• Costume Contacts Dealt A Blinding Blow to Julian’s Vision

    Reviewed By James M Huffman, MD
    Edited By Kierstan Boyd
    Sep. 02, 2021

    Buying Cosmetic Contacts Without A Prescription Can Lead To Vision Loss

    In high school, Julian Hamlin switched up his look day to day with $20 colored contact lenses he bought at a gas station, no prescription required. Changing his eye color daily from gray to green to blue with costume lenses helped the 17-year-old feel like he stood out. Today he still does, but not for the same reasons. The South Carolina native has to wear an eye patch or sunglasses constantly after 10 surgeries were needed to treat the infections and injuries those non-prescription contact lenses caused.

    Julian Hamlin’s life changed permanently when non-prescription decorative contact lenses stole sight in one of his eyes.

    Video: Julian's Sight Loss Story

    Julian 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," 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."