State warns against cosmetic contact lenses

State warns against cosmetic contact lenses

CHICAGO — Parents, don't believe your kids if they tell you those cosmetic contact lenses you can buy at some stores are safe.

Wearing colored or other cosmetic contact lenses purchased without a prescription from a retail store or salon can be dangerous to your eyes — plus the sale of these lenses is illegal, warns the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

Recently, a central Illinois convenience store surrendered 41 boxes and 54 single containers of non-prescription colored contact lenses after investigators were contacted by a school nurse, the department said.

The nurse said a student had purchased lenses at the store and developed an eye injury from wearing them.

The store and the community in which it's located haven't been identified because the investigation is continuing, according to department spokeswoman Sue Hofer.

State regulators conducted a crackdown on sellers of non-prescription lenses in several Illinois cities a couple of years ago, Hofer said, but non-prescription lenses can be purchased in every city and online.

"They're everywhere," she added.

For anyone wearing contact lenses, a proper fitting by an eye care professional is required by Illinois law — even if it's just a pair of colored cosmetic lenses for a costume, state regulators say.

Colored lenses gain popularity during the Halloween season as costume accessories, but eye doctors warn any decorative lenses — such as colored lenses and circle lenses — sold and worn without a proper fitting and prescription put the wearer at risk for scratches and infections that could lead to blindness.

Since 2005, the sale of contact lenses has been restricted to eye care professionals under federal law, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

In Illinois, the sale of contact lenses without a prescription is considered to be practicing optometry without a license and subject to fines up to $10,000.

Most buyers of cosmetic contact lenses are teens and young adults, so regulators are working with schools and health officials to get a warning out.

Illinois residents who see non-prescription contact lenses for sale at a retail outlet can file a consumer complaint at or call and report it on a consumer hotline at 1-888-4REGUL8 (1-888-473-4858).