Do contact lenses contain indications of PFAS “forever chemicals?” This was the question posed to us by members of Mamavation on Facebook. We didn’t know the answer to this, so we sent 18 different soft contact lenses off to an EPA-certified lab to have them tested for indications of PFAS. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you other consumer studies like indications of PFAS in dental floss, yoga pants, and sanitary pads, now join us for a consumer study on indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” inside eye contact lenses.
What our lab found was a bit concerning because 100% of the popular contact lens products we sent came back with various levels of organic fluorine, a marker for PFAS. So which contact lenses do we recommend? Based on the levels reported from our lab, we are sharing this data with you in hopes you will share it with your eye care professional. This information can help you and your eye care doctor make educated decisions about your eye care.
Disclosure: This consumer study is released in partnership with Environmental Health News. Scientific reviews were performed by (1) Terrence Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, (2) Linda S. Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program & Scholar at Residence at Duke University, North Carolina University, & Yale University, (3) Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future, & (4) Scott Belcher, Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University. This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. Donations were provided by Environmental Health News and Mamavation community members. Mamavation has only “spot-checked” the industry and thus we cannot make predictions about brands and products that we have not tested. Products and manufacturing aides can change without notice so buyer beware. This post contains affiliate links, with some to Amazon, which means Mamavation will receive a portion of those sales and we will use that to pay ourselves back for the testing. You can also give a tax-deductible donation to our consumer studies here through Environmental Health Sciences. Click “yes” when asked if the gift is in honor of someone and type “Mamavation.” Thank you!
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Mamavation’s Lab Finds Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Inside 100% of Eye Contacts Tested
Contact lenses are medical devices that correct refractive vision errors like as nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia). Community members asked us whether there were any indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” inside contact lenses, so we sent the most popular pairs off to our EPA-certified lab to find out.
PFAS “forever chemicals” are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances used for many decades as stain-resistant, oil-resistant, & water-resistant chemicals in commerce. These chemicals reside in many places in our lives and are linked to serious health effects. PFAS chemicals were used for decades inside consumer products, as manufacturing aides, and inside building materials. Because they are so toxic, Mamavation has commissioned our own consumer studies on indications of PFAS in order to make consumer recommendations for which eye contacts are the least problematic.
For this consumer study, Mamavation sent 18 different types of soft eye contact lenses from three major brands off to an EPA-certified laboratory and discovered 100% of those products had indications of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals.”
Here’s what our EPA-certified laboratory found:
- 100% of contact lenses sent to our EPA-certified laboratory had indications of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals.” 18 soft eye contact lens products were found to have detections of organic fluorine, a marker for PFAS.
- Ranges of organic fluorine reported by the lab were from 105 to 20,700 parts per million (ppm).
- The most popular brands of eye contacts — Acuvue, Alcon, & Coopervision — were all found to have indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” at different levels.
- 22% of contact lenses tested had over 18,000 parts per million (ppm) of organic fluorine. That’s 4 out of 18 products.
- 44% of contact lenses tested had over 4,000 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine. That’s 8 out of 18 products.
Linda S. Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program & Scholar at Residence at Duke University, North Carolina University, & Yale University had this to say: “Your eyes are one of the most sensitive parts of your body. Therefore, it’s concerning to see the presence of organic fluorine, which is likely a type of PFAS, found in all soft contact lens products tested. What about the idea of doing no harm? Do we have proof these products are safe? A lack of safety studies does not qualify as ‘safety,’ which is what is happening here.”
Health Effects Linked to PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
PFAS “forever chemicals” are problematic to human health and the environment. They are considered ubiquitous, persistent, and toxic. Many of these chemicals can last for years or decades in our bodies. Therefore, it’s imperative to reduce the amount of PFAS you are exposed to from food, water, and personal care products such as eye contacts.
Below are listed health impacts from exposure to PFAS in general:
- Reduction in immunity
- Reduced vaccination response
- Increased risk of allergies & asthma in young children
- Affected growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
- Increase cholesterol levels
- Metabolic diseases like obesity & diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Lowered a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
- Lowered male fertility
- Increased risk of kidney & testicular cancers
- Causes endocrine disruption
- Disrupted normal thyroid function
We may not be able to tell you if or how much PFAS will leach into the body from exposure to the eyeball, but we do know that PFAS exposure is possible based on some studies looking at dermal exposure in animals. It’s also very clear based on biomonitoring evidence from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that PFAS are in essentially all Americans.
According to Pete Myers, chief scientist for Environmental Health Sciences, “The presumption that these organic fluorine levels measured in contact lenses are safe is laughable. Last summer the EPA issued health advisories in drinking for four common PFAS, ranging from 0.004 parts per trillion (ppt) to 2000 ppt. EPA considers exposure beneath these thresholds to be safe for drinking water. While comparing drinking levels in water to concentrations in contact lenses is like comparing apples to oranges, it’s worth noting that all of the contact lenses tested exceeded 100 ppm, which is equivalent to 100,000,000 ppt, or 50,000 times higher than the highest level deemed safe in drinking water by the EPA.”
Can Exposure to PFAS Through the Eyeball Be Problematic?
In order to get contact lenses, you need a contact lens prescription from an ophthalmologist or an optometrist, so this isn’t something you can purchase easily. An eye care professional will give you an eye exam that evaluates your eye health and the quality of your vision. After this is done, they may recommend eyeglasses or a type of contact lens. The types of contact lenses they recommend can be soft lenses, permeable lenses, decorative contact lenses, multifocal contacts, toric lenses, daily contacts, extended-wear contacts, etc. If you decide to go the route of having contact lenses, you’ll also get a contact lens exam to ensure you can wear them effectively. Then you must make sure you are practicing good hygiene in order to avoid eye infections such as washing your hands, taking them out before you sleep, and never reusing eye contact solution.
The eye is one of the most sensitive areas of the human body, so it’s concerning to think that contact lenses are one of the many exposures to PFAS that are found inside consumer products in the United States. Based on our laboratory findings, the type and brand of contact lenses you select with your eye care doctor may have an impact on your health.
According to researchers in China, people who had higher levels of PFAS in their blood were more likely to have ocular eye diseases. But what happens when you are exposed to high levels of PFAS from contact lenses? Does the PFAS break down within the eye? We are not sure and couldn’t find studies looking into this situation, but it’s common sense to operate the precautionary principle when selecting the right contact lens with your eye care professional. However, we did find plenty of instances of PFAS exposure in drinking water being linked to eye diseases.
Members of the military and their spouses who were exposed to PFAS on military bases had some of the following conditions according to plaintiff attorneys:
- Myopia: A vision defect when far objects appear blurred and objects that are nearer are seen more clearly. In this instance, the eyeball is too long or the refractive power of the lens is too strong. This is also referred to as nearsightedness.
- Hyperopia: Hyperopia occurs when people have difficulty seeing things close to them, but can see objects far away easier. This is also referred to as “farsightedness.” This occurs because the eyeball is too short or the refractive power inside the lens is weak.
- Astigmatism: This vision defect is apparent when you are looking at a pattern of lines and the lines running in one direction look sharp while those in other directions appear blurred. This eye defect happens when light rays do not meet at a certain focal point on the retina. This is caused by non-uniform curvature of the cornea.
- Presbyopia: Usually this vision defect happens with old age and it’s defined as the gradual loss of focus on nearby objects over time. However, this process can be sped up with exposure to certain chemicals like PFAS.
Can Throwing Away Toxic Contact Lenses Be Problematic to the Environment?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. As of 2018, 35% to 46% of all patients wear daily disposable contact lenses and 2/3rds of those contact wearers are female. Of those wearers, 90% are using soft and disposable contact lenses.
It’s estimated on an annual basis, 2.5 billion contact lenses weighing approximately 44,000 pounds are thrown out and enter wastewater treatment plants in the United States because 15-20% of contact wearers throw their contact lenses into the toilet or sink. This ends up creating somewhat of a nightmare for wastewater treatment plants because, for every two pounds of sludge, they find a contact lens. Contact lenses are also very hard to see because they are clear and small. Ultimately anywhere from 6 to 10 metric tons of plastic lenses end up in wastewater in the U.S. every year.
Terrence Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University added some insight.
“Fluoropolymers improve the technical performance of contact lenses at attractive price performances and customers are naturally attracted. But the other key performances for safe and sustainable chemical products, the health, environmental and fairness performances, are not given adequate attention by manufacturers, legislators, or regulators. If you use fluoropolymer-containing contact lenses, you are likely to become permanently contaminated. No one today can tell you that fluoropolymer exposures are safe, because no jurisdiction has been demanding the development and scrutiny of appropriate safety testing. Your body cannot process fluoropolymers to safe products to protect you and nature is just as helpless when you throw the lenses away. But we know enough about PFAS chemicals to guess and fear that fluoropolymers in human cells or in the environment are anything but a pretty safety picture. I advise that such contact lenses be rigorously avoided.”
How Does PFAS Get Into Contact Lenses?
According to the American Chemical Society, contact lenses are typically made with a combination of poly(methylmethacrylate), silicones, and fluoropolymers (which are usually PFAS) to create a softer material. These materials allow oxygen to pass through the lens to the eye.
Based on the levels of organic fluorine we found in contact lenses, between 105 to 20,700 parts per million (ppm), we can assume fluoropolymers are used in different ways and in different amounts based on the function of the contact lens. This means that contact lens companies are adding these chemicals because they provide a special function, such as enhancing oxygen permeability to an extent greater than water alone.
Reporting from our lab indicated that the brand Alcon had the highest level of organic fluorine found. These products with a higher detection ranged from 18,400 ppm to 20,700 ppm.
Researchers who have studied “safety” claims on fluoropolymers and their use have concluded, “Given fluoropolymers’ extreme persistence; emissions associated with their production, use, and disposal; and a high likelihood for human exposure to PFAS, their production and uses should be curtailed except in cases of essential uses.” Are contact lenses an “essential use?” More to the point, are the uses of fluoropolymers in contact lenses essential to the proper functioning of the lenses? It would be very helpful if contact lens designers were to provide information about how the addition of fluoropolymers to contact lenses enhances their performance. Are they essential? Are there replacement chemistries? This should become a high-priority discussion among optometrists. Ask yours.
Other Categories of Products We’ve Tested for Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
Before we launch into the raw data from our lab, we wanted to remind you about all the other studies we have done on indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” inside the food and consumer products you bring inside your home.
- Soft Contact Lenses
- Green Beauty Makeup
- Dental Floss
- Toilet Paper
- Period Underwear
- Sanitary Pads, Pantiliners, & Incontinence Pads
- Powdered Electrolytes
- Butter Wrappers
- Pasta & Tomato Sauces
- Nut Butters (Peanut butter, etc.)
- Cooking Oils (olive oil, almond oil, canola oil, etc)
- Activewear (Yoga Pants)
- Sports Bras
- Parchment Paper
- Cupcake Liners
- Plastic-Free Straws
- Fast Food Packaging
- Children’s Probiotics
- Kids’ Backpacks
- Baby Strollers
Mamavation’s Raw Data on Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals” in Contact Lenses
To recap, Mamavation sent 18 soft contact lenses from 3 major brands to an EPA-certified laboratory looking for indications of PFAS “forever chemicals.” In order for our lab to do this, they have to perform special testing. They do not look for PFAS compounds directly, because that’s simply impossible. There are over 12,000 PFAS compounds and assays available for less than 100 compounds exist in a really good commercial lab.
Testing: Mamavation’s lab uses marker testing to identify the potential presence of PFAS “forever chemicals” in contact lenses. Organic fluorine is a marker for PFAS because all PFAS chemicals are carbon-based compounds that contain fluorine. The specific lab method used by Mamavation tested for total fluorine was the Determination of Total Fluorine by Oxygen Flask Combustion and Ion-Selective Electrode. If total fluorine was observed at a detection level of 10 ppm, the lab did the Determination of free Fluoride Ion in the product by Ion-Selective Electrode and then subtracted that from the Total Fluorine to determine the amount of organic fluorine. This type of marker screening test is likely to show the presence of PFAS. Along with PFAS, other organic fluorine can also capture other fluorochemicals, non-PFAS fluorine-containing pharmaceuticals, and pesticides. None of which you want around your eyes!
Scott Belcher, Ph.D. & Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University says “fluoropolymers are extremely common forms of PFAS that are contributing to the organic fluorine found in contact lenses. Methods used for detecting individual PFAS, such as PFOA or GenX, cannot directly identify fluoropolymers. However, the analysis of total organic fluorine does account for all PFAS contaminants in contact lenses, including the copolymers approved for use in contact lenses. Therefore, this method of testing serves as a good ‘spot-check’ for fluoropolymers and a screen for PFAS in consumer products.”
What We Tested: We tested close to every brand that was recommended by the Mamavation community, which were also considered some of the most popular products. In total, we tested 18 contact lenses. These contact lenses were donated to us by someone working inside an ophthalmologist’s office in the fall of 2022. The packages were not opened and sent directly to the lab to be analyzed.
Not Our Favorite Eye Contact Lenses
These products were sent to an EPA-certified lab and found to have 1,000 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine or more.
- Acuvue Oasys with HydraLuxe 1-Day — 6,096 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Acuvue Vita Astigmatism Senofilcon C Brand Contact Lenses — 5,537 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Air OPTIX (No Hydraglide) Soft Contact Lenses for Astigmatism — 20,000 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon AIR OPTIX Colors Contact Lenses with Smartshield Technology — 20,700 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Dailies Colors One-Day Contact Lenses — 18,400 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Total 30 Contact Lenses for Daily Wear — 20,400 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Coopervision Biofinity Toric Contact Lenses — 4,751 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Coopervision Comfilcon A Multifocal Tinted Soft Contact Lenses — 5,613 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
Better Eye Contact Lenses
These contacts were sent to an EPA-certified lab and found to have between 200 parts per million (ppm) and 1000 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine.
- Alcon Dailies TOTAL 1 One-Day Contact Lenses Water Gradient — 625 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon MULTIFOCAL Dailies AquaComfort Plus One-Day Contact Lenses — 346 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Precision 1 One-Day Contact Lenses with SmartSurface Technology — 302 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon TORIC Dailies AquaComfort Plus One-Day Contact Lenses — 914 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
Best Eye Contact Lenses
These contacts were sent to an EPA-certified lab and found to have less than 200 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine. Unfortunately, there were no products that were non-detect.
- Acuvue Oasys with Hydraclear Plus Brand Contact Lenses with UV Blocking — 113 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Acuvue Oasys with Hydraclear Plus for Astigmatism — 105 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon AIR OPTIX plus HydraGlyde with Smartshield Technology — 119 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Dailies MULTIFOCAL TOTAL 1 One-Day Contact Lenses Water Gradient — 183 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Dailies TOTAL 1 One-Day Contact Lenses Water Gradient for Astigmatism — 106 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alon Air OPTIX plus HydraGlyde for Astigmatism — 173 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
Additional Mamavation Investigations To Help Your Family
Mamavation works hard to bring our readers relevant public health information to assist in choosing more non-toxic products. Over the years, we have ranked tens of thousands of consumer products and food that are brought into the home. Here are some of the investigations that we thought you may also be interested in:
- Best Yoga mats
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- Best Organic Mattresses
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- Best Cookware
- Best Plant-Based Milks
- Best Water Filters for PFAS Filtration
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- Best Electrolyte Replacement Drinks, Sports Drinks, & Coconut Water
- Best Infrared Saunas
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Click here for a complete list of product investigations.