Cosmetic contact lenses are being sold without a prescription at local costume shops, beauty parlors and gas stations despite the practice being outlawed since 2005, according to the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board.
Particularly popular for use in Halloween costumes, cosmetic contacts allow the wearer to change their eye color or create effects like blood-red zombie eyes or cat eyes.
Ophthalmologists say there is nothing inherently dangerous about colored contacts, but wearing any contact lens that is not prescribed and properly fitted can cause serious health problems.
In 2005 the Food and Drug Administration mandated that all contact lenses, not just those that correct vision, are medical devices and therefore fall under prescription requirements set by the Federal Trade Commission.
Those rules state that sellers must be presented with and verify a valid prescription in order to dispense lenses.
Despite the ban, the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board, tasked with regulating and licensing practitioners that dispense glasses and contact lenses, has seen an increase in the number of businesses caught selling cosmetic lenses without a prescription.
In fiscal year 2011 they issued 16 cease and desist orders to Ohio businesses, compared to 12 in 2010. Since July 1, they have issued six cease and desist orders.
Among the sellers caught illegally dispensing contact lenses since July 2010 were three Montgomery County stores: Shell Gas at 1224 S. Main St., Dayton; Nirvana at the Dayton Mall, and Shell Gas at 499 Woodman Drive, Dayton.
Employees at all three locations confirmed that they are no longer selling the contact lenses.
Not all businesses have complied willingly, said Nancy Manns, executive director of the board.
She said several filed lawsuits claiming the board does not have the authority to restrict the sale of noncorrective lenses and the Attorney General’s Office has issued injunctions against several businesses including Foy’s Halloween Shop in Fairborn in 2005.
Other area businesses ordered to stop distributing the products in the past fiscal year included the Marathon at 2693 Dixie Highway in Hamilton, Spring Beauty Supply in Springfield, NYC3 cell phone store in Middletown and the Nirvana location at Miami Valley Centre in Piqua.
“The biggest problem is that we know it’s going on, but we only have one inspector,” Manns said.
Sherill Williams, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness Ohio, said the long-term health effects of wearing a poorly fitted contact lens or getting an eye infection because of improper use can be devastating.
“You end up really putting your cornea at risk. You could require a cornea transplant,” Williams said. Manns said the board’s aim isn’t to outlaw the use of cosmetic lenses, but to regulate safe, legal use.
She said that there are reputable online sites that sell colored and cosmetic lenses and will ask for your doctors name before shipping to confirm your prescription.
There are also many websites that sell the products and do not verify or even ask for prescription information. Manns said that the board has no authority over online distributors who are not based in Ohio because the actual dispensing is going on in another state or another country.
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