Are Costume Contact Lenses Safe for Kids?

Each year, thousands of eye injuries are reported from this dangerous Halloween accessory.

Halloween is right around the corner, and your kids are probably busy planning the perfect costume. Of course, they'll need accessories to complete their look: makeup, wigs, fake blood, and maybe even decorative contact lenses.

Colorful cosmetic contacts have grown in popularity in recent years, especially for the Halloween season. And while they might seem like the perfect finishing touch to your kids' costume, parents should be aware of warnings that have been issued about them. Contact lenses purchased from any source other than a licensed eye doctor are not only dangerous—they're also illegal.

Here, we fill you in on everything you need to know about decorative (or cosmetic) contact lenses, and why your kids should steer clear of them, no matter how cool they look.

Colored contact lenses in individual blister packs
Getty Images

What are Cosmetic Contact Lenses?

A quick Amazon search for "Halloween contact lenses" yields more than 2,000 results. These contacts, unlike the clear ones issued by an eye doctor, make your eyes appear different than they truly are. Today, there are tons of different types of cosmetic lenses readily available, with options that make eyes appear entirely white or red, or even those that can make your eyes resemble a cat's.

Cosmetic contact lenses are wildly popular around Halloween each year, but older kids and young adults also commonly wear them for parties, cosplay, and other events. They're typically sold at costume stores, online sites, and beauty stores.

Why Are Cosmetic Lenses Dangerous?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cosmetic contact lenses can "pose serious risks to sight and eye health." This is partly because they're often made with slightly different material than real contacts. "Typically, contacts like these are made of plastic material such as polymacon, but it varies with the brand/lens," says John Bankowski, O.D. of America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses.

What's more, costume contacts aren't properly fitted to your child's eye—something only a licensed eye doctor is trained to do. Issues like eye infections, scratched corneas, and even blindness have been reported in association with costume contact lenses.

Safety Tips for Contact Lenses

Currently, there isn't a great alternative when it comes to using this type of contact lens safely. None of the major brands sell any sort of decorative contact lenses, though AirOptix does have a line of colored contacts that are considered safe. Otherwise, your best option is to have the cosmetic contacts looked at by a licensed optometrist.

Regardless of whether your child is wearing costume contact lenses or regular contact lenses, there are some safety tips that should always be followed.

  • Never share contacts with anyone else. According to Dr. Bankowski, "When people share their contact lenses, they could end up passing back various bacteria, which can lead to an eye infection. You should never share contacts, whether decorative or normal."
  • Always store contacts in a case with contact lens solution. This prevents them from becoming damaged or exposed to bacteria that could be harmful to eyes.
  • Always use contact lens solution to clean contacts. The CDC recommends never using water or saliva to clean contacts, and to avoid mixing old solution with new.
  • Never wear contacts that don't fit properly. This can lead to corneal scratching and other eye injuries, according to Dr. Bankowski.
  • Replace your contact lenses according to your doctor's instructions.
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