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Costume contact lenses: Spooky but not safe?

Posted on October 5, 2023 in Healthy You

photo of smiling girl in witch hat

Costume contacts, also known as fashion, colored, decorative, cosmetic or cosplay contacts, can be a unique and fun way to transform your eyes and are especially popular during Halloween season. But despite their name, decorative contact lenses aren’t a beauty or costume item — they are a medical device that requires a prescription to be safely worn. Wearing colored contacts without a prescription or without the knowledge of an eye specialist can cause severe and permanent damage.

Costume lenses are considered a medical device

Just like prescription contact lenses for vision correction, decorative lenses are also considered medical devices, even if they don’t offer any vision correction.

In the United States, medical devices are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA requires that all contact lenses be purchased with a prescription, so it is illegal for anyone to sell contacts, including costume or colored contacts, without a prescription from the buyer.1

Why is a prescription so important?

All contact lenses must be custom fitted by an eye specialist to ensure they mold properly on your eye. If they don’t fit your eye correctly, contacts can scratch the top layer of your eye. Counterfeit contacts may also contain bacteria that can lead to potentially serious eye infections, causing pain, swelling and redness.

Another danger in non-FDA-approved costume lenses is they may prevent a healthy amount of oxygen from passing through the contact into the eye due to the colors used on the lens. If eye issues aren’t addressed early, they can become permanent. Costume contacts have also led to blindness in some users.2

Your eye specialist can confirm whether your contacts are safe

Your eye specialist should sign off on any decorative contacts you plan to wear, whether you plan to buy them from your eye specialist directly or purchase elsewhere. If you have purchased costume lenses from a third party, bring them in so your vision provider can check their fit on you and confirm that they may be worn safely. They can also share tips on how to safely wear the lenses to prevent infection and irritation.

Other costume contact safety tips

Here are other ways to ensure the safety of your eyes while wearing costume contact lenses:

  • Only purchase from retailers who require a prescription for purchase. Be wary of costume shops and novelty stores that may be selling contacts illegally.
  • Only purchase contact lenses that are FDA approved.
  • Avoid lenses that advertise as “one size fits all” or “no prescription required.”
  • Contact lenses should never be shared with others.

The bottom line: If your decorative or colored contacts were purchased without a prescription and you didn’t confirm whether they are safe with your eye doctor, they may harm your eyes. Signs of eye infection — including redness, pain and swelling — can cause permanent damage if not treated quickly. If you experience any eye problems during or after wearing costume contact lenses, see an eye care professional immediately.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration

American Academy of Ophthalmology


U.S. Food & Drug Administration