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Safe way to get scary eyes

Look cool and be safe with funky, yet FDA-approved costume contact lenses

Posted: September 16, 2010 9:12 p.m.
Updated: September 17, 2010 4:30 a.m.

WildEyes from Ciba Vision are safe alternatives to the wild anime-style lenses worn by Lady Gaga in her “Bad Romance” video. While her eyes in the video were computer-generated, some consumers have opted to try non-FDA-approved circle lenses to emulate the look.

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Blame it on Lady Gaga. Where Bette Davis eyes were once coveted by the masses, youngsters today are clamoring for the pop star’s exaggerated anime-style peepers, as featured in her “Bad Romance” video.

Lady Gaga’s eyes were the result of computer-generated special effects, but that hasn’t stopped unregulated companies, often located in Asia, from selling so-called circle lenses online that duplicate the look.

Circle lenses cover not just the iris, as normal contact lenses would do, but also the whites of the eyes, which results in the greatly exaggerated appearance.

Since the lenses originate outside of the United States, there is no prescription required to purchase them, allowing customers to choose the corrective strength of their lenses.

“This is wrong and dangerous on so many levels,” said California Optometric Association spokesman and lens special-effect expert Jonathan Gording, of Los Angeles. “Contact lenses are medical devices, not makeup, and need to be fitted by an optometrist who can determine which patients can safely wear lenses and the correct prescription strength. Lenses should also be inspected for nicks, edge defects or other issues that can damage the eye or cause infection.”

At Valencia Optometry, optometrist Diane Song has seen several patients suffering from eye infections and other problems as a result of wearing unsafe contact lenses.

“Patients get them from swap meets, sometimes beauty salons sell them or they buy them on the Internet. The lenses aren’t FDA approved for use in the U.S., and they shouldn’t be approved, but people still find ways to get them,” Song said. “They’re young people, usually in their teens or early 20s, who wear them with their Halloween costumes, or when they go out and have fun.”

Even limited exposure to the lenses can result in painful eye problems such as corneal abrasions or ulcers, according to Dr. Song, who strongly opposed wearing circle lenses under any circumstance.

“These lenses are not regulated. There could be organisms in the packaging even when you open them fresh. They could be expired, they could’ve been made last week or five years ago, you have no idea,” she said. “Overseas lenses are not required to have an expiration date. Even if the lenses were originally sterile, they wouldn’t be after a few years.”

There are safe ways to recreate the dramatic circle lens look. At Valencia Optometry, patients can purchase WildEyes contact lenses from Ciba Vision, an FDA-approved manufacturer, with designs ranging from jaguar and zebra to white-out, which only exposes the corneas for a zombie effect, and knockout, which features a large black “x” across the eye.

“Some people get one white one, which is dramatic. It looks really scary to have different-colored eyes,” Dr. Song said.

Comfort ranges from patient to patient, as Dr. Song illustrated.

“There’s a small pupil hole in the center of these lenses, so if you have a small pupil, you’ll be able to see peripherally with no problem. If you have larger pupils, you might see color in your periphery. They make the hole large enough that it doesn’t affect most people’s peripheral vision too much,” she said.

Prices for WildEyes start at $59.99 (not including exam), with lens designs for both men and women. The lenses are not disposable; they are good for up to a year, provided there is proper cleaning and handling by the wearer.

“Most people wear them once, but some of my patients who work in the music or entertainment industry wear them all the time,” Dr. Song said.

Just in time for Halloween, features makeup tips from Emmy-winning makeup artist Todd McIntosh from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to further enhance the look.

There are even manufacturers who will custom tint contact lenses to customer specifications, such as Custom Color Contacts of New York. This is not just for cool effects, but also to help safely cover eye injuries or birth defects.

“Not only do the lenses have to be FDA-approved, so do the dyes. Any product in your eyes or touching your eyes should always be FDA-approved,” Dr. Song said.

The California Optometric Association stresses that a consumer should not use any contact lenses without a proper examination and prescription by an eye-care professional.

Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital staff opthamologist Craig Helm of the Helm Vision Group in Valencia wholeheartedly agrees.

“If you bypass the eye-care provider, you’re skipping out on the education of contact-lens care, which can minimize risk.

Regular contacts have risks to them. You’re putting a foreign body on the surface of the eye, which decreases oxygenation of the cornea or front surface, which is the main barrier to infection,” Helm said. “Statistically, soft contact lenses cause infections in approximately one in 350 people per year. Oftentimes it will be a teen whose parent had no idea of the risk of contact lenses.” 

The American Optometric Association recommends the following for safe and healthy contact lens wear:

n Always wash your hands before handling contact lenses.

n Carefully and regularly clean contact lenses as directed by your optometrist. If recommended, rub the contact lenses with fingers and rinse thoroughly before soaking lenses overnight in sufficient multipurpose solution to completely cover the lens.

n  Store lenses in the proper lens storage case and replace the case at a minimum of every three months. Clean the case with a sterile contact lens solution after each use, and keep it open and dry between cleanings.

n Use only products recommended by your optometrist to clean and disinfect your lenses. Saline solution and rewetting drops are not designed to disinfect lenses.

n Only fresh solution should be used to clean and store contact lenses. Never reuse old solution. Contact lens solution must be changed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, even if the lenses are not used daily.

n  Always follow the recommended contact lens replacement schedule prescribed by your optometrist.

n  Remove contact lenses before swimming or entering a hot tub.

n  See your optometrist for your regularly scheduled contact lens and eye examination.

Valencia Optometry is located at 26926 The Old Road in Valencia. (661) 310-3444. Helm Vision Group is located at 27420 Tourney Road in Valencia. (661) 259-3937.


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