The costume that “Cas” Minniear’s donned at the Renaissance Festival this season included changing his eyes. He wore colored contacts.
The four sets he bought online allow him to turn his eyes blue, brown, gray or yellow. But they can get uncomfortable, especially during 12-hour days at the Kansas City-area festival.
That’s because Minniear doesn’t wear contacts normally. His vision doesn’t need correction, and his contacts change how his eyes look not how they see.
It also means the online sites sold Minniear contacts without a prescription – he doesn’t have one.
Those sites are not supposed to do that.
Bad contacts can cause a long list of problems, as minor as an allergy to serious complications such as a scratched cornea, infection or even blindness, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.
The caution to consumers is to avoid risks by getting lenses prescribed to fit your eyes specifically. The medical provider prescribing contacts will also know whether you have other issues, such as allergies.
For more than a decade, the FDA has listed decorative contact lenses, even those that don’t correct vision, as regulated medical devices. Legally, it means sellers have to have a prescription for the buyer.
“Anyone selling you contact lenses must get your prescription and verify it with your doctor,” said an FDA consumer update on decorative contact lenses. “If they don’t ask for this information they are breaking federal law and could be selling you illegal contact lenses.”
Consumers who buy lenses without a prescription aren’t breaking any laws, the FDA says.
The FDA ruling on decorative lenses changed how Full Moon Productions, the company behind The Beast, the Edge of Hell and Macabre Cinemas in Kansas City’s West Bottoms, handles costume contacts. A spokeswoman said the actors buy their own, that the company no longer provides them.
Minniear said he handles his decorative lens carefully, uses contact lens solution and has had no problems.
“If you treat them like something that goes in your eyes, that’s fine,” said Minniear, who is the Cas of Cas and Cora’s Costume 911 in Independence.
But others have reported problems with decorative lenses, including lenses from one of the companies Minniear used.
Caitlin Alexander chronicled her decorative contacts experiences in a blog post. The North Carolina woman had worn corrective contacts for a year before buying decorative ones from Uniqso.com in 2015, one of the sites Minniear used.
Some of Alexander’s lens sets from Uniqso worked well. They corrected her vision per her prescription, though not her astigmatism, and gave her “a personal style” in college.
The problem came from the Dolly Eye Pink pair. They burned her eyes, so much so that she quickly took them out.
Later, Alexander tried the pink set again and all seemed fine for the roughly eight hours she had them in. The next morning, however, she couldn’t keep her eyes open.
Light – any light – was too intense for roughly two hours, she told The Star.
“I brushed my teeth and combed my hair in the dark. I was bumping into walls,” Alexander said. “It was really terrifying.”
Alexander said she used no contacts for several months and late that year got a clean bill of health from her eye doctor.
She still occasionally uses a decorative light blue pair from another company and is interested in more elaborate decorative sets. But she’s wary, having had problems even after providing Uniqso her prescription information.
Attempts to contact Uniqso about Alexander’s complaint and Minniear’s lack of a prescription were unsuccessful. Uniqso is based in Malaysia.
Not all online buyers of decorative lenses need a prescription, and some websites point out that the rule applies specifically to U.S.-based buyers.
Honeycolor.com, another company Minniear said he used, notes several times in the shopping process that U.S. buyers need a prescription to buy contact lenses.
Its common questions include this: “DO I NEED A VALID PRESCRIPTION FOR ORDERING PLANO CONTACT LENSES? If you’re in the U.S, you need a valid prescription written by eye care practitioner when buying contact lens online, this includes plano (non-prescription) contact lenses. It’s advisable to get an eye examination for proper lens fitting before purchase even if you have perfect vision.”
An email sent through the company’s contact page did not generate a response. Honeycolor’s website shows its copyright is with Visione Global Pte Ltd, a Singapore company, according to an online service.
Decorative lenses that don’t correct vision still need a prescription so they fit.
“It’s knowing your right measurements, having your eye exam and having your measurements taken so you know what you need to order,” said Jessica Hillner, an optometrist at Discover Vision’s Legends office.
One measurement is called base curve and most people would use 8.5, 8.6 or 8.7 lenses. Some online sites sell only 8.6 base curve lenses, allowing a shopper to change the power of the lenses to fit their prescription but not the base curve.
Hillner said contact buyers also need to know how long the lenses they buy are intended to be worn. Some are designed for use over weeks or months but some for only one day.
“They’re not going to repel bacteria deposits and protein deposits created by your eye,” Hillner said of daily-wear lenses.
She suggests buyers of costume lenses visit with their eye doctor to see how well they fit. Anyone with irritation or other reactions to lenses, even after taking them out, should seek medical attention.
“There could be an ulcer or an infection that can cause a lot of damage,” Hillner said.