US Contact Lenses May Contain PFAS

Soft contacts could come with a hidden cost
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2023 7:21 PM CDT
Research Indicates Soft Contact Lenses Could Contain PFAS
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / lolostock)

PFAS are chemicals used in products such as nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and according to a report cited by the Guardian, some soft contact lenses. Scott Belcher, a researcher at North Carolina State University, tells the paper that after tests of 18 known contact lens brands revealed organic fluorine, a PFAS marker, "You could consider [them] almost pure PFAS." Given that PFAS are persistent in the environment and can accumulate in the body, that's bad news. The Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the CDC, lists effects discovered from animal studies, including liver damage, immune system problems, and—in newborns—birth defects, delayed development, and even deaths.

According to the Guardian, Mamavation, and Environmental Health News tested contact lenses sold by Acuvue, Alcon, and Coopervision in an EPA-certified lab. A search for organic fluorine produced results ranging from 105 to 20,700 parts per million, suggesting that the lenses contain PFAS called fluoropolymers. Such soft plastic material is ideal for disposable, soft contacts because they've got what eyes need, according to Belcher, which is the capacity "to get oxygen" but not allow "bacteria to grow like crazy."

A 2020 study by Chinese researchers did connect high environmental PFAS exposure to some eye diseases, especially in elderly subjects. Unfortunately, as the Guardian points out, health impacts from eyes exposed directly to these chemicals are unknown, for the most part—no one has studied the absorption of PFAS from lenses. Still, once the substances enter the environment, they can break down into different, potentially dangerous forms. Belcher tells the Guardian the best bet for protection is to talk with an eye doctor about other options. (More contact lenses stories.)

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