The Eyes Have It with SFX Contact Lenses

Halloween is right around the corner and here at Alcone Company, we’re all hard at work planning our costumes and makeup. So far I’ve considered being a Greek God, a Demon Clown (the old standby), and even a Wicked Witch. All of these looks are doable and should be fun, but this year I really want to amp it up. I’ve decided that no matter which character I choose, in addition to my usual efforts, I’m going to add contact lenses!

Contact lenses date back to the late 1800s, and there is still some debate about who first invented them. Some say it was a German glassblower, and others attribute the creation to a Swiss physician and French optician. As far as their use in film makeup, according to an interview with Dr. Morton Greenspoon of VisionCare Associates, it was legendary makeup artist William Tuttle who asked Dr. Reuben Greenspoon to make special effects contacts in 1939. Tuttle was heading the makeup department on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film “Miracles for Sale,” and he needed the villain’s eyes to change color for the plot. Dr. Greenspoon obliged him and introduced the first colored contacts that were used to make the actor’s brown eyes appear blue. That was just the beginning. Cosmetic contact lenses continued to evolve from that point on with future generations. 

In the 1967 film “Wait Until Dark,” actress Audrey Hepburn’s character was blind. Previous iterations of “blind effect” contact lenses would block the wearer’s vision. This obstacle pushed the cosmetic contact industry forward by demanding better quality lenses that would not inhibit the actor’s ability to perform on set. It was Dr. Greenspoon’s son, Dr. Morton Greenspoon, who had the answer to solving this problem. He pioneered a stippling technique for these effects contact lenses that would allow the actor to see while wearing them. Their vision would still be partially impaired, but not completely. From then on, Dr. Morton Greenspoon helped create some of the most famous and iconic cosmetic contact lenses for film and television.

Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (1967)

Back when Dr. Greenspoon developed that first colored contact lens, the person who was going to wear them had to go to the optometrist and have their eyes measured. The doctor wouldn’t just examine the eyes like they do now, but also take an impression of the patient’s eye and then make a positive on which to sculpt the lense. Today, film quality cosmetic and special effects contact lenses are available to everyone. Whether you want stunningly bright blues, scary scarring, or extreme scleral coverage, they’re only a few clicks (or a short trip to the tattoo parlor/bodega/costume store) away. But be warned: in researching effects contact lenses, I’ve discovered some truly terrifying info. Contact lenses are regarded as a Class ll medical device by the FDA. And for a good reason. You only get one pair of eyeballs, and anything you put in contact with your eyes can affect them. That’s why in the United States, it’s illegal to sell contacts without a prescription. High-quality, well-made lenses are safe to wear for a prescribed period of time, whereas low-quality lenses have many potential risks, including irritation and permanent damage to the eye. In 2017, the FDA Forensic Chemistry Center in Ohio researched and published their findings on bacterial growth in decorative, non-corrective contact lenses in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Damaged eye from contact lenses from the College of Opticians of Ontario)

The study tested over 300 lenses, with the majority of these products coming from tattoo parlors, novelty shops, and the internet. Findings showed that 60% of counterfeit lenses and 27% of unapproved lenses tested positive for microbial contamination. Some of the bacteria found in that study could lead to pain, permanent loss of vision, or even full loss of the eye itself. Additionally, some lenses were made from an impermeable material that could suffocate the eye by restricting airflow. Some were stamped with paint containing lead, and some stored in a chlorinated solution.

If all of this isn’t upsetting enough, remember that your eyes are not like anyone else’s. They have their own shape and size, and because of this, there’s no such thing as a universal, one-size-fits-all contact lens. According to the FDA, an ill-fitting contact lens can lead to corneal tears and abrasions. It can also cut off the air supply to the eye by forming too tight a bond, or it can even fold into the eye causing a multitude of complications. When purchasing contacts, make sure the retailer asks for your prescription. Otherwise, they are not selling FDA-compliant contact lenses, and these could be very dangerous to your eye health. Anyone who sells lenses without a prescription is not only selling lenses that are not approved by the FDA, they’re breaking the law. Don’t gamble away your eye health to save a few bucks or an afternoon. Your eyes are worth more than that!

Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973)

I’m still not quite sure what I’m going to be for Halloween, but I am sure that I’ll be taking my makeup game to the next level by wearing super cool, if not super scary, contact lenses.

Here are a few more of my favorite contact looks to get inspired.

Keifer Sutherland in The Lost Boys (1987)

Micheal Jackson in the Thriller music video (1983)
Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Slavitza Jovan in Ghostbusters (1984)

Bill Bixby and Loe Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk (TV Series 1977- 1982)

Post contributed by J.D. Kraemer

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