Your complete guide to buying contact lenses
Contact Lens Buying Guide
Contact lenses provide a convenient, comfortable way to achieve crystal clear vision. But it’s important to know the ins and outs of buying and wearing contacts — from a contact lens exam to selecting the right lenses for your eyes and lifestyle to properly caring for your new contacts.
Feeling overwhelmed by all the contact lens and contact buying options available? This contact lens buying guide is designed to help you navigate the process from beginning to end with confidence.
All About Vision “shopped” several popular online contact lens retailers, reviewed the pros and cons of each, and put together some tips on how to choose and shop for contacts, as well as how best to care for your new lenses.
8 of the best places to buy contacts online or in person
There are so many options for where you can buy contact lenses — from your eye doctor’s office to a local optical shop to an online contact lens retailer.
When deciding on the best place to buy contacts, you’ll want to consider some important criteria, including:
Return and other policies
It’s always a good idea to browse a variety of online as well as brick-and-mortar retailers (including optical shops and eye doctors’ offices), read reviews, check consumer ratings and scour details on customer service, discounts, fulfillment, shipping, etc.
It’s also important to keep in mind that contact lenses are medical devices regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That means it’s very vital to choose a reputable seller and be ready to provide a current contact lens prescription from your eye doctor.
Based on the aforementioned criteria, the following are among the highest rated and reliable picks for where to buy contact lenses, along with some pros and cons of each retailer:
Coastal sells brand-name contact lenses as well as designer glasses and sunglasses. The company has a long track record: It was established in 2000 and acquired by global vision company Essilor in 2014. Essilor describes Coastal as “one of the world’s leading online vision care retailers.”
Coastal sells a variety of brands and types of contacts, including colored, daily, weekly, monthly, multifocal and toric lenses. Contact lenses available through Coastal include:
Acuvue Oasys for Astigmatism
Acuvue Oasys with Transitions
Dailies AquaComfort Plus 90
Pros: Coastal offers a wide selection of almost 150 contact lens styles and has been in business more than 20 years. Customer service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by chat, email or phone, so it’s easy to get quick help with your contact lens order. They also offer a contact lens price match guarantee.
Cons: Coastal doesn’t accept vision insurance directly, so you’ll have to buy your contact lenses and then submit a claim to your vision insurance company.
Best for: Contact lens wearers looking for round-the-clock customer service and a wide selection of contact brands and types.
ContactsDirect is an established online contact lens retailer that is part of the international eyewear company Luxottica. They sell a variety of contact lens brands and types, including daily, weekly and monthly wear contacts along with contact lens solutions and eye drops.
Contact lenses sold by ContactsDirect include:
Acuvue Vita for Astigmatism
Acuvue Oasys 1-Day with Hydraluxe Technology
1-Day Acuvue TruEye
Air Optix Plus Hydraglyde
Air Optix Night & Day Aqua
Dailies Aquacomfort Plus
Proclear 1-Day Multifocal
SofLens Daily Disposable
Pros: ContactsDirect got good marks from a Consumer Reports survey of 65,000 CR members who rated their experiences shopping at 17 contact retailers. The online contacts seller offers a variety of discounts including an annual supply contact lens deal.
They also offer an online vision assessment to help customers whose contact lens prescription has expired. And ContactsDirect also takes vision insurance directly so you won’t need to submit a claim on your own. For example, ContactsDirect accepts Aetna, Blue View Vision, EyeMed, Humana and Superior Vision insurance plans.
Cons: No 24/7 customer service, and no agents available on Sundays. But customer service is available from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Best for: Customers with vision insurance looking for a solid online contact lens seller that takes insurance. And due to their wide selection of different styles of Acuvue contacts, they may be an especially good choice for Acuvue wearers.
This popular warehouse club isn’t just for stocking your cupboards and freezer; Costco’s online optical shop gets positive reviews from consumers as a place to buy contact lenses. Costco Optical sells 18 brands of contact lenses, including affordable daily contacts from their house brand, Kirkland. They also sell two-week, monthly, quarterly, sphere, toric, multifocal and color contacts.
Contact lenses sold by Costco Optical include:
Acuvue Oasys with Transitions
Acuvue Oasys 1-Day for Astigmatism
Air Optix Colors
Biofinity Toric Multifocal
Bauch + Lomb Ultra Multifocal for Astigmatism
Biotrue ONEDay for Presbyopia
Clariti 1 Day Multifocal
Dailies AquaComfort Plus
Kirkland Signature Daily Disposable
Precision1 for Astigmatism
Ultraflex 55 UV Aspheric
Pros: Costco Optical got the highest consumer satisfaction rating out of all the contact lens retailers in a Consumer Reports ranking. Costco gets high marks for customer service, price, policies and quality. They also offer a good selection of contacts with almost 100 available types.
Cons: You need to be a Costco member to buy contacts online from Costco Optical. However, members can purchase contacts for non-members who have a valid contact lens prescription. A $60-a-year membership fee may not be worth it, especially if you don’t live near a Costco store.
Best for: Current Costco members looking for a convenient way to buy contacts and get more value from their membership.
Lens.com has been selling contacts online for more than 25 years and received good marks on price, quality and policies from the Consumer Reports survey. Lens.com has a large selection and advertises “five-minute ordering” with plenty of lenses in stock and ready to ship.
Lens.com sells 23 brands of contacts lenses, including:
1-Day Acuvue Define
1-Day Acuvue Moist
1-Day Acuvue Moist for Astigmatism
Biomedics 1 Day
Biomedics 38 (Ultra Flex 38)
Biomedics 55 (Ultra Flex 55)
BioTrue ONE Day
Encore Premium (Frequency 55 Aspheric)
Pros: Lens.com has a wide selection, including brands and lenses that may be harder to find through other sellers. They have a “lowest price on the internet” guarantee as well as a money back guarantee. They also offer an online eye exam if you need to renew your prescription. Customer reviews cite low prices and fast delivery as reasons to shop Lens.com.
Cons: Some Lens.com customers have complained about an unclear “processing fee” that gets added to your bill when you check out. (A Lens.com manager responded to one complaint by noting that you can see the processing fee on the left side of your screen during checkout, and that their “low price guarantee” takes these fees into account.)
And some contact lens buyers have had issues receiving promised rebates in a timely fashion. In the Consumer Reports survey, Lens.com got a middling score for customer service.
Best for: Customers willing to jump through a few hoops and overlook some customer service glitches in exchange for low prices on contacts.
LensCrafters is a good option if you need to get an eye exam, contact lens fitting and new prescription before you can place an order. There are LensCrafters locations across the country, and you can also order contacts from LensCrafters online and pick them up in the store.
LensCrafters sells nine brands and a variety of types of contact lenses, including dailies, multifocal contacts and contacts for astigmatism.
Contact lenses sold by LensCrafters include:
1-Day Acuvue Moist
Bausch + Lomb Ultra with Moisture Seal
Dailies AquaComfort Plus
LensCrafters One Day Premium for Astigmatism
LensCrafters Monthly for Astigmatism
Proclear Toric XR
Pros: LensCrafters offers discounts on your first purchase of contact lenses and on an annual supply. The hybrid in-person and online model may offer more convenience for some customers, and LensCrafters takes vision insurance both online and in the store.
LensCrafters also sells top brands of contacts and gets high marks for product quality from the Consumer Reports survey.
Cons: LensCrafters has a large selection of glasses but may not have quite as large a selection of contact lens brands and styles as some of the larger retailers devoted entirely to selling contact lenses.
Best for: Customers who prefer a hybrid in-person or online shopping experience and want to be able to stop into a local optical shop to update their prescription and/or pick up their lenses.
Walgreens.com is a household name and a solid, reputable option for buying contacts online. They carry a good selection of contacts along with contact solutions, contact cases and eye drops.
Contact lenses sold by Walgreens include:
1-Day Acuvue Define Vivid 30
1-Day Acuvue Define Natural Shine 30
Air Optix Aqua
Bausch + Lomb PureVision 2 HD
Bausch + Lomb PureVision 2 for Presbyopia
Biomedics 55 Premier
Silsoft Super Plus (Pediatric)
Pros: Walgreens gets good ratings from the Consumer Reports survey on quality, prices and policies. Ordering is fairly easy, and contacts arrive reasonably quickly. Walgreens offers regular discounts and free shipping on contacts and contact accessories.
Cons: The Walgreens website is a little more clunky than the sites of some retailers that specialize in selling contacts online. That’s not surprising since Walgreens also operates brick-and-mortar stores, and contacts make up a small part of its business.
Best for: Walgreens shoppers who want to order contact supplies at the same time and get free shipping on everything.
Walmart is known for its low prices, and it has good ratings across the board for price, quality and customer service on contact lenses.
Walmart sells 15 brands of contacts, including daily, weekly and monthly disposable contacts as well as colored contacts and bifocal and multifocal lenses. Walmart also sells its own affordable Equate house brand of contacts.
Contacts sold by Walmart include:
1-Day Acuvue Define
1-Day Acuvue Moist
Acuvue Oasys 2-Week
Air Optix Night & Day Aqua
Air Optix Plus Hydraglyde
Equate 2-Week for Astigmatism
Ultraflex II Aspheric
Pros: Walmart offers eye exams, and you can buy contacts online or in one of its in-store optical shops. They have a good selection of contacts, including some less common brands. If you order online, you get free shipping. And you have 365 days to return or exchange your lenses for any reason. You can even return colored contacts because you don’t like the color.
Cons: The website is fairly easy to navigate but not quite as user friendly as the sites of some retailers dedicated to selling contacts. Walmart Contacts doesn’t offer 24/7 customer service like some online contact retailers. Also, there’s no chat for resolving any issues with your order: You can contact Walmart Contacts customer service only by phone, email or postal mail.
Best for: Contact lens wearers trying out a new type of contacts and looking for a generous return policy.
A well-known name in online contact sales, 1-800 Contacts specializes only in selling contact lenses. The seller gets top marks from the Consumer Reports survey for customer service and quality.
1-800 Contacts sells 12 brands of contact lenses. They carry soft contacts, including daily, weekly and monthly disposables. They also sell colored and eye-enhancing contacts, contacts for astigmatism, and presbyopia and gas permeable contact lenses.
Contacts sold by 1-800 Contacts include:
Acuvue Oasys with Hydraclear Plus
Acuvue Oasys 1-Day
Air Optix Night & Day Aqua
Bausch + Lomb Ultra
Biotrue ONE Day
Precision 1 Dailies
Pros: 1-800 Contacts offers a user-friendly, easy-to-navigate website and 24/7 customer service. They also have a 10-minute online eye exam to update expired prescriptions. If you need contacts fast, you can choose their one-business-day shipping option and text a picture of your order to 41800 to get your contacts shipped right away.
The 1-800 Contacts mobile app makes it easier to shop, check the status of your order and get help from your phone. And 1-800 Contacts accepts some types of vision insurance, including Anthem BCBS, Blue View Vision, Davis Vision, Spectera and Superior Vision. The company will accept returns of unused contacts in the original packaging and will give you a refund on contacts you return if your prescription changes.
Cons: The online contact retailer might not always have the cheapest prices. It got so-so marks on cost in the Consumer Reports survey. 1-800 Contacts offers fewer brands than some competitors. And some customers have complained about shipping delays and issues with promo codes and the price match guarantee.
Best for: Tech savvy contact lens customers who prefer to buy contacts from their mobile device.
Contact lens prescription and fitting
Before you can buy contacts online, you’ll need an up-to-date contact lens prescription from an eye doctor. Once you have a prescription in hand, you can get it filled by any contact lens seller.
It’s best to get your eye exam and contact lens fitting from the same eye care professional (ECP). A contact lens eye exam typically includes:
Vision test – Your eye doctor will check your vision using an eye chart. This will help your doctor to see if you have refractive errors such as nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia).
Eye health checks – Your provider will perform a variety of tests to make sure your eyes are healthy and that contact lenses are a good idea for you.
Contact questions – Your provider will ask about your lifestyle and contact lens preferences to determine which type of contacts to prescribe.
Eye measurements – The ECP will then measure your cornea, iris and pupil to fit you with contact lenses. They may also check to see if you have dry eyes that could be made worse by contacts or require specialty lenses for dry eyes.
Eye surface and fit check – The eye doctor will give you a pair of trial lenses and will use a slit lamp (biomicroscope) to look at the surface of your eye and check the lens fit.
Follow-up visits – Your eye doctor will need to see you again to make sure the contacts are comfortable, fit well and are not hurting your eyes. At this point, your eye doctor can write you a contact lens prescription.
You might need to try out a few brands and styles of contact lens before finding the right one for you. This is true especially if you have a more complex prescription — for example, if you need toric contacts for astigmatism.
Contact lens materials
What are contacts made of? It all depends on the type of lens. There are three main types of contact lens: soft contacts, rigid gas permeable contacts (also called hard contacts) and hybrid contacts (a combination of the two).
What are the advantages of soft contacts vs. gas permeable or hybrid contacts? Soft contacts are generally much more comfortable and breathable, while gas permeable contacts may offer clearer, crisper vision. Hybrid contacts aim to offer the benefits of both. Neither gas permeable nor hybrid contacts are as readily available as soft contacts, and both tend to be a bit more expensive.
Soft contact lens materials – Today most soft contact lenses are made from hydrogel, a soft, gel-like plastic, combined with silicone. Older soft contacts were made from hydrogel alone. The addition of silicone allows much more oxygen to reach the cornea, which helps to keep the eye healthy. Different brands of soft contacts may be thinner or thicker and have different levels of water content.
Gas permeable contact lens materials – Gas permeable (GP) or rigid gas permeable (RGP) contacts are made of a hard polymer, fluoro-silicone acrylate. This material allows oxygen to reach the eye and helps to keep the surface of the contacts wet.
Hybrid contact lens materials – Hybrid contacts are made using both of these two materials. They have a rigid gas permeable center surrounded by soft silicone hydrogel material. The goal is to provide the sharp vision of hard contacts plus the comfort of soft contacts.
The type of contact lenses your eye doctor prescribes will depend on your prescription, preferences, lifestyle and eye health needs.
Different types of soft contact lenses
Soft contact lenses are the most popular and most commonly prescribed.
Contact wearers with simple prescriptions for nearsightedness or farsightedness tend to have more contact lens options. However, all types of contacts are also available today for patients with astigmatism (toric lenses) and presbyopia (bifocal or multifocal lenses, including progressive lenses). So even with a more complex prescription, you’ll still have plenty of choices.
Here are the most common types of soft contact lenses:
Disposable contact lenses
Disposable contacts are typically categorized by how often they’re replaced and how long they can be worn without taking them out. This can create confusion, so it’s important to know the difference.
Disposable lenses fall into two categories: daily wear contacts that must be removed before you go to sleep and extended wear contacts that may be worn while you sleep.
Daily wear contacts
There are different types of daily wear contacts, grouped by the length of time a pair of lenses lasts:
Dailies – Daily contacts tend to be more expensive and are meant to be thrown away after each wearing. This means you don’t need to clean or disinfect them, which may offer more convenience.
Weeklies – Weekly contacts are worn for a week or two, cleaned and disinfected after each wearing, and then thrown away.
Monthlies – Monthly contacts are worn for a month, cleaned and disinfected after each wearing, and thrown away.
Trying to decide between daily, weekly or monthly contacts? Read our guide to daily vs. monthly contacts and then talk to your eye doctor.
Extended wear contacts
Most extended wear (EW) contacts can be worn for up to a week before you have to take them out. There are extended wear contacts that can even be worn for up to a month.
You should know that just because a lens is approved for extended wear does not mean you will be able to wear it for the maximum amount of time. Your eye doctor can help you decide if you’re a candidate for extended wear lenses and how long you can safely wear them. If you can wear extended wear lenses, you will need to start slowly, gradually increasing the number of days/nights you wear the lenses.
It’s also important to talk to your eye doctor about the risks of extended wear lenses and to give your eyes regular breaks without lenses. Like all contact lens wearers, you should make sure you have a pair of backup glasses to wear during breaks and if you experience eye irritation or get an infection.
Traditional contact lenses
Traditional contacts come in vials and are designed to be cleaned, disinfected and reused for months to a year or longer. Disposable contacts have improved and become so common that it’s now more difficult to find traditional contact lenses.
Contact lens care and hygiene
If you wear contacts, it’s crucial to follow the lens care and cleaning instructions provided by your eye doctor and contact lens maker. Taking good care of your contacts will help to keep your eyes healthy.
Here are some general contact lens care tips from the American Academy of Ophthalmology:
Use the right solution. Clean and disinfect your contacts with the products recommended by your eye doctor. And be sure to keep your lenses in fresh solution; never wear contact lenses that have been sitting in the same solution for more than 30 days. Never rinse or store your lenses in tap water, filtered water or homemade saline solution.
Rub and rinse. Even if you use a “no rub” contact solution, rub and rinse your lenses after taking them out of your eyes each day. This will help to reduce deposits that can cause eye irritation and dryness.
Wash and dry your hands. Before handling your contacts, wash your hands with soap and water. Then dry them with a new, clean towel. This will help to prevent eye infections.
Replace the case. It’s important to replace your contact lens case every three months, or sooner if it gets damaged. Between uses, rinse the case with a multipurpose solution and let it air dry.
Never sleep in your lenses. Unless you have extended wear lenses and are following your eye doctor’s instructions, don’t even take a cat nap in your contacts. Sleeping in daily wear contacts even for a short time can deprive your eyes of oxygen and increase your risk of contact lens complications.
Avoid getting water in your eyes. Don’t bathe, shower or take a dip or swim in a pool, hot tub, lake, ocean or river while wearing your contacts. Getting water in your eyes could cause a serious eye infection that can be very difficult to treat.
Get regular eye exams. Keep up with a regular eye exam schedule, and see your eye doctor right away if you have discomfort or any other issues with your contacts.
Following this advice will help you to lower your risk of eye infections and other contact lens complications.
Contact lens risks
Wearing contacts carries risks even if you follow your eye doctor’s instructions and take good care of your lenses. The risk goes up if you don’t follow contact lens care instructions and make regular eye doctor visits.
Here are four possible contact lens complications:
Eye irritation or dry eyes – Discomfort and irritation are common in contact lens wearers. Your eye doctor may give you eye drops and/or recommend breaks from wearing contacts.
Eye infections – Contact lens wearers may be more likely to develop bacterial, fungal or viral eye infections. One of the most common eye infections is pink eye (conjunctivitis). Swimming with contacts in may put you at a higher risk of getting acanthamoeba keratitis, a painful parasitic infection of the cornea that can lead to vision loss.
Cornea problems – You can also get corneal scratches or a corneal ulcer, an “open sore” on the cornea typically caused by an eye infection.
New blood vessels – A problem called “neovascularization” happens when new blood vessels grow into the cornea. This may be caused by wearing contacts too much, sleeping in contacts or wearing contacts that don’t allow enough oxygen to reach the corneas.
Some symptoms of contact lens problems include:
Burning, itching or a gritty “sand in the eyes” feeling
Sensitivity to light
Swelling of one or both eyes
Contact lens complications can be serious. In a worst-case scenario, they could lead to permanent eye damage and even blindness. That’s why it’s important to get prompt medical care for the problem.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, take out your contacts right away. Store them in a case to take with you to your eye doctor. Then contact your eye doctor’s office to ask for an emergency appointment.
Contact lens buying tips
If you have a contact lens prescription in hand and are ready to buy contacts, take a look at these contact lens buying tips to find the best prices, quality and customer service:
Consider your eye doctor. It’s true that buying contacts online may offer convenience, speed and cost savings. But buying from your eye doctor is always a reliable way to go, especially if you want to use your vision insurance.
Check customer reviews. Even some of the most reputable contact lens sellers get consumer complaints. Check reviews on sites such as TrustPilot to see what other customers are saying. Repeat complaints about the same issue may help you avoid surprises.
Take a look at policies. It’s a good idea to glance over a contact lens seller’s return policy and other policies before you buy. Some sellers will allow you to return a partial supply of unused contacts if your prescription changes, which can be a good way to save money.
Consider customer service. Some sellers offer 24/7 customer service via chat and phone while others offer more limited options. Take a minute to check out the customer service yourself by asking a question and seeing what kind of response you receive.
Scout out contact lens deals. Most online contact lens stores offer several ways to save. These may include: coupon codes, special discounts (for example, first responder, teacher or military discounts), price match guarantees and rebates. It may take some legwork to determine which discount to use and which site offers the best deal. Look at each seller’s home page and FAQ to find discounts. And keep in mind that some sites may not allow you to use a coupon code if you go through your vision insurance.
Beware of shady sellers. There are many reputable online contact lens sellers, but beware of questionable practices. For example, the FDA warns that some sellers may try to substitute a different brand or style of contacts for the one your eye doctor prescribed. You should always stick with the lenses prescribed during your contact lens eye exam.
And remember to stick with regular visits to your eye doctor to keep your contact lens prescription up to date and learn about new lenses and advances in lens technology that might make it worth switching contact lenses.
READ MORE: Contact lens basics: Types of contact lenses and more
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Page published on Wednesday, August 4, 2021