Creepy Contacts Lenses Are Scary ... and Illegal

As Halloween approaches people are accustomed to hearing warnings from dentists about limiting candy consumption. But now there's a warning from a different kind of doctor about another Halloween risk. Optometrists are worried about the growing popularity of costume contact lenses.

Spooky or crazy contact lenses are often the finishing touch to the perfect Halloween costume. After all, how better to be a convincing zombie than to go on a search for brains using your dead, grey eyes?

The problem is nearly all costume contact lenses are illegal in the U.S.

Richard Halverson is Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Houston. He says most costume contacts are not regulated by the FDA and are illegal to sell over the counter.

"These places that sell them illegally will sell them for as cheap as $20. And we're talking typically street vendors, some beauty supply stores, boutiques, flea markets, novelty stores, some Halloween stores, beach shops, those are the places that we typically see the counterfeit and unauthorized versions of these lenses being sold."

All legal contact lenses require a prescription. Halverson says his department, along with the FDA and ICE have launched Operation Double Vision to confiscate counterfeit contact lenses and prosecute companies that import or manufacture them.

Dr. Roger Boltz is the Associate Dean for Professional Studies at the University of Houston College of Optometry. He says costume contacts are far more dangerous than people realize.

"The harm that it can cause will vary. It can be from just an interference with vision causing blurry vision and so on, to minor irritations, allergic reactions to eye infections and to corneal ulcers."

Corneal ulcers can become severe enough to cause blindness.

"Some of the concerns are were the manufacturing processes appropriate, are there contaminants in the contact lens, what kind of solution is the contact lens shipped with?"

Boltz says his advice is never to wear over-the-counter contacts, no matter how cool they look. So if you see spooky Halloween contacts out on display, be very afraid.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...