It seems that internet sales of color and decorative contact lenses without prescription would pose the greatest threat to consumer vision health for those who shun professional eye exams, but here’s another: eye drops and balms that claim to change eye color. These products are considered “cosmetic” and therefore do not undergo the rigorous FDA testing that therapeutics do. Aimed primarily at those who want to make their brown eyes blue, the products contain n-acetyl-glucosamine, the same ingredient used to lighten skin. The chemical reduces melanin, the brownish pigment that colors hair, skin and the iris of the eye.
Dissatisfaction with one’s genetically determined eye color is nothing new. The infamous doctor Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death” at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, injected adrenaline into children’s eyes in an attempt to change eye color as part of his genetic studies. Historically, some cultures have equated lighter eye colors with certain class or aesthetic benefits, and lighter eye colors are a preference based on the color of contact lenses sold worldwide. As with other areas of personal aesthetics, some consumers are looking for an easy DIY, more permanent fix, and drops and creams are appealing.
Eyecare professionals have come out against these products with stern warnings about using untested products in and around the eyes. Long-term effects and effects on other eye structures are unknown. For example, the retinal pigment epithelium contains melanin to protect the retinal cells from damage caused by oxidative stress. Would drops and balms diminish that melanin, too? What’s more, in online reviews, most consumers complained of having received expired products, sometimes expired by more than a year. Very few of the reviews were positive. Many cited side effects such as blurred vision, swollen eyes, redness, photophobia, dry eye and rash. Others noted that the products just didn’t work after several months at around $50 for a month’s supply.
Once again, ECPs are responsible for educating consumers about eye and vision health, but how can we reach people who want to bypass professional vision services? We can take advantage of websites and social media to get information out about these potentially harmful products. We can note that eye color is genetic, and those with light eyes lack some of the sun protection darker eyes provide, just like skin tones. Be sure to include a message to love yourself “just the way you are”!
• Linda Conlin
Pro to Pro Managing Editor