Contact lenses are those soft plastic-y things that sit directly on our eyeballs and help us see. Then someone had the bright idea of drawing on them, and the costuming world has never been the same! But the “directly on your eyeballs” factor necessitates a lot of considerations for safe cosplay contacts, and these are better answered by optometrists than influencers.
Before I started reading up on safe cosplay contacts, I had the misconception that the process was very simple. I assumed it was all just a matter of doing a quick Google search and clicking “add to cart.” Not so coincidentally, companies want us to think exactly that, so that we’ll buy their cheap contacts. Your fellow cosplayers are often perfectly happy to keep thinking exactly that so they can still afford to build those epic, next level cosplays. I’m sure there’s a part of you that would prefer to keep thinking that, too. At one point, I definitely wanted to keep thinking that, but when I finally talked to an optometrist, I learned just how much apathetic hearsay is going around at the expense of safety.
As more of us get vaccinated and start to hope for a future that involves herd immunity and a return to comic cons, our cosplay plans are ramping up again. Maybe you have cosplay contacts that you haven’t touched in over a year, and you’re hoping they’re still safe to wear (spoilers: NOPE, sorry!!) Maybe you’ve been spending the pandemic building the most epic costume you’ve ever created and you’re ready to start looking for cosplay contacts to go with it. Here’s how to do it safely and not irreparably damage your eyes before you can fully enjoy life after the pandemic.
Note 1, Content warning: Tangential references and warnings about serious eye infections with no specific details and no photos of damaged eyes. You’ll eventually come across that if you click through enough of the linked content, but they use content warnings, too.
Note 2, Transparency: In this article, I speak highly of a certain website and a certain lens manufacturer, but I have not been compensated or sponsored by either of them. My recommendations are based solely on advice from my optometrist and my experience wearing a pair of contacts I paid full price for.
Disclaimer: I’m not an optometrist. I’m the result of either your google search or someone on the internet sending you a link and saying “hey read this!” Neither of those sources are a good substitute for the following rule….
Rule 1: Talk to an optometrist first!
This is the most important rule! Here’s an ophthalmology association telling you the same thing. (Getting some definitions out of the way, an Optometrist is the specialist at the eyeglasses store who will give you an eye exam and use their advanced degree to advise you on how to safely use contacts. An Ophthalmologist is the medical doctor / eye surgeon whose services we’re all hoping to avoid. )
This is not an article that will give you medical advice. This is an article that will tell you to get your medical advice from a professional and then offer the following:
- An understanding of WHY it’s a good idea to see an optometrist
- What to expect from the conversation
- Good topics and questions to bring up
- Reminders of things they’re likely to tell you in case you forget
- A discussion of common tips from a uniquely cosplay perspective
- Extra emphasis of important things they might downplay out of politeness
- Hey, sometimes people find it hard to caps lock at clients who are paying them a lot of money!
- Possibly even a few tips your optometrist will forget to mention
- Again, these tips will only lead to the safe wearing of contacts in the context of YOU ACTUALLY TALKING TO A PROFESSIONAL INSTEAD OF A COSPLAYER.
- Here! Have some all-caps! I’m not making optometrist-money off your clicks; I’m making Etsy-impulse-buy-money.
- (Hopefully my editor lets me keep that last one!)
Where to get safe cosplay contacts
Speaking of my editor, let’s skip the five paragraph backstory. Suffice to say, I’ve been a cosplayer with an eye for accuracy (pun intended) my entire life. In the summer of 2019, I decided to get my first pair of cosplay contacts. And I’d heard horror stories about infections, so I sought advice from optometrists to get safe cosplay contacts.
I knew that optometrists often advertised regular color changing contacts, so I knew there would likely be plenty of safe sources for those. I was right! If that’s all you want, you’re in luck. There’s a few that are recommended in this safe cosplay contact article from Vox. Ask your optometrist which ones they prefer. But I needed the cool non-human cosplay contacts, and there’s a much smaller target market for those. When I started calling around to local optometrists, the first thing I learned surprised me….
Rule 2: Optometrists consider NO cosplay contacts to be fully safe.
I know the article literally starts with the words “safe cosplay contacts,” but the Venn diagram of “safe” and “cosplay contacts” are two circles sitting five feet apart in a hot tub. All you can do is get from “not safe” to “as safe as possible.” Predictably I was satisfied with the “as safe as possible” option. Finally I found an optometrist willing to talk. (This is a very important thing to do in general by the way! Admit to your trusted doctors, dentists, optometrists, psychiatrists, personal trainers, etc when you’re realistically not going to change your habits and behavior exactly the way they recommend. Then ask them to clarify the exact risks you’re facing and suggest things you can do minimize them.)
I’m really glad I opened up about this, even if some optometrists refused to advise me. I’m really glad one optometrist was willing to listen, because the best practices we discussed have kept me safe while wearing cosplay contacts, and now hopefully, they’ll keep you safe, too. The most valuable thing she told me was that she’s heard from hundreds of other optometrists on this topic, and out of everyone willing to consider making a recommendation, they all agree (almost unanimously) on the following rule:
Rule 3: The only recommendation for acceptably safe cosplay contacts is Gothika.
“Gothika” is a brand of theatrical contact lenses developed by Orion Vision Group. The most established, popular place to buy them is a website called VampFangs. Googling “Gothika” reveals a variety of other sites that also sell their products. Gothika has a rare combination of two important things going for it: FDA approval, and prescription requirements.
Rule 4: Definitely don’t buy any contacts unless they’re FDA approved AND the company requires a prescription.
Companies are required by (USA) law to obtain a prescription before selling you contacts. Contact lenses are categorized (in the USA) by the FDA as a medical device. Gothika and several other places follow the laws. Any site selling you lenses without a prescription or FDA approval is inexperienced or unscrupulous enough to break the law, which brings their lens quality into question. No matter how popular some other brand of cosplay contacts is, if they don’t require a prescription or have FDA approval, they’re not trustworthy or reliable. (Sidenote: “AquaVue” and “ColorVue” are two very different and unrelated contact lens companies.)
One of the main reasons the FDA requires a prescription for contact lenses is, to circle back to Rule 1 again, because NOBODY should go around putting things in their eyes without consulting with an optometrist first. Yes, even get a prescription for contacts if your vision is perfect. Yes, even get a prescription for contacts if you already have a prescription for glasses. Contacts prescriptions are different. There’s so much that could be going on with your eyes besides bad vision.
An optometrist won’t just give you a prescription. They’ll also offer you the following:
- Step-by-step guidance through the process of selecting and ordering lenses, along with the confidence that comes from knowing what to expect
- Verification that you can put in and take out contacts safely
- Care instructions. (Who knows, maybe I’ll forget something in the next section, because I’m NOT AN OPTOMETRIST!)
- A measurement of the curve of your eye, which varies from person to person, and could cause issues if you wear the wrong contact shape
- A checkup for your eyes in general to make sure you don’t have any unexpected aversion to contacts (There are a surprisingly high number of ways that can happen, including to people who haven’t had issues in the past!)
- A rundown of all the ways cosplay contacts differ from regular contacts (if you wear those) and how to adjust your approach
- Answers to all your questions
Luckily, I asked my optometrist a LOT of questions, so when you go to your appointment, you’ll have lots of great topics to bring up….
How to make cosplay contacts more comfortable and safe.
This category is made up of two very important rules…
Rule 5: Follow all best practices when caring for your contacts.
Infection risk goes up with improper wear and care. These rules are tedious, and you may be tempted to cut corners, but why risk your eyes just to avoid mild inconvenience?
- Don’t store your contacts in the bathroom.
- Don’t get them wet (i.e. cleaning with water, showering, or swimming.)
- Don’t sleep in them.
- Learn the shelf life of your contacts once you open them (anywhere from 3 months to a year) and then throw them out when they expire.
- Once a month, use contact solution to rinse and scrub the lenses and case, then refill with fresh solution.
- Also do this the day before you’re going to wear them.
- Cosplay contacts feel bigger and clunkier than regular contacts and take some getting used to. Try them on for the first time at least a few days before the con.
- Follow all other care instructions given to you by the vendor and your optometrist.
Rule 6: The most horrendous infections tend to only happen because the person keeps saying “it’ll be fine” or “it’s not that bad” or “I can probably wear these for one more day.” Don’t be that person.
Infections often take some time to get bad. Irritation takes a while before serious infection sets in. This gives you more than enough advance warning. Use it! As soon as your eyes start to feel a little “off,” TAKE THE CONTACTS OUT. The feeling of “off-ness” could be as mild as the feeling of having something in your eye or as serious as blurry vision and light sensitivity. This is the MOST tempting rule to break, but if you ever find yourself in this position, know that you’re literally at the point of no return. Don’t wait for “not that bad” to worsen into a horrific “yes that bad, very very bad” infection.
How cosplayers can outsmart our own bad instincts
Not enough of the other articles talk about how cosplayers are far more susceptible to break Rule 6, so I’m going to spend more time writing about our unique challenges when it comes to safe cosplay contacts…because whew, let me assure you, I understand! I’ve been there with so many aspects of convention culture. It hurts. It’s hard. We’re people who want the thing to be perfect, whether that thing is a cosplay, event, panel, or anything else. And that perfect outcome is often very much in our grasp. When things look hopeless, we just shrug and make do the night before with superglue and safety pins and then we look fantastic the next day on 3 hours of sleep. If something is “not that bad,” we ignore it because it’s “probably fine.” We’re magic that way. But there’s no clever cosplay trick for fixing issues with contacts. There’s just a clever trick for saving your eyesight. And that clever trick is the final rule…
Rule 7: Don’t wear cosplay contacts unless you’re prepared to make the necessary judgement calls to sacrifice accuracy for safety whenever you need to.
If you don’t prepare for that moment, you might not have the willpower to make the right decision. Bottom line: Contacts aren’t worth hurting your eyes. Repeat after me: “My cosplay looks amazing even without contacts.”
If you’re at the point where you’re spending your cosplay-building-energy reading articles on the internet about how to spend a bunch of money to safely insert something under your eyelids, then congratulations, I bet the rest of your cosplay is pretty epic, too! If Madame Vastra from Doctor Who can be a scaly green Silurian with the actor keeping her human-brown eyes and nobody noticing, then your character will be just fine too!
Here are some other mantras:
- “Not that bad” means I need to stop wearing them. It doesn’t mean “probably fine.”
- I’m looking forward to (possibly) having awesome eyes with this awesome cosplay, but I’ll only do it by wearing SAFE cosplay contacts.
- I’d rather people be slightly less impressed by my cosplay than gossip about me when they hear I got an eye infection.
- Getting these contacts is going to be expensive, and I might feel like that means I have to wear them at all costs, but no! I’m never going to guilt myself into bypassing safety.
- I will be safe when picking out contacts.
- The most accurate cosplay contacts might not be safe. What I want is the most accurate SAFE cosplay contacts.
- The most accurate SAFE cosplay contacts might not be vision-correcting. Even if that’s something I need, I won’t give up on safety. I’ll decide now whether I’d rather have bad vision or even less accurate contacts.
- I might see other cosplayers with more accurate contacts. They’re taking risks that I don’t want to take.
- If I really really really don’t want to risk not getting to wear the contacts, I’ll buy a backup pair ahead of time if I can afford it.
- I will be safe before the event.
- If they arrive and have a flaw that makes them feel “off,” I won’t wear them, even if there’s no time to get them replaced.
- If my contacts are vision-correcting, I will plan to bring glasses along with me in case I need to suddenly take the contacts out.
- I will be safe during the event.
- If they start to feel “off” partway through the day, I will stop and take them out, even if there’s something really cool going on.
- If they felt “off” yesterday, I won’t try to put them back in today
- I will be safe after the event.
- If they felt off, I will just throw them out instead of trying to troubleshoot what went wrong so I can wear them again.
- Even if I do “waste” a lot of money, it’s not really a waste.
- I still have the prescription.
- There’s always the next con.
- I can use my experience to try to make things better next time.
- I have a really interesting cosplay story to tell now. It will make me sound really mature.
One more time: “My cosplay looks amazing even without contacts!”
…Because it really does!
(Comment with links to photos of your cosplays without contacts, and I’ll tell you in detail why they look so amazing!)
Author: Corellon Johnson
Corellon is an engineer, cosplayer, group admin, creative fandom polymath, and chaotic good paladin of Carrie Fisher.
They’ve run over 50 fan panels and con events and can be found starting way too many projects in the Good Omens, Bioware, and Star Wars fandoms.
Newport News, Virginia, USA
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