Eye Health Central

History of Coloured Contact Lenses

History of Coloured Contact Lenses

Coloured Contact Lenses
THE ABILITY to change clothing according to mood and occasion has led to the existence of a substantial fashion industry with a large following. Colour contact lenses enable people to extend this flexibility of appearance to their eyes, making it possible to use lens colours that complement an outfit, or create a natural enhancement to the eyes appearance. This fashion aspect of contact lenses could be regarded as an extension of the use of fashionable and colourful frames for optical correction by spectacles. The evolution of colour contact lenses has been varied and interesting.

The Early Days of Coloured Lenses - Hard lenses

Development of hard contact lenses and rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses in the 1970's and 1980's, soon moved onto introducing a handling tint with about 5% absorption to make the lenses more visible during handling, without the intent of changing eye colour.

Coloured Lens Experiments in the 1960's

In 1969, Professor Otto Wichterle patented the idea of diffusing a coloured dye into a hydrogel (soft material) from one surface, and a precipitant from the other surface, so that when they met, an insoluble colour was precipitated in the middle of the lens matrix, or deposited between two polymer layers. Without such fixation, dyes infused into hydrogel lenses can diffuse back out during wear or disinfection, with loss of the colour.

Materials can be swelled to allow entry for larger dye molecules, and then contracted again to trap the colour in the material. To achieve colour fastness, reactive dyes can be attached covalently to the spine of the polymer chain, either with the dye first infused into the lens and then fixed, or by attaching it to the surface of the lens.

Soft Coloured Lenses Arrive 

Attempts were made in the 70's to use coloured soft contact lenses for clinical reasons. Hand painted lenses could were tried to mask injuries for example. Soft lenses were also put into a mould and various masks applied, often with striations to mimic the iris pattern and then different coloured dyes introduced to produce a coloured lens that mimicked a customers sound eye. It was a very specialised procedure and often the results were not known until a skilled technician had produced the very specific hand tinted lens and it was then compared with the customers good eye. 

Another method was adding dye to the whole soft lens, to create a more opaque colour. However, as soft lenses have larger diameters extending onto the Sclera (the 'white' part of the eye), adding colour to the material would result in a coloured ring on the white of the eye around the limbus (the edge of the iris). To address this, a coloured central button fused into a clear surround was proposed, although this did not reach mainstream use, and subsequently dyes were applied to the central part of the lens, with the periphery masked off to prevent tinting. The further development of colour soft lenses has taken some more interesting turns.

1980's - Cosmetic Coloured Contact Lenses Arrive

By the 1980's contact lens manufacturers were perfecting the techniques for mass producing coloured  contact lenses.

Manufacturer Lens Type Water % Lens Names Colours Number of Patterns
Allergan - Hydron Soft Colour (Opaque)
Soft Tint (transparent with clear pupil)
38 Z6/Z4/H67/Mini/SC Aqua/Sapphire/Emerald/Quartz/Amber 1
Bausch & Lomb Natural Tint 38 U3/U4/B3/Optima Blue/Aqua/ Green/ Brown 1
Ciba Vision (Titmus Eurocon) Ellipticolour 38 38E Range Green/Blue/Aqua/Amber 1
Coopervision Mystique (Opaque)
One 2 blues/2 greens
spring green/sky blue/turquoise/violet blue/gold
2 pupil sizes
Lunelle ES70 70 ES range Lemon/Lagon(Blue)/ Menthe 1

Many more manufacturers started to manufacture coloured lenses - they were not yet mainstream, but were headed that way.

1990's and Onwards

Manufacturers introduced more sophisticated manufacturing methods to produce increasingly realistic coloured contact lenses.

Types Of Coloured Lenses

Today, there are a wide variety of colured lenses on the market place to suit all tastes, from simple zero powered lenses to change your eye colour without a prescription to theatrical coloured contact lenses, and coloured contact lenses to correct almost any prescription.

  • Plano colour contact lenses - Lenses worn solely for cosmetic purposes. They are designed to change your eye colour, but have no lens power for vision correction.
  • Enhancement tint contact lenses - Lenses with a solid, yet partially translucent colouring that is slightly darker than a visibility tint. They are meant to enhance the natural colour of your eyes, and work best for people who with light-coloured eyes who wish to make their eye colour more intense.
  • Opaque tint contact lenses – Lenses with a non-transparent tint that can completely change your natural eye colour. If you have dark eyes, it's recommended that you use this type of lens to change your eye colour, as lighter or transparent colourings might be overpowered by dark eyes.
  • Tinted contact lenses – Lenses that are coloured not for cosmetic reasons, but for the purpose of altering the wearers vision. Usually green or blue, these are most popular with athletes, or people who spend a lot of time outside. Think of them as sunglasses, only contact lenses.

What Can you Buy Now?

Below are some of the lenses we recommend most. Some of them are meant to be worn once and then disposed, others can be worn for 30 days before replacement. Whichever style lens you choose, be sure to follow proper care procedures.

  • Freshlook Colourblends – Our most popular coloured contacts, these use a 3-in-1 color pattern that makes the Freshlook Colourblends lenses seem incredibly natural. A good example of a lens that can alter the colour of a lighter coloured eye, or enhance the colour of a darker eye. Ideal for people looking to change their eye color while still blending in. If matched properly to hair color and skin tone, you can look like your eye color of choice was what you were born with.
  • Air Optix colours – From the same manufacturer as the Freshlook Colourblends, the primary difference is the lens material. By using a modern silicone hydrogel, six times as much oxygen is able to pass right through the lens, and into your eye. This helps keep them feeling healthy and fresh, reducing the likelihood of irritation or infection.
  • Freshlook One Day - Freshlook One Day daily coloured contact lenses combine the comfort and performance of the best Seller Focus Dailies All Day Comfort contact lenses with the cosmetic appeal of Freshlook Colourblends. If you wear focus daily lenses contact lenses you can now change your eye colour on a daily basis! They are available in Blue, green, pure hazel and grey.
  • Freshlook Colours and Soflens Natural Colours - If your eyes are naturally dark in color, or if you want a more dramatic effect, these are the lenses for you. Dark eyes tend to overpower partially translucent Freshlook Dimensionscoloured lenses, and require an opaque colouring to make a noticeable change.
  • Freshlook Dimensions – A great option for coloured lenses designed to enhance or change light eye colours for a beautiful natural look. These lenses, however, will be much less effective on darker eyes.

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 24 Apr 2015, Last modified: 4 Mar 2020