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22 Oct 2021

Safety warning over Halloween contact lenses

Cosmetic contact lenses bought online could cause serious eye problems
Women with coloured contacts

Creepy cosmetic lenses might elevate your Halloween costume, but optometrists are warning about the frightful side effects of dodgy contacts bought online.

In extreme cases, contaminated or counterfeit contact lenses can cause sight threatening conditions and permanent eye damage. The most common issues are irritation, redness and discomfort.

In the UK, you can only legally buy contact lenses under the supervision of a registered optician - even if they're not prescription lenses.

But some online retailers get around this as they're based overseas and fall outside the remit of UK safety standards.

A survey conducted by the Association of Optometrist (AOP) revealed that 67% of contact lens wearers had experienced problems buying contacts online. Of these, an alarming 17% said this had lead to permanent eye damage.

When the AOP asked optometrists, more than half said they'd treated patients for blurred vision, and more than a third said they'd seen eye infections as a result of poor quality contact lenses bought online.

The AOP told us that though problems may arise with any type of lens, a warning is especially warranted for cosmetic lenses around this time, as optometrists tend to see a lot of eye issues arise around costume lenses at Halloween.

Where to buy contact lenses: we rate high street and online brands including Boots, Specsavers, Vision Express and Feel Good Contacts

Buying Halloween contact lenses online

Women in halloween costume

The potential side effects of wearing dodgy contacts is enough to give anyone a scare. So we asked the AOP for some tips on how to choose the right ones:

  • Get advice from a professional

Contact lenses carry a risk of eye infection if they aren't fitted properly and aren't bought under the supervision of an eyecare professional. Even if you don't need a prescription, it's important to get your eyes checked before wearing contact lenses, to make sure they are suitable for your eyes.

See our advice on the best places to get an eye test.

  • Check you can trust the supplier

It might be tempting to buy some cheap costume lenses online, but fancy-dress retailers, beauty suppliers, and sellers on online marketplaces are often unregulated. It is illegal to sell contact lenses without the supervision of a registered professional like an optometrist or contact lens optician because of the risk to your eyes.

You should also check packaging for a CE mark, which indicates the product conforms to medical devices regulation.

  • Don't keep lenses in all night

After the party, don't forget to take your lenses out before you go to bed. Unless specifically designed for it, wearing contact lenses for long periods of time not only increases the risk of eye infections, it can starve your eye of oxygen and cause the lens to bind itself to the front of your eye.

  • Keep lenses clean, but never with water

When wearing any type of contact lenses, make sure they are clean by using the recommended contact lens solution. Never use tap water to clean lenses because this can lead to serious, and potentially sight threatening eye conditions because of the bacteria and microorganisms that exist in water. And always wash and dry your hands before inserting your lenses.

  • Don't re-use your lenses

Even if you want to give your well-crafted costume another spin over the Halloween weekend, you shouldn't pop your novelty contacts in again. Most of them aren't designed for repeat wear, and if they're not, re-using them increases the likelihood of infections and corneal inflammation.

What should I do if I've had a bad reaction to contact lenses?

The AOP told us: if in doubt, take them out.Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Aversion to light

If you've experienced any of these, remove your lenses immediately and consult an optometrist or contact lens optician for advice as soon as possible.

Get our advice on faulty products, and what to do if the product has if it's caused you injury.