Specialty Contacts: A Cautionary Tale

Specialty Contacts: A Cautionary Tale
"Drusilla" (Juliet Landau) from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Posted: Friday October 24, 2008

So, you’ve got your cat tail, ears and whiskers all ready for your feline Halloween costume, but the face make-up is missing something. If you’re thinking of completing your costume with cat contacts, there are some safety issues you should keep in mind.

Consumers and make-up artists need to be cautious of lenses found in retail outlets or on the Internet. Often the retailers aren’t licensed to carry the special effects lenses and the contacts may not be manufactured to the correct standards. According to ophthalmologist Dr. Jonathan Gording, special effects lenses often have two layers: the inner white layer is basically a salt, he says, and a dye is applied to the outer layer for the desired effect. These hand-made lenses are fragile and need to be inspected for nicks, edge defects or other deformities.

Also, scleral contact lenses (ScCLs), often used for special effects, increase the risk of corneal erosions under the eyelid due to their heavier nature, especially if the lenses are poor quality or are poorly fitted. Any contact lens wearers and their ophthalmologists need to watch for conjunctivitis and fungal corneal infections. 
 
The same safety precautions hold true for make-up artists and entertainment industry professionals. Gording has worked on numerous television shows and films as a contact lens special effects expert, from ER to The X Files and Ali to Van Helsing. He insists on set safety from the beginning.

“With each new production company,” he said in an Ophthalmology Times article, “I go to the producer and say, ‘These are medical devices. They can’t be inserted on the set. They have to be inserted in the trailer, in a clean environment where my lens tech can wash his or her hands, instead of slapped in by a make-up artist with powders and paints on their fingers.’”

One of the most important steps in using special effects contacts is the relationship between the ophthalmologist or technician and the person wearing the lenses. The contacts should first be fitted by an optometrist to achieve the right comfort level. For film or TV productions, once the actor is on the set, a technician is there with them. The technician inserts and removes the lenses as well as applies artificial tears every 10 to 15 minutes. Location scenarios such as wind and dust also require the expertise of someone like Gording, who knows how to deal with irritated eyes.

Once these steps are taken for the safety of your eyes, you’ll be able to get the cat eye look you want—just make sure you apply eye drops in between soirées. 

 

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