Color Contact Lenses: 4 Essential Rules

Thinking about changing your eye color? Stay safe and stylish by following these guidelines.

colored contacts

It’s always fun to reinvent yourself. A new hairstyle, the latest outfit, or an amazing pair of shoes can all make you feel like a million bucks. And while you’re at it, why not change your eye color, too?

“Color contacts are a great way to switch up your look,” says Elizabeth Walsh Czirr, O.D., F.A.A.O., an optometrist for America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Kingsport, Tennessee. “You can try out brilliant, fun colors or just enhance the eye color that nature gave you.”  

There are color contact lenses available for just about anyone’s eyes. Some brands even fit people with astigmatism, though they tend to be more expensive. 

But color contacts are way more than just a fashion accessory. 

“Your contacts could be pink or purple or any crazy color,” Dr. Czirr says, “but they’re still a serious medical device. All the usual rules for safety still apply.”

Thinking about making your brown eyes blue? Going from gray to green? Looking for a permanent change or just a fresh look for a wedding, a class reunion, or a costume party? No matter what color you start with—or what color you’d like to try—it’s important to follow a few simple rules before making the switch. 

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Rule #1: Start with a Professional Eye Exam

Whether your lenses are colored or clear, you still need to visit an optometrist for an eye exam to make sure you’re getting exactly the right lens for your eye. 

“Not only do you need the proper strength prescription, your eye doctor will see to it that the lens fits the contour of your eyes,” says Cleveland-based ophthalmologist Thomas Steinemann, M.D., who is a professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.   

You’ve got 20/20 vision, but you’d still like to try color contacts?  

“Even if you don’t need lenses to correct vision, you still need a professional exam,” says Dr. Steinemann. 

Wearing ill-fitting contact lenses can scratch your eye and leave you vulnerable to painful infections like corneal ulcers or keratitis, both of which can lead to blindness. 

Your eye doc can fit you for no-prescription contacts that will fit your eyes perfectly, comfortably, and safely.

Rule #2: Avoid Cut-Rate Contacts

You can find color contact lenses all over the place: online, at flea markets, in costume shops, salons, or even—yikes!—at gas stations. 

If you’re thinking about saving money with bargain contacts, Dr. Steinemann has one word of advice: don’t. 

“People tend to think that color contacts aren’t serious, that it doesn’t matter where you get them. But if you’re not careful, you could end up with a blinding infection,” he says. “I once treated a 14-year-old who’d bought colored contacts at a novelty shop. She ended up with a horrible scar on her eye and needed a corneal transplant to restore her vision.”

So be wary. Many lenses that are sold without a prescription aren’t FDA approved, meaning strict safety standards do not apply. They also may come in packaging that isn’t sterile. Or be marked as “one size fits all,” which isn’t possible with contact lenses.

Plus, U.S. law requires retailers to sell contact lenses by prescription only. That means the flea market owner should ask to see your current contact lens prescription before closing the sale.  

Friendly reminder: a contact lens prescription specifies the brand name of the lens your doctor has fitted you for, your lens measurements, and an expiration date.  

We repeat: always get your contacts from your eye-care professional.

Rule #3: The Same Hygiene Habits Apply

Color contacts demand the same kind of care as prescription lenses, so all the usual tips apply. 

“Even though they’re in colors, they’re not eye makeup,” says Dr. Steinemann. “They’re medical devices—and they need a bit of extra care because they’re a little less breathable than clear contacts.” 

So have fun with your new eye color, but make sure you wear them the right way. Follow these basic guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the best—and safest—experience:

  • Never share your contacts with a friend.
  • Take them out every night so your cornea (the transparent front surface of the eye) gets the full oxygen supply that it needs to function properly. 
  • If you’re not using dailies, be sure to store and clean them as directed by your eye doctor.
  • If you’re only going to be wearing your color lenses occasionally, keep in mind that you’ll need to disinfect and store them in new solution every week.
  • Don’t shower or swim in them—water can introduce bacteria or parasites to your eyes and lenses.

Rule #4: Call Your Eye Doctor at the First Sign of Trouble

If you experience anything out of the ordinary with your vision, Dr. Czirr says it’s important to remove the lenses and see your eye doctor right away.  

Signs it’s time to call include any of the following: 

  • Your new lenses feel uncomfortable.
  • Your eyes look red or you notice a discharge.
  • Your vision is blurry or diminished.
  • Your eyes are in pain. 

“These are signs of an eye infection,” she says. “It’s important to start treatment right away to protect your vision. Color lenses are fun—but not at the expense of your eyesight.” 

Recommended reading: Americas Best Guide to Contact Lenses