LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A popular Halloween accessory could be a hazard to your health. Color contact lenses are extremely popular especially among teenage girls, but they can also be dangerous if not properly prescribed. In an undercover investigation, I found back door color contact lenses being sold illegally at a number of stores in our area.
The lenses themselves aren't illegal. But selling them without a prescription is not only dangerous it's against the law. We found lenses being sold illegally on both sides of the river, including at a store called Nirvana inside Green Tree Mall in Clarksville.
"You come over here and just tell me which ones you want because we have all the colors," the clerk told me while the hidden camera was rolling.
The unauthorized sale of cosmetic contacts was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005 after several people suffered eye damage. However that didn't stop us from buying a set of purple contacts at Nirvana with no doctor, no prescription and no questions asked.
"They will be $24.99 for one if you buy two I will give you $40 for two," the clerk said on video.
Dr. Mark Stovall, a Louisville optometrist who has treated patients that suffered eye injuries using non-prescribed color contacts, said using the illegal color contacts could cost you much more than that.
"You can cause a lot of damage pretty quickly," said Dr. Stovall.
Dr. Stovall said fashion shops and flea market operators that illegally sell the lenses don't have the training needed to show customers how to use them, how to care for them, or what happens when you leave them in too long.
"It's like a little breeding ground for infection," said Dr. Stovall. "So it can happen pretty quickly. Eye infections happen quick."
Depending on the curvature of your eye, Dr. Stovall said the fit of black market color contacts can also cause problems. He said worst case scenario is you damage your eye so severely you would need a cornea transplant. That's exactly what a 14-year-old girl from Queens, New York is facing after she scratched the surface of her eye using an illegal, non-prescribed color contact lens like the ones we spotted with our hidden camera at the Fashion Place on Fourth Street in Louisville. We found two different brands for sale, "High Fashion" and "Fresh Look."
The FDA said all contact lenses, even zero power or "plano" lenses, are considered prescription devices and any "over the counter" sales are in violation of federal law, even for lenses that have FDA approval, which many on the black market do not.
The FDA told us the "High Fashion" color contact lenses have not been approved for use by the FDA. "Look at Me Color Contacts," the ones we bought at Green Tree Mall, don't have FDA approval either, even though the box carries the FDA seal.
Despite the potential civil penalties, up to an $11,000 fine for every set illegally sold, the FDA knows illegal color contacts remain readily available and in many cases, right in plain sight.
We alerted Green Tree Mall to the illegal sale of the color contacts, and they spoke with the owner of Nirvana had them pull the lenses off its shelves.
If you would like to report the illegal sale of color contacts to the FDA, call the regional complaint coordinator. In Kentucky, the number to call is 800-437-2382. The state of Indiana is served by a regional complaint coordinator in Michigan who can be reached by calling 313-393-8189.
For more information from the FDA about illegal color contact sales, click here.
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