Halloween costume contact lenses can be dangerous — here’s how to wear them safely

Rachel Grumman Bender
Halloween contact lenses may look cool, but here's why you'll want to see your eye doctor first. (Photos: Getty Images)
Halloween contact lenses may look cool, but here's why you'll want to see your eye doctor first. (Photos: Getty Images)

Costume contact lenses may take your Halloween costume to the next level, but they’re riskier than you might think.

It’s easy to assume these fashion lenses — which are often an impulse buy — are harmless, since you can find them at practically any Halloween costume shop or beauty supply store. But putting costume contact lenses in your eyes without seeing an eye-care professional first — yes, even lenses for a Halloween costume — can actually damage your vision.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calls costume contacts “risky,” and notes: “You should never buy contact lenses from a street vendor, a beauty supply store, flea market, novelty store or Halloween store — and you should always have a prescription.”

That’s because contact lenses are considered medical devices that are regulated under federal law by the FDA. “If you buy lenses at a Halloween store, flea market, beauty supply stores, novelty shops, costume stores, there’s a pretty good bet those lenses are illegal,” Thomas Steinemann, MD, a cornea specialist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “What the seller is doing is certainly illegal and the lenses likely have not passed inspection through the FDA. A lot of lenses from overseas are not very well made. They may be using dyes with additives. Some of those lenses are contaminated because they’re black market. It’s critically important that buyer beware.”

Although costume contact lenses, also known as fashion or decorative lenses, may say “non-prescription” on the packaging, that doesn’t mean you don’t need a prescription to buy them (you do). “That means they’re non-corrective — they don’t correct vision,” says Steinemann.

Edward Manche, MD, a cornea specialist at the Stanford Eye Laser Center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that, while you don’t have to buy costume contact lenses from an ophthalmologist or optometrist, you do need to have your eyes measured by an eye-care professional to make sure the lenses fit you properly.

As Steinemann puts it: “One size does not fit all when it comes to contact lenses.”

“Regular and cosmetic lenses need to be fit for your eye,” Manche says. “If they’re not, you can end up having complications. You can end up with a scratched cornea, which can cause painful, red eyes, but more seriously, it can lead to infection or corneal ulceration. You can end up having permanent impairment of vision or rare in cases, blindness.”

If you spot any redness or experience pain or discharge from your eyes while wearing costume contact lenses, remove them immediately and contact your eye doctor.

While it can seem like a hassle to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist to get a prescription for costume contact lenses, it can save you from “a lot of trouble,” says Steinemann. He adds: “From one night of fun, you can potentially be opening up a can of worms that will affect you for the rest of your life. Do it the right way and do it safely.”

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