Health

Halloween cosmetic contact lenses may carry health risk

‘One size fits all’ cosmetic lenses are being flagged for attention by government and professionals

Cosmetic contacts for sale at Spirit Halloween
Cosmetic contacts for sale at Spirit Halloween   Payge Woodard

You may not have been born with eyes like a werewolf, but getting them could be more dangerous than you think.

Halloween is a billion dollar business in Canada. Cosmetic contacts make up a piece of that pie, but these accessories may be scarier than your costume.

Optician Susan Feltmate feels the look of cosmetic contacts isn’t worth the risks involved. She said these Halloween accessories pose a higher risk than slipping in your vampire teeth or fake nails.

Feltmate, who is licensed by the Nova Scotia College of Dispensing Opticians, said the risks can include damaging the cornea and even vision loss.

“When you’re buying [cosmetic contacts] and you’re thinking ‘Oh I like this colour or this is going to make my eyes look like a vampire — these are cool,’ and you pop them in, you have no idea what that is going to do to the structure of your cornea,” she said.

Cosmetic contacts are a ‘one size fits all’ product, said Feltmate, whereas corrective lenses are measured for an individual’s specific eyes.

“It’s not like putting on a pair of socks,” Feltmate said about the importance of getting the right fit.

In an online statement, Health Canada states the risk of severe corneal infection is 12.5 times higher for cosmetic lenses than it is for corrective contacts.

The Canadian Association of Optometrists, issued an advisory again this year about the risks associated with Halloween eyewear. It cautioned that “inferior materials” and “toxic dyes” may be present in decorative lenses.

Its 2013 policy statement on the use of cosmetic contact lenses, warns against a “great risk of harm” to the eye if use isn’t supervised by licensed doctors.

Feltmate said cosmetic lenses need the same amount of care and fitting expertise as corrective lenses.

Worries over awareness

Feltmate is also concerned that people who buy contacts over the counter are not informed about the product or trained to use them like those who wear corrective lenses are.

Those wearing cosmetic lenses may experience redness, sore eyes or discharge. But Feltmate said these common indicators may not always occur.

“Sometimes you can have issues with the lenses you may not even realize. You can’t always tell that the fit is too tight and there is swelling,” she said.

Feltmate doesn’t recommend younger people, whose eyes are still changing, wear cosmetic lenses.

Cosmetic contacts can be purchased over the counter throughout Nova Scotia at stores such as Spirit Halloween and Spencer’s. The contacts sold at Spirit Halloween contain a label stating they are not recommended for use by under 16s.

Employees at Spirit Halloween outlets this week differed on who they can sell the product to. According to two employees there is no age restriction, while another employee said customers must be 18 to purchase the contacts.

Spirit Halloween’s public relations office did not respond to a request for comment.

Spirit Halloween's cosmetic eye chart
Spirit Halloween’s cosmetic eye chart   Payge Woodard

A Spencer’s employee was not aware of any age advisory being in place.

New regulations

Last July, Health Canada announced new regulations on the way for cosmetic contacts.
Starting in July 2016, it will treat these accessories as medical devices.

Cosmetic lenses will still be sold but will be subject to the same licensing, manufacturing, labeling and instructions as corrective lenses.

While we may still see over-the-counter cosmetic lenses on store shelves next year, Feltmate said this is the first step in improving safety.

Safer alternative

Feltmate said there is an alternative. She suggests going to professional ophthalmologist, optometrist or a certified contact lens fitter, to be measured and ordering your contacts from them.

So for those who are eager to get eyes like a mythical creature, all hope isn’t lost.