Cosmetic Contacts: Halloween Fun or Just Plain Scary?

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When getting your costume together for Halloween, you know what takes your look to the next level, don’t you? Your eyes. Because it doesn’t matter how cool your costume is, you can’t go halfway when paying tribute to your favorite character—it’s all or nothing.

It’s also all or nothing when choosing costume contact lenses. Buyer beware—if you put cheap, nonprescription contacts in your eyes, you may damage your sight or lose it completely.

The bottom line is, just like their corrective counterparts, costume contacts (also known as fashion, Halloween, color, or theatre contacts) require a prescription. It’s the law.

Just because costume contacts are an accessory doesn’t mean you should buy them at a gas station, flea market, street vendor, beauty supply store, novelty or costume shop, or other business. Businesses that sell costume contact lenses to you without a prescription are operating illegally. Even though these contacts are not used for vision correction, they still need to fit your eye correctly. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), any kind of contact lens that does not fit your eyes correctly can cause:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Corneal abrasions—a cut or scratch on your cornea (the top layer of your eyeball)
  • Infection
  • Impaired vision
  • Blindness

The FDA also advises that when wearing any type of contact lenses, pay attention to signs of possible eye infection, including:

  • Redness
  • Pain in the eye(s) that doesn’t go away after a short period of time
  • Decreased vision

If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to see a licensed eye doctor (optometrist or ophthalmologist) immediately. Eye infections could become serious and cause you to become blind if not treated.

Buy your contacts—including the decorative ones—from an optometrist, an ophthalmologist, a registered dispensing optician, or from a reputable online vendor that requires a prescription. Make sure you’re buying FDA-cleared or -approved contacts lenses. Also, the person or company that sells you the contacts must get your prescription and verify it with your doctor. The FDA says that if they don’t ask for the name and phone number of your doctor, they are breaking Federal law and may be selling you illegal contacts.

If you do not have a prescription you will need to get an eye exam; if you wear contacts now, ask your eye doctor for a copy of your current prescription. And, when you get your contacts, make sure you follow the directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses. If you don’t receive directions, ask for them!

Check the license!

Ophthalmologists are eye surgeons who are licensed by DCA’s Medical Board of California. They perform surgeries for problems caused by diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, and also treat eye diseases and prescribe corrective lenses.

Optometrists are licensed by DCA’s State Board of Optometry. They conduct examinations to determine the overall health of the eyes, screen for diseases, and also prescribe corrective lenses.

Registered dispensing opticians are also licensed by DCA’s Medical Board of California. They run businesses that fill prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses. They cannot prescribe corrective lenses.

You can check Medical Board licensees’ records online at, and State Board of Optometry licensees’ at

Make sure you’re doing the right thing for your eyes; you might be dressing up for one Halloween night, but your vision is forever.


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