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The Halloween season spells big business for the cosmetic contact lens industry, as consumers shop for just the right lenses to play the part of a mummy or vampire, or to change the color of their eyes for the evening. But as the nation’s consumer protection agency, the Federal Trade Commission wants consumers to know that all contacts – even those that are cosmetic or theatrical – require a prescription.

According to an FTC publication called “Avoiding an Eyesore: What to Know Before You Buy Cosmetic Contacts,” businesses that sell cosmetic contacts must verify that consumers have a prescription, or they are violating the law; and eye-care professionals who provide eye exams must give consumers a copy of their prescription. These requirements of the Contact Lens Rule address health concerns: lenses that don't fit properly can cause problems such as conjunctivitis (pink eye), as well as scratches and sores on the cornea.

In 2003, Congress enacted the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, which imposed new prescription release and verification requirements on contact lens prescribers and sellers. In July 2004, the Commission issued the Contact Lens Rule to implement the Act. In November 2005, Congress amended the law to state that all contact lenses, including cosmetic or colored contacts, are restricted medical devices. A prescription from a medical professional is required to purchase a restricted medical device. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “Decorative contact lenses present significant risks of blindness and other eye injury if they are distributed without a prescription or without proper fitting by a qualified eye care professional.”

Other business and consumer education materials from the FTC include “The Contact Lens Rule: A Guide for Prescribers and Sellers,” which educates contact lens prescribers, sellers, and consumers about the Contact Lens Rule; and “The Eyes Have It – Get Your Prescription,” which educates consumers about contact lens prescriptions.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

(FYI contact lens)

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