It's Carnival season, and with that comes balls, parades and costuming opportunities galore. For special events or to add a finishing touch to a costume, optometrist Dr. James McGuinness of St. Charles Vision says many of his clients wear decorative contact lenses.
"My friend spent months figuring out his Cowardly Lion costume," McGuinness says. "We designed custom lenses that are hand painted."
Most people don't need custom lenses and can find something appropriate from the eye office's inventory, which includes translucent color-enhancing lenses to make the wearer's natural color stand out, opaque lenses that can change one's eye color entirely, novelty lenses such as cat eyes or white-out lenses, and "big eye" circle lenses, which have a wide diameter and make irises appear larger and brighter for a doll-like effect.
"[Circle lenses] make a huge difference in the way people's eyes look," McGuinness says. While most contacts are around 14 millimeters in diameter, custom lenses can be made much larger.
"Some of these customizable contacts you can make 15 millimeters, 16.5 millimeters — whatever you want."
Miette and Mojo Coffee House co-owner Angee Jackson has worn cosmetic contacts for the last 17 years. She estimates she owns more than 40 pairs and wears a pair about once a week. "I'll go with a natural enlarging color for casual events so people aren't too distracted," she says. "I have ones with hearts on them, but I mostly stick to blue, green and a honey kind of color that makes me look like a deer."
McGuinness warns that although decorative contacts are worn for cosmetic use and widely available from international retailers via the Internet, the Food and Drug Administration considers them medical devices.
"You have to do an eye exam, be fit for them, check the tear film, the diameter of the lens," he says. "It's a fairly complicated procedure, but the public doesn't look at it like that. [They see it] almost like walking into a beauty salon."
McGuinness urges people interested in decorative contact lenses to get properly fitted by an eye doctor, which generally costs around $140 to $200 for an eye exam and contact lens fitting. Lenses range from $40 to $200 for most contacts, or $1,000 or more for custom painted pairs. Keep in mind that with any contact lenses, but especially with pairs that aren't prescribed by a doctor, complications can be serious.
"You can get cornea abrasions, scarring, ulcers, bacterial conjunctivitis," McGuinness says. "I've seen two or three patients lose an eye, literally, to wearing cosmetic lenses improperly."
Jackson once fell asleep in her contacts and ended up with an abrasion. The injury didn't stop her from wearing decorative contact lenses, but she's more careful now.
"It's kind of like getting a tattoo — your body looks boring after you see bodies with them on," she says. "My eyes feel naked without them. ... I just love them."