- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2000

When school nurse Janice Knepley first saw the latest trend in teen eye fashion, the student's eyes were bright orange, perhaps to mark the windup of the basketball season at Napoleon High School in northwest Ohio.

In other parts of the country, the look first emerged in the form of red "demon eyes" for the Halloween season last fall.

Youngsters are achieving eye colors that nature never gave humans by tinting their contact lenses with food color dyes.

What high school and middle school students see as custom fashion lenses on the cheap, optometrists view as a dangerous practice that could result in eye damage and infections.

"Food coloring is fine for food, but it's not necessarily sterile, especially if it's been on the kitchen shelf awhile. It's certainly not FDA approved as a contact lens solution," said Dr. Robert Davis, a suburban Chicago optometrist and chairman of the contact lens section of the American Optometric Association.

The association issued a safety alert about the practice this month after getting dozens of reports of food-color-dyed contacts around the country.

"Any time you're putting something in the lenses that's not an approved solution, your risk for infection or irritation or allergic reaction increases," Dr. Davis said. "And I also worry that kids won't stop with food coloring, but move on to something like RIT (clothes dye) to get the color they want."

To tint soft contacts, youths typically add a drop or two of food color to the lens solution in the holding case. "The permeable lenses just soak it up," Dr. Davis said.

Miss Knepley said teens tell her they usually use food dye on disposable lenses "near the end of their two-week or 30-day wear time, or so they say. To them, it's not a big deal."

"Because the lenses cover more of the eye than the iris (the normally pigmented part of the eye), you get this kind of wild, overstated appearance that's pretty striking. Kids and teachers certainly don't miss it."

She tries to spread word about the risks from food-dyed contacts.

"Once you tell them they might damage their eyes so they can't wear contacts anymore, that gets their attention," she says. "None of them want to go back to glasses."

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