenses."

After your fitting, you'll need to commit to rigorous care. While colored lenses are medically inert — meaning they won't change the way you see — they do require every bit as much maintenance as corrective ones (here's a refresher on just what's required). "I want to emphasize that you still need to know how to take care of them and they still have to fit your eye properly," Dr. Steinemann says. "If they don't fit, and you don't take care of them, you're going to end up in trouble."

Contact-Wearer Beware
What kind of trouble? Abrasions, conjunctivitis, iritis, or even blinding infections, to name a few. To avoid potential risks, like these, follow the instructions of a trusted eye-care professional, especially when it comes to how long you should be wearing a set. "All lenses block the flow of oxygen to your eye — it's like a piece of plastic sitting on your eye, so it can't breathe," he says. "If you take a contact lens, put in a bunch of dyes, and slather a bunch of paint on it, it's going to impede the oxygen flow even more."
Photo: David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock.
The recommended wear time varies by type, but generally, colored contacts have even less longevity than corrective ones. And they're definitely not safe overnight. It also goes without saying that colored lenses are one-size-fits-one — not one size fits you and your BFF, too. "I've seen kids — largely teenagers — who share lenses like they would makeup or handbags," Dr. Steinemann says. "Sharing lenses is sharing germs and it's really, really dangerous."

Even if you dabble with the trend just once, it's still important to take the process seriously. Dr. Steinemann says infrequent wearers are most vulnerable to complications. "Even if you only [wear them] on weekends, for a party, or once in a blue moon, those are the people we worry about a lot," he says. "Lenses sitting around in cases are breeding grounds for infection. Before you put them in, always run them through a fresh disinfection cycle."

Going Forth
Before you start imagining how unique you'd look with whatever novel eye color you're after, Dr. Steinemann suggests asking yourself: Are you ready for this type of commitment? Or would a few streaks of pink hair or a tube of black lipstick satisfy the same urge? Because, though it might appear to be all fun and games, it's actually a serious and kind of fussy health commitment. "Just like correcting your vision with contacts, colored lenses require a certain amount of maturity and responsibility on the part of the wearer," he says.

Which is not to say just because you can buy cigarettes that you'll do a good job, he stresses. "I know teenagers who are very responsible and I know 30-years-olds who are very irresponsible. All I'm saying is, taking care of contacts — and taking care of your eyes — is really, really important."

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