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Non-prescription Costume Contacts Can Be Dangerous

Gray, green, blue eyes. Julian Hamlin switched up his look day to day in high school with $20 colored contact lenses he bought at a gas station, no prescription required.

As a 17-year-old, he just wanted to stand out. Today he still does, but not for the same reasons. The South Carolina native has to wear an eye patch or sunglasses constantly because he’s still recovering from the 10 surgeries needed to treat the infections and injuries those non-prescription contact lenses caused.

Julian Hamlin wanted costume contact lenses to change his eye color. They ended up changing his life by taking away vision in one eye.

He is legally blind in his left eye. While his eye color has changed, it is because of multiple surgeries. His right eye is still brown, the damaged one is blue.

“It gets difficult at times,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely changed my life forever.”

He’s suffered multiple eye infections, a cataract and secondary glaucoma, all of which required surgery. To control the high pressure in his eye from glaucoma, doctors implanted a stent.

“It’s seriously impacted his life. This is going on three years, corneal and glaucoma surgery,” said Hamlin’s ophthalmologist, David O’Day, M.D., of Charleston Cornea & Refractive Surgery. “If pressure gets really high in the eye, it sort of destroys the optic nerve. You can’t get that back again.”

Dr. O’Day said it’s a travesty that these non-prescription contact lenses remain for sale around the nation, despite the FDA ban on sales of these lenses from non-licensed vendors such as beauty parlors, gas stations and flea markets.

“These come in cases that are non-sterile with no instructions,” Dr. O’Day said. “There’s no way anybody should ever be wearing these things.”

Meanwhile, Hamlin is working to move on, but regular doctors’ visits make it hard to keep a job. Reading for school has become difficult because the letters run together if the type is small.

To those who think they need to change their eye color with over-the-counter decorative contact lenses, whether it’s for a costume or everyday life, Hamlin sends his own warning.

“It’s not even worth it. Be who you are. There’s no need to try to change who you are,” Hamlin said. “I did that, and I’m still suffering.”

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