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Colored Contacts: All About Colored Contact Lenses

Colored contacts: Overview

Colored contacts allow you to change your eye color in ways that are subtle, bold or anywhere in between. A prescription is required for colored contact lenses whether or not you need vision correction. This is because all contact lenses are considered medical devices and have the potential to harm your eyes if they are not properly fitted, worn and maintained.

This may be confusing, because some people use the terms prescription colored contacts and non-prescription colored contacts.

When these terms are used, this is what's being described:

  • Prescription colored contacts change your eye color and also correct myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) or astigmatism.

  • Non-prescription colored contacts change your eye color only. They have no lens power to correct vision problems. (These are also called plano colored contact lenses.)

But regardless which type of colored contacts you want or need, a professional fitting and a contact lens prescription from a licensed eye doctor is required.

Types of colored contacts

Most colored contact lenses mimic the natural look of the colored part of the eye, called the iris.

Because the iris has a complex structure, some color contacts feature a series of tiny colored dots and radially arranged colored lines and shapes to help the lenses look more natural on the eye.

The center of an opaque colored contact lens usually is clear so it doesn't restict the amount of light that enters your eye through your pupil.

Color contacts come in several kinds of tints:

Visibility tint

This usually is a light blue or green tint added to a lens, just to help you see it better during insertion and removal, or if you drop it.

Visibility tints are relatively faint and do not affect your eye color.

Enhancement tint

This is a solid but translucent (see-through) tint that is a little darker than a visibility tint. As the name implies, an enhancement tint is meant to enhance the natural color of your eyes.

Colored contacts with this type of tint usually are best for people who have light-colored eyes and want to make their eye color more vibrant.

Blending tints

Color-blending contacts have tints that gradually become more opaque from the outside edges toward the center of the lens. This produces a more natural-looking eye color, according to manufacturers.

Opaque tint

This is a non-transparent tint that can change your eye color completely. If you have dark eyes, you'll need this type of color contact lens to change your eye color.

Color contacts with opaque tints come in a wide variety of colors, including hazel, green, blue, violet, amethyst, brown and gray.

Costume or theatrical contact lenses also fall into the category of opaque color tints. Long used in the movies, these special-effect contact lenses are now available for consumers. You can transform yourself into an alien, goth or vampire, to name a few.

Choosing the best colored contacts

The contact lens color that will suit you best depends on many factors, such as your hair color and skin tone. But, ultimately, it depends on the kind of look you want to achieve — subtle and natural-looking or dramatic and daring. Whether you want full color or color-enhancing contacts, there are plenty of great options to choose from.

Color contacts for light eyes

If you want to change your appearance but in a more subtle way, you may want to choose an enhancement tint that defines the edges of your iris and deepens your natural color.

For example, if your natural eye color is blue, try colored contacts that have are gray or have a different shade of blue.

But if you want a more dramatic change, try colored contacts that introduce a new color altogether — maybe green or a shade of brown.

Color contacts for dark eyes

Opaque colored tints are the best choice if you have dark eyes. For a natural-looking change, try a lighter honey brown or hazel colored lens.

But if you really want to stand out from the crowd, opt for contact lenses in vivid colors, such as blue, green or violet. And if your skin is dark, bright-colored lenses can create a show-stopping new look.

SEE RELATED: What color contacts are right for you?

Custom-tinted contact lenses

For a truly special look, some contact lens manufacturers offer colored contact lenses with custom tints.

Custom-made tints are created from a variety of colors in varying densities. The colors typically are semi-translucent, creating a natural-looking appearance. They can even camouflage a congenital eye defect or eye injury, or mimic the appearance of a healthy pupil.

Custom-tinted color contacts aren't just for cosmetic use. Custom tints are increasingly popular among professional athletes to increase their visual performance.

Key benefits of colored contacts for sports include:

  • Reduced glare

  • Enhanced contrast sensitivity

  • Heightened depth perception

A green tint, for example, can enable a tennis player to see the ball more clearly on the court.

There now are also contact lenses that have a photochromic tint that adjusts automatically to different lighting conditions.

Photochromic contact lenses, however, are designed to reduce the brightness of sunlight entering your eyes in bright conditions — they are not designed to change your eye color.

Colored contact lenses: Do's and don'ts

Whatever your reason for choosing colored contacts, these do's and don'ts will help keep your eyes healthy and comfortable:

  • DO care for your contact lenses properly. Colored contacts, like clear contact lenses, must be properly cleaned, disinfected and stored with appropriate lens care products to avoid contamination. And remember to replace your lenses according to your eye doctor's instructions.

  • DON'T wear your color contacts if your eyes are irritated. Sore, irritated or red eyes may be a symptom of a contact lens-related eye infection or other serious problem.

  • DO have fun with your new look. Colored contacts can give you the eye color you've always wanted. Experiment and have fun with them!

  • DON'T share your lenses. Contact lenses are medical devices and are fitted to the specifications of each person's eyes. Also, sharing contact lenses can cause a serious eye infection.

Colored contacts: Potential drawbacks

Before you choose colored contacts, be aware of these limitations:

Try these interactive Rx forms to learn what the measurements mean on your eyeglass prescription or contact lens prescription.

Although there are different-sized color contacts to fit most wearers, there will be some occasions (such as during blinking) when the colored portion of the lenses might slide somewhat over the pupil. This creates a less-than-natural appearance, particularly when wearing opaque color contacts.

Also, the size of your pupil of your eyes is constantly changing to accommodate varying light conditions — so sometimes, like at night, your pupils may be larger than the clear center of your color lenses. In some cases, this might affect your vision.

Are colored contact lenses safe?

Yes, colored contact lenses are safe — as long as your contacts are properly fitted, worn and cared for.

It's essential that you see an eye doctor for a proper contact lens exam and fitting. This will ensure your color contacts are safe and comfortable and look natural on your eye.

Just like regular contact lenses, color contacts are not bad for your eyes if you follow your eye doctor's instructions, particularly regarding how long you should wear your contacts and when you should replace your contacts.

If you want to change your eye color only for special occasions, daily disposable color contacts are a great option. Though a type of surgery to change eye color is available, colored contacts are a much safer (and reversible) way to change the color of your eyes.

Do you need a prescription for colored contact lenses?

Yes, you need a contact lens prescription to purchase colored contacts legally in the United States. This is true even for plano ("non-prescription") colored contacts that have no power for vision correction and are intended for cosmetic purposes only.

In the U.S., all contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All contact lenses, worn for any purpose, require a valid contact lens prescription written by a qualified eye care professional and cannot be legally sold to consumers without one.

If you see color contact lenses being sold in a flea market, it's likely that the vendors are breaking the law. Other illegal sales of cosmetic contact lenses have been discovered in gas stations, beauty salons and novelty shops.

Always ensure you're buying contact lenses from a legitimate source. The health and safety of your eyes is not something to play around with!

READ RELATED: Where can I buy contacts without a prescription?

Cost of colored contact lenses

Colored contacts cost more than regular (clear) contact lenses. The exception to this is colored contact lenses that have only a faint visibility tint for locating the lenses when you take them off. These lenses typically are the same price as clear lenses.

The increase in cost for color lenses may be relatively minor (for mass-produced colored contacts) or it can be several times the cost of regular contact lenses (for colored contacts with custom tints). But for many people, the ability to change their eye color is worth the added expense.

READ MORE about the cost of contact lenses.

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