Costume Contacts & Circle Lenses: A Long Blog Post That Is Both Fascinating And Good For Your Brain

Don’t lose sight of this post! [We’re starting with an eye-related pun so that everyone knows Doug Beierle had a hand in making this one possible.]

“The words that come out of Doug’s mouth do not necessarily represent CoreCon, DCon, Anime Fargo, Digital Grail, his family or friends. Use caution if listening.” This is the quote written on Doug Beierle’s shirt. He is a walking hazard and requires a disclaimer from our CoreCon staff. However, we are giving you express permission to listen to him today. In fact, we are urging you to heed his advice.

Doug is a Bad Joke Generator, but more importantly, he’s an optician. He’s seen people sacrifice their eyesight and put themselves at risk of future problems for the sake of a good costume. Costume contacts, or circle lenses, can be a really cool addition to a cosplay character, but it’s important to do proper research before getting yourself a pair.

In the United States, you need a doctor’s prescription to purchase contact lenses. This includes cosmetic lenses, even if they have no power and don’t correct your eyesight. This might seem like a major annoyance when you’re rushing to put the finishing touches on your costume, but it’s for your own good.

Let’s put it this way: You are putting chunks of plastic into your eyes. Even if they’re very thin, tiny shards of plastic, that’s still a foreign object being pressed against a very sensitive part of your body. If you do this wrong, you can go blind.

Feeling brave and don’t believe us? Do a Google search of “Corneal Ulcers,” “Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis,” “Corneal Erosion,” or just “Contact-Related Diseases.” One of those things is literal scratches on your eyeball. There are many things that can go wrong if you’re not careful.

Many cosplayers get cosmetic contacts from online stores not realizing they are from overseas companies. Have you seen those funny articles and pictures where translations go horribly wrong, resulting in the message being conveyed having an entirely different meaning that intended? Some of those same people are in charge of translating for cosmetic contact companies, and some of them use the language barrier to their advantage. The term “circle lens” came about as a way to trick customs officials and customers. Whereas “contact lens” signifies a medical device that should be regulated, a “circle lens” sounds like something totally harmless and unrelated to medicine. Is it for a camera? A fun toy? Who knows? Customs doesn’t!

PinkyParadise, a leading circle lens distributor, caused an uproar in the costuming community when they stopped shipping to the United States. “Why would they abandon us?!” convention attendees around the country screamed. The short answer: “The Man” caught up to them. PinkyParadise was not FDA-compliant, meaning that the regulations the government puts in place to protect Americans from subpar products were not being followed. Cosplayers were buying them illegally and having them shipped to the United States illegally. (Technically, the government could have gone after customers in addition to the company.)

Not all countries handle contact prescriptions like the US. Doug discovered this while taking and getting his National Contact Lens Examiner Certification. There were five people present to take the test, and three of those people were from Canada. The test is for American certification, so Doug was confused as to why Canadians would take it. Whereas in the United States, only optometrists and ophthalmologists can prescribe contacts, Canada allows for contact prescriptions from optometrists, ophthalmologists, and anyone with a NCLE certification. Other countries have entirely different requirements altogether.

Should someone who has never worn contacts start with circle lenses?

If you have never worn contacts, then you absolutely should not start by buying them online. Getting a medical device without instructions is risky. Even getting them with a professional eye exam and fitting has risks which is why there are regulations in place. Put in the little bit of extra time, money, and effort and go get an exam. Your friends might sound like experts, but unless they are licensed opticians or ophthalmologists, they aren’t. Online research may make you more informed, but that won’t make you an expert either. Even this blog won’t give you all the details you need.

When optometrists prescribe contacts, they find their patients a specific size, brand, and power. Contact parameters are measured to tenths of a millimeter. The doctor will not tell you the prescription is “close enough.” They will examine your eye under a bio-microscope which will tell them if your eye is reacting negatively to the contact or allergic to the material. A big part of the exam is making sure the contact allows enough movement when you blink so your tears can spread evenly. If it doesn’t move, hypoxia will set in. If it moves too much, it will rub the center of your cornea. The problem with colored contacts is that they may not be the same size, brand, and power that you need to see properly and not hurt yourself.

Your options as a first-time contact user are simple:

  1. Seek a professional.
  2. Become familiar with corneas, limbus, meibomian gland functions, acanothomeba, hydrophillic plastics, wetting angles, bacterial disinfection, tear chemistry, keratitis sicca, sagittal calculations, and visual systems, get your certification, become an optometrist, and then prescribe yourself some contacts.

What if I already wear prescription contacts and get regular exams?

Since Doug is NCLE certified, you would think he would completely side with the government and require all sales to be restricted unless you seek the help of a qualified professional. That’s only partially true. Here comes some potentially lawbreaking or at least law-bending stuff, and here is where we have to reiterate our disclaimer that anything Doug says does not necessarily reflect the views of CoreCon. 

As long as you have already been to an optometrist or ophthalmologist and have been wearing contacts, you will probably be fine ordering cosmetic lenses online. (Ordering them from an overseas company is still illegal in the US.) Handle your color lenses the same way you would handle your prescription ones, but abide by a few special tips:

  • Wear them no more than 10-12 hours per month. Think of them like a special pair of shoes that look great but will give you a blister if worn too long.
  • If you do a lot of cosplay, make sure the fit is correct. The damage caused by a poor fit will usually heal with time, but again, think of them like shoes that hurt when they’re an incorrect size.
  • Look for signs of redness every 20-30 minutes.
  • After wearing your lenses, give your eyes a break for a day and wear glasses. This allows your eyes to heal from any wear and tear that might have occurred.
  • Always remember: If it hurts, don’t do it. No cosplay is worth risking pain or blindness for.

Why should you limit how long you wear your circle lenses?

Cosmetic contacts are usually made with a layer of material, a color part, and another layer to laminate the colors in  so the chemicals in the paint won’t mess with your eye. This limits the amount of oxygen reaching your cornea, so you definitely shouldn’t wear them as long as you would a normal pair. Don’t risk your eye health by starving them of oxygen with overuse. Neovascularization occurs when you starve the clear cornea of oxygen for too long. The veins will try to grow into the center to supply it. Sorry, but it’s hard to see through blood.

Any closing remarks?

CoreCon cares about your safety, but we can’t force you to go see an optometrist before getting a proper pair of cosmetic lenses. Just make sure to do your research on any companies you buy from, and if it hurts, don’t do it.

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