Costume contact lenses and other special-effect contacts
- How do special-effect contacts work?
- Special-effects contact lenses: Trends and designs
- A colorful history of special-effect lenses
- Do you need a prescription?
- Circle contact lenses
- Where to buy special-effect and costume contacts
- Safety checklist
- Protect yourself and others from illegal contact lenses
Want to look like a vampire? Or show your support of your favorite professional sports team by wearing its logo on your eyes? You can do this and more with decorative special-effect contact lenses.
Special-effect or costume contact lenses — including black contact lenses, Halloween contact lenses, cosplay contacts and other "crazy" lenses — are soft contact lenses that are available for costume and novelty uses.
Just like colored contact lenses, special-effect (FX) or crazy contacts can be used whether or not you normally wear eyeglasses or contact lenses, because most types are available both with and without lens powers to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism.
It's important to note that all contact lenses, including non-prescription (plano) Halloween contacts and any other special-effects contacts, are classified as medical devices by the FDA and require a valid contact lens prescription from a licensed eye care practitioner.
Costume or novelty lenses are safe to wear — but only when they are properly prescribed and cared for, and purchased from a legitimate source. Bacterial eye infections from contaminated, poorly fitted or improperly worn special-effect contact lenses can occur rapidly, causing a painful corneal ulcer and even blindness.
Putting the finishing touch to your Halloween costume is not worth a sight-threatening eye infection from improper contact lens use. (Read our Safety Checklist below.)
How do special-effect contacts work?
Special-effect contact lenses have an opaque (non-transparent) tint to completely mask your natural eye color and are available in a wide variety of dramatic colors and designs. The center of the lens, which lies over your pupil, is clear so you can see.
Most novelty or costume contact lenses cover just the colored portion of your eye (iris), but special-effect scleral lenses, like all-black, red, yellow or white contacts, cover both the iris and the "white" (sclera) of your eyes to create a truly haunting look.
Special-effects contact lenses: Trends and designs
Black sclera contact lenses, white contact lenses, wild eyes, cat eyes — whichever you choose, there's a huge array of Halloween contact lenses to add the ultimate finishing touch to your Halloween costume.
Current trends in costume or novelty contact lenses are inspired by movies and cult TV shows.
These include the popular black, white and yellow special-effect scleral contact lenses, as worn on the cult TV show True Blood; red and amber colored contacts like those worn in Twilight, New Moon and Breaking Dawn; and Goth contact lenses in patterns of red, black, white and yellow which channel The Exorcist.
Other movie character special-effect lenses include vivid green "Mad Hatter" colored contacts inspired by the movie Alice in Wonderland, yellow "alien" contacts as featured in Avatar and even yellow cat-eyes like those seen in Harry Potter.
Crazy contact lenses remain popular, too. These include zombie, vampire and other supernatural designs such as spider webs, cat eyes and werewolves — perfect for adding the "wow" factor to your Halloween or special occasion costume.
If you want even scarier looking contact lenses, there are mesh-look contacts and even neon glow-in-the-dark UV lenses!
Contacts in the Movies
A colorful history of special-effect lenses
Special-effect contact lenses aren't a recent fad. Morton Greenspoon, OD, a pioneer of theatrical lenses, has been providing special effects contact lenses to the film industry since the 1950s.
Dr. Greenspoon has changed Elvis Presley's baby blues to brown for the movie Flaming Star, provided Michael Jackson's wolf eyes for the "Thriller" music video, and received an Academy Award nomination for his work on Bram Stoker's Dracula. His most recent film work includes Pirates of the Caribbean and the Twilight Saga.
But you don't have to walk the red carpet to wear crazy contact lenses. With the array of special-effect lenses available today, you too can get into character and portray your favorite Hollywood star.
Do you need a prescription?
Yes — while novelty contacts are designed for fun, they still are considered medical devices and cannot be purchased legally in the United States without a contact lens prescription.
Contact lenses — including special-effect lenses — are not a "one size fits all." A poor lens fit can lead to eye infection, corneal ulcer, decreased vision and even blindness.
Circle contact lenses
Circle lenses are a relatively recent phenomenon. Also called "big eye" lenses, they make your eyes look larger than normal to produce a doll-like appearance, inspired by doe-eyed anime cartoon characters.
Issues concerning the safety of circle lenses have been well-documented in the U.S. media in recent years.
Many companies selling circle lenses in the U.S. do so illegally, either without requesting a prescription or selling unapproved lenses — or both.
To help avoid the risk of developing a serious lens-related eye infection, always ensure you are buying contact lenses from a legitimate source.
Where to buy special-effect and costume contacts
By law, your eye doctor must give you a copy of your contact lens prescription if you request it, which means you have the option of buying contact lenses from any eye care professional (ECP), optical chains and legitimate online retailers.
The cost of contact lenses with special-effect designs is comparable to that of more conventional color contact lenses designed to enhance or change your eye color.
Custom hand-painted designs, however, can cost significantly more.
To ensure a safe wearing experience, always buy your special-effect contact lenses from an authorized source.
Never buy special-effect contacts at any store that doesn't ask you for a valid contact lens prescription.
Don't buy contact lenses from a flea market, street vendor, beauty salon, Halloween store or similar setting. Such sales are illegal in the U.S., and for good reasons:
You might be getting unsafe products that are not FDA-approved for sale in the U.S. Don't risk your eyes on products that may have been manufactured improperly or don't have sterile packaging.
Even wearing FDA-approved lenses can be dangerous, if they haven't been specifically fitted to your eyes. Poor-fitting contact lenses can cause serious vision problems, corneal abrasions and infections. Plus, they probably won't be comfortable to wear!
According to a 2015 consumer survey sponsored by the American Optometric Association (AOA), 26 percent of Americans who purchased non-corrective color or special-effect contact lenses did not have a valid prescription for the lenses from an eye doctor.
Also, a study published recently in the professional journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science found that people wearing cosmetic contact lenses (defined as decorative, color and non-corrective lenses, often obtained without a prescription) had more than a 16 times greater risk of developing an eye infection than people wearing standard corrective contact lenses prescribed by an eye doctor.
Visit your eye doctor for a contact lens exam, fitting and prescription (regardless of whether you need vision correction).
Buy contact lenses from a licensed ECP or an eyewear retailer that requires you to have a prescription. Never buy contact lenses from an unlicensed source that doesn't require a prescription. Doing so greatly increases your risk of serious eye problems.
Always follow your ECP's instructions for wearing and caring for your contact lenses, and visit your eye doctor for follow-up eye exams.
Never share your contact lenses! While it may seem like a fun idea to swap special-effect lenses with your friends, sharing contacts can spread harmful bacteria and may result in serious eye health problems, including loss of vision.
Keep in mind that "crazy" contact lenses generally are designed for daily wear only and are not FDA-approved to be worn overnight.
If you experience any eye redness, swelling or discomfort, immediately remove your contact lenses and contact your eye doctor as soon as possible. This could be the sign of a potentially sight-threatening eye infection.
Wear only hypoallergenic, non-toxic makeup. If makeup is used on a child's face, it should be applied and removed by an adult. For removal, use eye makeup remover or cold cream, not soap.
Be aware that false eyelashes also can cause eye irritation. Carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding safe application and removal. And read our safety information on eyelash extensions if you're considering those, because they too can irritate eyes.
Protect yourself and others from illegal contact lenses
Decorative contact lenses sold without a prescription at convenience stores, flea markets and online can cause serious eye infections, impaired vision and even blindness.
In October 2016, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced that ICE, the FDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) combined efforts to make several hundred seizures totaling around 100,000 pairs of counterfeit, illegal and unapproved contact lenses. The enforcement actions were conducted under the FDA-led initiative dubbed Operation Double Vision, which is an ongoing effort to protect the health and safety of the American public from illegal contact lenses.
Testing of confiscated illegal lenses revealed many had high levels of bacteria that could cause significant eye infections. Also, the coloring of some decorative contact lenses were made of lead-based materials that could leach directly into the eye.
The agency urged consumers that anyone interested in wearing any type of contact lenses should visit an eye doctor, obtain a prescription and purchase them from a licensed provider.
"A valid prescription helps ensure consumers get contact lenses that are determined to be safe and effective by the FDA. Without it, people can risk serious eye injuries or loss of eyesight for one night of fun," said George M. Karavetsos, Director, FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations in the ICE press release.
To protect yourself and others, if you see Halloween contacts or other contact lenses being sold without a prescription online or elsewhere, report it to the FDA.
Federal authorities warn against dangers of decorative contact lenses. Press release issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in October 2016.
New CDC report shows one quarter of contact lens-related eye infections due to improper use, modifiable factors. Press release issued by Prevent Blindness in September 2016.
"Colored" and decorative contact lenses: a prescription is a must. FDA Consumer Health Information. February 2016.
2015 American Eye-Q Survey questions and responses. American Optometric Association. www.aoa.org. Accessed December 2015.
Cosmetic contact lenses related microbial keratitis as a foreseeable disaster: a prospective study. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. April 2010.
Page published in February 2019
Page updated in September 2021