“Contact lenses that fit the eye poorly could cause eye damage, including scratches on the cornea, corneal infection, conjunctivitis, decreased vision, and blindness.” This isn’t the voiceover announcement to accompany a drug commercial but language from the charging document filed against 10 Los Angeles-area retailers, including Zzotta Shoes in Ventura’s Pacific View Mall, which allegedly sold non-prescription contact lenses to consumers. The U.S. Attorney Office investigation found that some of the lenses were contaminated with “dangerous pathogens that can cause eye injury, blindness, and loss of the eye,” its press release said.
Along with the Operation Fright Night investigation, the state Public Health department warns Halloween-costume purchasers to beware of novelty contact lenses that solely change the appearance of the eye. They are branded as “color, cosmetic, fashion, and theatrical” contact lenses, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). The brands in question, Wonder Look, Red Rose, Black & White, Beauty World, and Crazy Eagle, are largely marketed as Halloween and beauty accessories, and sold over the counter.
Some decorative lenses have passed federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act muster and, as medical devices, are available only from ophthalmologists or optometrists by prescription. An eye-care professional can ensure the lens fits the shape of the eye, explained Amanda Bettinelli, an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Community Safety Crimes Section, and wearers should know that discomfort from a novelty lens is not going to go away if it’s caused by a bad fit. “Consumers should not be buying contact lenses from a beauty salon, shoe store, or Halloween shop,” Bettinelli added. Some of the novelty lenses have been repackaged and misbranded, she said, and lack the manufacturer information, which is an FDA requirement for medical devices.
The defendants face arraignment in federal court for misdemeanor offenses and, if found guilty, could be penalized up to one year in federal prison and fines of $100,000-$200,000. The state health department advises consumers who have had eye problems after using decorative lenses to see their health care provider or contact the CDPH at (800) 495-3232.