More young people are buying cosmetic lenses online

SINGAPORE - To replicate the doe-eyed looks of her favourite anime characters, this Secondary 3 student is turning to cosmetic lenses.

"Cosplayers have to wear coloured contacts. If you don't then you will spoil the image of the character and you will get flamed for it," says 15-year-old Annabelle Tang, whose favourite anime is One Piece.

Her anime obsession started three years ago and she became a cosplayer last year. Cosplay, from the term "costume play", is a kind of performance art in which practitioners don costumes and accessories to reflect their favourite characters.

"There's a cosplayer community where they flame cosplayers for inaccurate costumes," she says. "I flame others a lot but I have more lovers than haters."

As for her cosmetic lenses - the bigger and brighter, the better.

"Circle lenses are usually larger and look nicer. The colours are more vibrant and they are way cheaper. They're also not so dry," she says, comparing coloured lenses, also known as circle lenses, to clear lenses.

Annabelle is a typical example of the beauty contact lens wearers in Singapore, say experts.

According to Ms Shirley Loh, an in-house optometrist at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, users of these beauty lenses - so-called because they have no prescriptions and are used to enhance the shape and colour of the wearer's irises - are between 15 and 24 years old when they first start putting them on.

But alarmingly, these young wearers buy their lenses directly off the Internet. "I buy them from blogshops because they are cheap and they have the colours that I want," says Annabelle.

At any one time in a month, she has a range of up to 10 cosmetic lenses to choose from.

"I have green, blue, black, grey, pink and purple," she says.

"I wear them almost every day."

Earlier this year in April, a clampdown on unlicensed vendors selling cosmetic lenses resulted in the shutting down of about 60 blogshops and websites. But the popularity of the online cosmetic lens trade has not faded.

Another wearer, 15-year-old Celine Chong, says: "I would buy them online because the price at the optical shop is high and my parents won't pay for it."

Because Annabelle gets them directly from suppliers, she only spends $2 to $3 for a pair, which lasts up to a year.

She claims that the ones sold at optical shops cost up to $42 for a pair of monthly disposables, while those that last up to three months can cost at least $100.

And she does not think she is taking any risks.

"They are yearly contact lenses but I change them after half a year.

"It's okay if you take care of it like regular contact lens, by washing with the solution," she says.

Even with proper washing, other complications may arise

But even with proper washing, other complications may arise, experts say.

"Cosmetic lenses are also medical devices. You should go to an optometrist who will explain the cleaning procedure and do a proper fitting," Ms Loh says.

"The Internet doesn't offer a proper consultation so people don't know what's best for them."

Another health expert, Dr Lim Li, a senior consultant ophthalmologist at the Singapore National Eye Centre, warns: "Contact lenses actually come in various sizes and if the lenses are bought off the Internet, they may not fit your eyes.

"You then may have a higher risk of developing contact lens-related complications, such as corneal infections, allergic reactions and other corneal conditions."

Dr Lim is also concerned that the authenticity of Internet-bought lenses may be suspect.

Ms Loh, who did a study in Australia on cosmetic lens users, says that people are five times more likely to get eye infections if they buy cosmetic lenses online.

She says that the same results can be applied to Singapore.

But the possibility of getting eye infections does not scare Annabelle, who sometimes buys them from sellers on Facebook.

"When we buy from Facebook we can see what others say. If there are a lot of positive reviews, then you know its safe," says Annabelle, who stays loyal to a select number of sellers.

Eye experts warn that consequences of a careless attitude towards contact lenses can be very ugly.

"You can even lose your sight," says Ms Loh.

At least one wearer is taking heed.

After her first experience of using such lenses, Celine is not going to buy cosmetic lenses off the Internet anymore.

She threw them away less than a month after she started wearing them.

"I was quite worried because I heard a lot about the dangers. I got quite scared when my eyes got dry and itchy after three weeks.

"Now I would prefer to get them from the optical shop. I feel safer because it is licensed, though it's more expensive."

Ms Loh adds: "There are always risks involved when you buy them online. But when it comes to your eyes, you don't want to be taking these kinds of risks just to save a few dollars."

Dr Yip Chee Chew, head and senior consultant of the ophthalmology and visual sciences department at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, and Dr Lim Li, senior consultant ophthalmologist at the Singapore National Eye Centre, talk to TNPS about buying and using cosmetic lenses.

What can happen if you buy cosmetic lenses online:

According to Dr Yip

There is a risk of poor fit, causing irritation and pain. In severe cases, corneal abrasion may occur and expose the cornea to infection, causing severe eye pain, tearing and blurred vision.

Risks of infection from improper sterilisation of the product.

Poor oxygen permeability of the contact lens can cause blurred vision from swelling of the cornea.

Poor lens material may cause eye allergies, causing redness, swelling and itch and eye discharge. Constant rubbing of the eyes can cause the eyelid skin and skin around the eyes to become red and swollen.

What you should do:

According to Dr Lim,

Do not trivialise your coloured lens and treat it like a cosmetic. It is similar to wearing a clear lens.

Do not share coloured lenses with your friends.

You should dispose of your lenses according to the duration of wear recommended. For example, do not wear your monthly disposable for more than a month.

Do not take shortcuts in your contact lens care regimen.

Overnight wear of contact lenses has been associated with an increased risk of corneal infections and is not recommended.

If you experience discomfort, stop wearing your lenses and consult your practitioner.

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