SACRAMENTO – As Halloween approaches and revelers don ghoulish costumes, there are risks associated with wearing decorative contact lenses, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith warns.

“Advertised as color, cosmetic, fashion and theatrical contact lenses, decorative contact lenses are especially popular around Halloween,” Dr. Smith said in a prepared statement. “Wearing any kind of contact lens, including decorative lenses, without proper consultation of an eye care professional can cause serious injury.”

The sale of contact lenses without a prescription is illegal. The right to dispense, sell or furnish contact lenses is limited exclusively to licensed physicians and surgeons, licensed optometrists, and registered dispensing opticians.

Decorative contact lenses are intended to temporarily change the appearance of the eye, but do not correct vision. “The risks include infection, ulcers, decreased vision, cuts or scratches to the surface of the eye, itchiness or redness. If these conditions are left untreated, the injuries can progress rapidly. In severe cases, blindness and eye loss can occur,” said Dr. Smith.

Decorative contact lenses are typically sold at beauty supply and novelty stores. Consumers who have experienced any injury or illness with decorative contact lenses should contact their health care provider. Consumers can report the illegal sale of decorative contact lenses without a prescription to CDPH’s Food and Drug Branch Hotline at (800) 495-3232 to initiate an investigation.

To safely wear costume contact lenses for Halloween or any time of year, follow these guidelines from the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  • Get an eye exam from a licensed eye care professional such as an ophthalmologist — an eye medical doctor — who will measure each eye and talk to you about proper contact lens care.
  • Obtain a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements and expiration date.
  • Purchase the colored contact lenses from a retailer who asks for a prescription.
  • Follow the contact lens care directions for cleaning, disinfecting and wearing the lenses.
  • Never share contact lenses with another person.
  • Get follow-up exams as directed with your eye care provider.
  • If you notice redness, swelling, excessive discharge, pain or discomfort from wearing contact lenses, remove the lenses and seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist. Eye infections can become serious very quickly and sometimes the damage is not reversible.

For more information on healthy contact lens wear and care, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Watch this video for more on the dangers of decorative contact lenses and more on what CDPH is doing to protect consumers.