History of Coloured Contact Lenses
The ability to change clothing according to mood and occasion has led to the existence of a substantial fashion industry with a large following. Colour contact lenses enable people to extend this flexibility of appearance to their eyes, making it possible to use coloured contact lenses to change the colour of their eyes and complement an outfit, or create a natural enhancement to the eye's appearance. This fashion aspect of contact lenses could be regarded as an extension of the use of fashionable and colourful frames for optical correction by spectacles. The evolution of colour contact lenses has been varied and interesting.
The Early Days of Coloured Lenses - Hard lenses
Development of hard contact lenses and rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses in the 1970's and 1980's, soon moved onto introducing a handling tint with about 5% absorption to make the lenses more visible during handling, without the intent of changing eye colour.
Coloured Lens Experiments in the 1960's
In 1969, Professor Otto Wichterle patented the idea of diffusing a coloured dye into a hydrogel (soft material) from one surface, and a precipitant from the other surface, so that when they met, an insoluble colour was precipitated in the middle of the lens matrix, or deposited between two polymer layers. Without such fixation, dyes infused into hydrogel lenses can diffuse back out during wear or cleaning, with a loss of colour.
Materials can be swelled to allow entry for larger dye molecules, and then contracted again to trap the colour in the material. To achieve colour fastness, reactive dyes can be attached covalently to the spine of the polymer chain, either with the dye first infused into the lens and then fixed, or by attaching it to the surface of the lens.
1960's Soft Coloured Lenses Arrive
Attempts were made in the 70's to use coloured soft contact lenses for clinical reasons. Hand painted lenses were tried to mask injuries for example. Soft lenses were also put into a mould and various masks were applied, often with striations to mimic the iris pattern and then different coloured dyes were introduced to produce a coloured lens that mimicked a customer's original eye. It was a very specialised procedure and often the results were not known until a skilled technician had produced the very specific hand tinted lens and it was then compared with the customer's good eye.
Another method was adding dye to the whole soft lens, to create a more opaque colour. However, as soft lenses have larger diameters extending onto the Sclera (the 'white' part of the eye), adding colour to the material would result in a coloured ring on the white of the eye around the limbus (the edge of the iris). To address this, a coloured central button fused into a clear surround was proposed, although this did not reach mainstream use, and subsequently dyes were applied to the central part of the lens, with the periphery masked off to prevent tinting. The further development of colour soft lenses has taken some more interesting turns.
1980's - Cosmetic Coloured Contact Lenses Arrive
By the 1980's contact lens manufacturers were perfecting the techniques for mass-producing coloured contact lenses.
- The manufacturer Allergan - Hydron released a Soft Colour (Opaque) Soft Tint (transparent with clear pupil) lens type with a water percentage of 38% under the lens names Z6/Z4/H67/Mini/SC available in the following colours: Aqua, Sapphire, Emerald, Quartz and Amber and in one pattern only.
- The manufacturer Bausch & Lomb released a Natural Tint lens type with a water percentage of 38% under the lens names U3/U4/B3/Optima available in the following colours: Blue, Aqua, Green and Brown and in one pattern only.
- The manufacturer Ciba Vision (Titmus Eurocon) released an Ellipticolour lens type with a water percentage of 38% under the lens names 38E Range available in the following colours: Green, Blue, Aqua and Amber and in one pattern only.
- The manufacturer Coopervision released Mystique (Opaque) and Permaflex lens types with a water percentage of 38% and 74% respectively under the lens name 'One' available in the following colours: Two Greens, Two Blues, Spring Green, Sky Blue, Turquoise, Violet Blue and Gold and in two pupil sizes and one pattern respectively.
- The manufacturer Lunelle released an ES70 lens type with a water percentage of 70% under the lens name ES range available in the following colours: Lemon, Lagon(Blue) and Menthe and in one pattern only.
Many more manufacturers started to produce coloured lenses - they were not yet mainstream, but were headed that way.
1990's and Onwards
Manufacturers introduced more sophisticated manufacturing methods to produce increasingly realistic coloured contact lenses.
Different Types Of Coloured Lenses
Today, there is a wide variety of coloured lenses on the market to suit all tastes, from simple zero powered lenses to change your eye colour without a prescription to theatrical coloured contact lenses, and coloured contact lenses to correct almost any prescription.
- Plano colour contact lenses - Lenses worn solely for cosmetic purposes. They are designed to change your eye colour, but have no lens power for vision correction.
- Enhancement tint contact lenses - Lenses with a solid, yet partially translucent colouring that is slightly darker than a visibility tint. They are designed to enhance the natural colour of your eyes, and work best for people with light-coloured eyes who wish to make their eye colour more intense.
- Opaque tint contact lenses – Lenses with a non-transparent tint that can completely change your natural eye colour. If you have dark eyes, it's recommended that you use this type of lens to change your eye colour, as lighter or transparent colourings might be overpowered by dark eyes.
- Tinted contact lenses – Lenses that are coloured not for cosmetic reasons, but for the purpose of altering the wearer's vision. Usually green or blue, these are most popular with athletes, or people who spend a lot of time outside. Think of them as sunglasses, only contact lenses.
What Coloured Contacts Can You Buy Now?
There is now a wide range of coloured contact lenses available, we list our most popular coloured contact lenses. Most of them are meant to be worn once and then disposed of, others can be worn for 30 days before replacement. Whichever style lens you choose, be sure to follow proper care procedures.
- Freshlook Colourblends – Our most popular coloured contacts, use a 3-in-1 colour pattern that makes the lenses seem incredibly natural. These are great lenses if you are looking to alter the colour of a lighter coloured eye, or enhance the colour of a darker eye. Ideal for people looking to change their eye colour while still blending in. If matched properly to hair colour and skin tone, you can look like your eye colour of choice was what you were born with
- Air Optix colours – From the same manufacturer as the Freshlook Colorblends range, the primary difference is the lens material. By using a modern silicone hydrogel, six times as much oxygen is able to pass right through the lens, and into your eye. This helps keep them feeling healthy and fresh, reducing the likelihood of irritation or infection. It also allows these lenses to be worn for one month or up to 30 times over a longer period for occasional wear, as long as they are properly cleaned and handled.
- Freshlook One Day - Freshlook One Day daily coloured contact lenses combine the comfort and performance of the best Seller Focus Dailies All Day Comfort contact lenses with the cosmetic appeal of Freshlook Colorblends. If you wear Focus daily contact lenses you can now change your eye colour on a daily basis! They are available in Blue, green, pure hazel and grey.
- Freshlook Colours and Soflens Natural Colours - If your eyes are naturally dark in colour, or if you want a more dramatic effect, these are the lenses for you. Dark eyes tend to overpower partially translucent coloured lenses, and require an opaque colouring to make a noticeable change.
- Freshlook Dimensions – A great option for coloured lenses designed to enhance or change light eye colours for a beautiful natural look. These lenses, however, will be much less effective on darker eyes.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 24 Apr 2015, Last modified: 3 Jan 2023