Can I Buy Colored Contact Lenses Without a Prescription?

Quick Answer

No, you cannot legally buy colored contact lenses without a prescription in the United States. All contact lenses are considered medical devices by the FDA and require a valid prescription, even if they're only for cosmetic purposes. This is to ensure the lenses fit properly, do not harm your eyes, and are used safely.


Colored contact lenses have become a fashion accessory for those looking to change their look, whether it's enhancing natural eye color or creating a dramatic effect for special occasions. Purchasing these eye-catching color contacts is not just about choosing the perfect shade. In the United States, it's essential to know that all contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means a valid prescription from an optometrist is mandatory-even if they're only for cosmetic use. This introduction sets the stage for understanding why it's important to prioritize eye health and legality when indulging in this popular fashion trend.

Legal colored contact lenses are necessary

Why Prescriptions Are Mandatory

For many, the allure of transforming their eye color with a pair of colored contact lenses is strong, but it's crucial to understand that these fashionable items are more than just decorative. The United States law is clear: all contact lenses-including those used solely for aesthetic reasons-are regulated by the FDA as medical devices. This classification underscores the importance of ensuring a proper fit and the safe use of these lenses.

When you obtain color contacts with a prescription, an eye care professional has measured your eye's curvature, assessed the health of your eyes, and prescribed lenses that are specifically suited for your vision and comfort. These steps help prevent potential risks such as corneal scratches, infections, or more serious complications that can arise from ill-fitting lenses.

The consequences of skirting this regulation can be severe. Selling color contacts without a prescription is illegal, and doing so can result in hefty fines and legal actions. Similarly, purchasing color contacts without being properly fitted by an optometrist or ophthalmologist could lead to significant eye health issues.

How Does the Prescription Process for Colored Contacts Work?

Getting a prescription for color contacts involves several key steps:

  1. Eye Exam: This comprehensive check-up evaluates your overall eye health and determines your need for vision correction.
  2. Fitting: Color contacts come in various sizes, and a fitting session will ensure that your lenses fit your eyes perfectly, minimizing discomfort and potential damage.
  3. Prescription: After your exam and fitting, your eye care provider will write a prescription. This includes details about the lens power (if you need vision correction), the curvature, and the diameter that best fits your eye.

Even if you don't need vision correction, you still need to go through this process to wear colored lenses safely. Remember, the goal is not only to enhance beauty but also to protect one of your most valuable senses-your sight.

wear colored lenses safely

What Are the Different Types of Prescription Colored Contact Lenses Available?

Once you have your prescription in hand, a world of color contact options opens up. Though all require a prescription, they serve different purposes:

Corrective Colored Contacts

These lenses correct common vision issues like nearsightedness or farsightedness while also giving you a new hue. They're perfect if you want to see clearly and add a touch of color to your eyes.

Enhancement Tint Contacts

If you're looking to intensify your natural eye color rather than completely change it, enhancement tint lenses are the way to go. They're translucent and designed to deepen your original eye color, making your eyes stand out more.

Theatrical or Costume Contacts

From cat eyes to zombie looks, these lenses are all about transformation for theatrical performances, movie productions, or just a bold fashion statement during Halloween. Despite their dramatic appearance, they must fit comfortably and safely, just like conventional lenses.

How to Safely Use Colored Contact Lenses?

Here's how to ensure you're wearing them safely:

  • Hygiene: Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your contact lenses. This minimizes the risk of transferring germs to your eyes.
  • Cleaning and Storage: Use only the recommended contact lens solution to clean and store your contacts. Never use water or saliva; these can harbor bacteria and lead to serious infections.
  • Regular Replacement: Follow the replacement schedule prescribed by your eye care professional. Some color contacts are daily disposables, while others may last several weeks or months with proper care.
  • Follow the Instructions: Wear your color contacts as directed. Don't sleep in them unless they are specifically designed for overnight wear, and avoid wearing them for longer periods than recommended.
  • Properly caring for your colored contacts not only extends their life but also ensures that your eyes remain healthy. Neglecting these steps can lead to complications such as conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, and potentially more severe eye conditions.

Additionally, regular follow-up appointments with your optometrist are crucial. These check-ups help catch any changes in your vision or fit requirements for your color contacts, ensuring they remain comfortable and, most importantly, safe to wear.

Check your glasses and colored contact lenses regularly

What Are the Hidden Dangers of Non-Prescription Colored Contacts?

The convenience of purchasing non-prescription colored contacts online might be tempting, but it's crucial to be aware of the potential dangers that can go beyond mere eye irritation. Here's a closer look at the risks associated with these contacts:

  • Reduced Oxygen Supply: Our eyes need a constant supply of oxygen to function properly. Well-fitted prescription lenses are designed to allow for sufficient oxygen transmission. In contrast, non-prescription lenses may not be permeable enough, leading to conditions like hypoxia, which can cause red eyes, swollen corneas, and, in severe cases, vision impairment.
  • Risk of Scratches and Infections: Ill-fitting color contacts can move around on the eye and may be too tight or too loose, leading to scratches on the cornea, known as corneal abrasions. These abrasions open the door to infections like keratitis, which, if left untreated, can lead to corneal scarring and vision loss.
  • Potential for Allergic Reactions: Non-prescription lenses may not adhere to the same manufacturing standards as their prescription counterparts. They could release more by-products into your eyes or contain allergens. This can result in allergic conjunctivitis, characterized by itchy, watery, and inflamed eyes.
  • Inadequate Hygiene Standards: Without proper regulatory oversight, non-prescription color contacts could be produced and stored in environments that do not meet the health and safety standards required for medical devices. This increases the possibility of contaminating the lenses with bacteria or fungi, contributing to serious eye infections.

Prioritizing Eye Health with Colored Contacts

While colored contact lenses offer an exciting way to change your look, it's crucial to treat them as you would any other medical device. A valid prescription is not just a legal formality; it's a safety requirement to protect your eyes from harm. Always consult with an eye care professional before getting color contacts and adhere to their guidelines for use and care. By doing so, you can enjoy the vibrant array of colors at your fingertips without compromising the health of your eyes-ensuring that your vision stays clear and your eyes remain bright for all the days to come.

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