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The Scary Health Risks of Colored Contacts


Halloween is the hands-down best holiday for beauty gurus, fashionistas, and anyone who really just wants to go balls-to-the-wall with a whole lot of ~look~ for a night. Lately, that means horror movie–level makeup FX, stick-on vampire teeth, fake blood, and—the pièce de résistance—creepy AF colored contacts that turn your peepers blood red, deathly black, or ghostly white.

You've probably wondered what that fake bullet hole or blue body paint will do to your skin (hi, breakouts). But have you ever wondered what those cat-eye contacts are doing to your eyes?

The U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) just issued a warning against those exact things you're probably planning to stick in your eyes tomorrow night. They're warning that using counterfeit contacts and unapproved decorative lenses illegally sold at retail outlets and online can cause eye infections, conjunctivitis (pinkeye!), and impaired vision. Yikes.

ICE, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have confiscated about 100,000 pairs of counterfeit, illegal, and unapproved contact lenses in an initiative called, ahem, Operation Double Vision. (No laughing, you guys—this is serious).

Investigations into these illicit lenses have found that they may contain high levels of bacteria from unsanitary packaging, shipping, and storage conditions, as well as toxins like lead, which can be used in the coloring on decorative lenses and will leach directly into your eyes. (Regular lenses can be dangerous too—make sure you're not making these contact mistakes.) The health risks include everything from a cut or scratch of the cornea, to allergic reactions, decreased vision, infections, and even blindness, according to the FDA. (Not convinced? Just read this story about a woman who left her contact in her eye for 6 months. Then you'll be scared.)

Unlike that facepaint or body crayon, contacts are a medical device regulated by the FDA. National studies conducted for optometrists found that 11 percent of consumers have worn decorative contact lenses, but a majority of those individuals purchased them without a prescription, according to ICE. "You'd never buy a new hip at a flea market, and you should never buy a medical device like contact lenses at one either," said Georgia Optometric Association President Dr. Ben Casella in the release from ICE. And we're not just talking about a resurgence of your college dorm epidemic of pinkeye—you can seriously damage your vision. "If you're not careful, one night of using knock-off lenses to change your appearance can mean a permanent change in your ability to see for the rest of your life," he says.

If you're dead set (no pun intended) on spook-ifying your eyes for the holiday, don't grab lenses from a random Halloween story or—even worse—a random site on the Internet. Instead, hit up your eye doctor, get a prescription, and purchase them from a licensed provider. (Or maybe just try a smoky eye look instead.)


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