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Can I Buy Contacts Without a Prescription?

Woman searching for contact lenses online

You cannot order contacts without a prescription, at least in the United States. You will need to have a prescription written by a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist to buy contact lenses. The seller will also verify your prescription to make sure it's valid.

You can't legally order contacts with an expired prescription either. Contact lenses are classified as medical devices in the U.S., so your prescription needs to be current to have it filled.

These guidelines apply to both physical locations and online retailers.

Getting a comprehensive eye exam and a contact lens fitting once a year is the best way to make sure your prescription is valid and provides the right correction for your eyes.

SEE RELATED: Which eye doctor should I see for my eye prescription?

You are entitled to your contact lens prescription

The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act gives you the right to request and receive a copy of your contact lens prescription from your eye doctor after your exam.

This protection allows you to shop around for contacts, whether you base your decision on price, convenience, or any other factors. You do not have to order contacts from the location where you got your eye exam, unless you want to.

Congress passed the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act in 2003 and required the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to develop guidelines that spell out the act's requirements and enforce its provisions.

In July 2004, the FTC issued guidelines called the Contact Lens Rule. The rule establishes requirements for both eye doctors who prescribe contact lenses and retailers who sell them.

The conditions of the Contact Lens Rule apply to so-called "non-prescription" contacts — color contact lenses or special-effect contacts with no corrective power — in addition to standard contacts.

Rules for contact lens prescribers

The Contact Lens Rule says that eye care professionals permitted under state law to fit and issue prescriptions for contact lenses must:

  • Give a copy of the contact prescription to the patient at the end of the contact fitting — even if the patient doesn't ask for it.

  • Provide or verify the contact lens prescription to anyone who is designated to act on behalf of the patient, including contact lens sellers.

  • Correct any inaccuracies in the prescription being verified and inform the seller if the prescription has expired or is otherwise invalid.

Rules for contact lens sellers

The Contact Lens Rule requires contact lens sellers to:

  • Provide contact lenses only in accordance with a valid contact prescription that is directly presented to the seller or has been verified by the contact lens prescriber.

  • If verification is required, sellers must contact the prescribing doctor to verify the accuracy of the prescription before filling the order.

Never buy contacts from unauthorized retailers

It's against the law to sell contact lenses in beauty parlors, convenience stores, flea markets or other non-optical outlets. Why? Because you could be buying unregulated lenses from producers that can lead to serious eye problems.

If you're not sure about a particular retailer, don't be afraid to ask your eye doctor for help.

How and where you buy your contacts is up to you. Remember, it's all about finding the contact lenses that best suit you and your lifestyle.

READ MORE: Where should I buy contacts?

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