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Originally published July 9, 2010 at 4:20 PM | Page modified July 9, 2010 at 6:31 PM

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Unapproved contacts to emulate Japanese anime look not worth risk to vision

The trend among teens and young women to use unapproved contact lenses to make their eyes larger is dangerous. The contacts are not approved by the Food and Drug and Administration and ophthalmologists say the larger size and poor fit can injure or permanently damage eyes.

AT first, the circle contact lenses that make the eyes look bigger and are the rage among teen girls and young women seem pretty harmless. These smoky pink, sky blue, cosmo mint green and honey wing brown contact lenses extend color beyond the iris and give teens and young women a wider-than-life, doe-eyed look reminiscent of Japanese anime.

Think Lady Gaga in her "Bad Romance" video, with her eyes-the-size-of-silver dollars luring the viewer into the bathtub. Actually her eyes were enlarged by computer. But she is enough of a trendsetter to inspire a fad that creates an anime or cartoonish look for the eyes that many girls and young women find attractive. Hence, the mad dash to the Internet to buy lenses from Asia not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

While the contacts appear to be just another cosmetic fad, the trouble is young girls are ordering them without a prescription — no prescription, no proper fitting and potentially plenty of harm.

Contact lenses are safest when measured to sit properly on the eye. The FDA and ophthalmologists say ill-fitting contacts can scratch the cornea and cause a slew of problems, not least of which is infection, and in the worst case, blindness.

"If it is a severe strain of infection, you can lose vision and... even in rarer cases lose the eye," says Thellea Leveque, clinical assistant professor in the University of Washington Department of Ophthalmology.

Some of the ads for new circle lens tout wider and wider diameters for the new lenses, which Leveque says, increases the likelihood they won't fit well. It thus becomes more difficult to put them in and out.

Corrective or cosmetic contact lenses are sold legally in the U.S. with a prescription. The Lady Gaga look comes without a prescription and therein lies the loss of quality control and fit.

Many fads, say, for example, the saggy jean phenomenon that seemed to last forever featured pants that sat somewhere near the middle of the teenage boy's rear end. But at least it did not really hurt anyone, well, except for one's pride when the pants fell down.

But the circle contact fashion craze is deeply troubling because eyes are so delicate. The best bet is to wait until circle contacts are approved in the U.S. and have a doctor fit them. Eyes are far too important to risk for a flash-in-the-pan fad that is here today and gone tomorrow.

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