Call her super-talented or super-insane, there's no denying that Lady Gaga has a magnetic effect on young girls, inspiring thousands of young fans to don blond wigs, sheer lace leggings, yellow caution tape and even sunglasses made out of cigarettes. But, the latest Gaga trend — circle lenses, has got not only fashion critics worried, but eye doctors as well.
Circle lenses were available before the Gaga explosion, and in fact their popularity originated in Japan, Singapore and South Korea where many young women wear them to accentuate their eyes to resemble Japanese anime characters. The decorative contact lenses come in a variety of colors and give the wearer a doe-eyed, childlike appearance.
Dr. James Salz, clinical professor of ophthalmology at USC, says the lenses aren't radically different from the older colored contacts used for years to change people's eye color, "except that before, the contacts weren't also trying to enlarge the color of the iris."
Unlike traditional colored contact lenses, which cover only the iris of the eye, circle lenses extend to cover part of the whites as well. Aside from the Lady Gaga allure, many young women claim that they wear them to make their eyes look bigger.
Since 2005, it has been illegal in the United States to sell any type of contact lenses — corrective or cosmetic — without a prescription, which is why no major manufacturer in the United States sells these contacts. Most young women end up getting them through online sellers that they have found out about through message boards and YouTube videos. Costs range from around $20 to $30 a pair, and corrective versions of the circle lenses are not available.
Perhaps the biggest tiff that doctors such as Salz have with these lenses is that girls can buy these without a prescription. No prescription means no sizing or fitting of the lenses to the eye.
"Each eye is unique and has different curvatures. There isn't just one size," Salz said.
For those who wear contacts that are too tight, the risks include swelling of the cornea, redness or corneal abrasion. Contacts that are too loose will move around and can also cause irritation and redness.
The main risk however, is infection, which Salz fears might become common among teens who wear these contacts and, thinking they are benign, decide that it's OK to sleep in them.
"Sleeping in contact lenses probably increases the risk of infection tenfold because the eye gets less oxygen when you sleep at night, it's easier for bacteria and infection to breed," he said.
Ideally, Salz said, for the circle lenses to be safe — or safer, at least — the manufacturers should offer the contacts in a variety of sizes so that they can properly fit their customers.
But at the very least, if you aren't going to chuck your circle lenses in the trash, Salz recommends that the best way to prevent infection and other eye problems is to wear them only for short periods of time and to soak them in sterilizing contact lens solution when you sleep.
Here's the warning from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Here's a New York Times article on the issue and another from Britain's Independent.