Contacts and Cosmetics

Contact lens wearers who wear cosmetics on a daily basis may be especially vulnerable to eye problems. Misuse of products and adverse reactions to ingredients used in cosmetic formulas cause lens deposits, eye irritation, allergy, dryness, injury and infection. Knowing which products to use and how to use them is important for long-term, problem-free contact lens wear.

Before handling lenses, wash your hands with a mild soap such as Neutrogena, Ivory or a clear glycerin soap. Or, use one of the specialty soaps for contact lens wearers such as AOSoap or Optisoap. Avoid soaps containing cream, deodorant, antiseptics, or heavy fragrances.

Contact lenses should be inserted before any cosmetics are applied to prevent contaminating the lens by makeup and disrupting makeup by tears. Mascara should be used sparingly and only on the outer half of the lashes. Besides being a potential irritant, mascara is frequently a source of infection. Even with the best of care, mascara and eyeliner should be replaced every three months. Use a light touch with eyeliners and shadows, as they may cause blepharitis, an infection of the eyelid that can lead to styes and chalazion. Don’t use eye liner pencils inside the lower eyelid. Color pigments can cause irritation, damage contact lenses, or lodge underneath the contact lens and scratch the cornea.

Prevent contamination of your makeup by keeping it dry and avoiding contact with fingers. Keep applicators clean and replace them after approximately three months. Hair spray, deodorant, cologne, mousse, nail polish and nail polish remover should be used before inserting your lenses. If one of these products gets into your eye it can cause permanent damage to the contact lens surface. If you must use hair spray while wearing contacts, close your eyes tightly while spraying and then leave the area quickly. Aerosol mist lingers in the air for some time after spraying.

Never wear contacts when using hair dyes, permanent wave lotions, or medicated shampoos.

Use cosmetics labeled “hypoallergenic,” “for contact lens wearers,” or “for sensitive eyes.” Approximately one in ten women have either a respiratory or skin allergy to perfume. Hypoallergenic brands are designed be free of irritants such as perfumes and lanolin. Lanolin may be used in cosmetics and soaps and is one of the most common allergens, causing redness, itching, and blotchy skin spots.

Wash your hands and remove contact lenses before removing make-up. Your fingers are less likely to be contaminated by pigments, creams and oils from cosmetic products when the lenses are removed first.

Extended-Wear Contact Lenses

Some people do not consider wearing contact lenses because they think the required cleaning, disinfecting, storing, and inserting are too much trouble. They may also want the option of occasionally napping or sleeping with their contacts in their eyes.

Extended-wear contacts are designed to appeal to these people. They require less maintenance than daily wear lenses and because they are thinner and allow more oxygen to reach the eyes, they may be left in the eye overnight.

To use extended-wear contact lenses, you must be free of external eye disease, have normal tear function, and be motivated to take care of them.

Infection is the most significant complication of extended-wear contact lens use. They must be removed at least once a week and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Many studies show the cornea is put at increased risk of infection by wearing contact lenses overnight. The risk of developing an infection in the cornea is 10-15 times greater for those who wear extended-wear contacts overnight than for those who use daily wear soft lenses. This risk increases with the number of consecutive days the contacts are worn overnight. Infections may range from simple conjunctivitis to blinding endophthalmitis, which is a serious infection that travels through all layers of the eye.

The decision to accept the risks and benefits of extended-wear contacts requires a process of evaluation between you and your doctor. Once you are carefully fit for your contact lenses, follow-up exams with your ophthalmologist to ensure continuing eye health is important. As with any contact lens, extended-wear contacts should be removed at the first sign of redness or discomfort.


Sixty percent of the 161 million Americans who wear prescription eyewear choose eyeglasses. Wearing eyeglasses is one of the simplest ways to correct vision problems.

To see images clearly, light rays must focus directly on the retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer that lines the back of the eye. There are different kinds of focusing problems, called refractive errors, which may require corrective lenses. In the case of myopia or nearsightedness, the eye is too long. Light rays focus before reaching the retina and images appear blurry. In hyperopia or farsightedness, the eye is too short, so light rays have not yet focused when they reach the retina. Astigmatism describes an eye with a cornea that is oval shaped instead of round, causing light rays to hit the retina in more than one place.

Eyeglass lenses compensate for an eye that is too long or too short by adding or subtracting focusing power. The lenses create just the right amount of focusing power so light rays focus directly on the retina.

A plus (+) in front of the first number of the eyeglass prescription means the lens corrects farsightedness. A minus (-) in front of the first number means the lens corrects nearsightedness. If a second and third number are present in the prescription, they indicate astigmatism. The higher the first number in the prescription, the greater the correction in the lens.

Lenses are available in glass, regular and high index plastic, and polycarbonate. Although they scratch less easily, glass lenses tend to be heavier and often slide down the nose. Plastic and polycarbonate lenses are lighter and safer than glass but scratch easily. Scratches cannot be removed but they can be avoided or minimized with appropriate care. Scratch resistant coatings can be applied to plastic and polycarbonate lenses but some of these coatings crack if exposed to extreme heat or cold.

Frames come in many shapes and sizes, so it is important to pick a frame that is best for you. Factors to take into consideration when selecting a frame include facial features, age, activities and the prescription itself. Often a strong prescription requires thicker lenses, which can affect your choice of frames.

Ask about the quality and expected lifetime of the frame and if there is a frame guarantee.