Contact Lenses: Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy
Multiple kinds of contact lenses exist, each with their benefits and drawbacks. There are also alternatives to contacts, ranging from glasses to LASIK surgery.
The following information can help you make an informed decision about your contact lens options.
Soft Contact Lenses
“Soft” contact lenses represent one of the two broad categories of contact lenses that most lenses fall into. These contact lenses use flexible material that allows more oxygen to pass through to the eye. These lenses can generally fit the shape of a user’s eye quickly, making them a comfortable option.
Soft contact lenses are disposable, although the timeline a user disposes of them can vary according to the type of chosen lens. Most soft contact lenses need swapping out every day or every week or two, but monthly disposable lenses also exist.
Rigid Gas Permeable Contact Lenses
Rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses offer a distinct alternative to soft contact lenses, as they tend to be more durable. These lenses are generally worn for longer periods of time, and many people feel they offer a clearer image.
Their firm nature means they take longer to conform to the eye. Some users have more trouble adjusting to the feeling of the lenses than they do with soft contacts.
When many people discuss RGP contact lenses, they refer to them as “hard.” This is something of a misconception, as not all RGP contacts are hard. Early RGP contacts were hard by definition, but modern designs often have enough flexibility that calling them “hard” may not be accurate. More precisely, they are just somewhat less flexible than their soft alternatives.
Specialized Contact Lenses
While the blanket categories of soft and RGP contact lenses cover most modern contacts, there are more specialized categories.
- Orthokeratology lenses: These change the curvature of the cornea to help with myopia.
- Scleral lenses: These help correct vision for people with keratoconus and irregular corneas.
- Decorative or costume contact lenses: These can change the aesthetic look of the eye. Examples include cat-eye contacts or zombie (white) lenses.
Getting the Right Contact Fit
It is very important that a contact lens conforms to your eye. An improperly sized contact can cause irritation and may even do lasting damage.
This is why contacts need to be prescribed by a doctor, who can make sure the measurements of your lenses suit your eyes. This is part of a contact lens fitting. This is important even for lenses with no medical purpose, such as costume lenses, which still require a doctor’s prescription to be safe.
Even if you have lenses that a medical professional fit, you may still experience some initial discomfort. Soft contact lenses conform to the eye quickly, but RGP lenses may take some time to adjust.
Despite this, pain shouldn’t be present. If you experience a level of discomfort that impacts your life, stop using contact lenses and talk to your doctor to make sure there isn’t a sizing issue or an infection present.
Contact Lens Hygiene
Because they go right onto the eye, hygiene is a very important part of contact lens use. Here are some basic hygiene tips any contact user should follow:
- Follow all instructions on lens products, including the duration for which the lenses should be worn.
- Only use sterile lens solutions, not tap or bottled water.
- Take lenses in and out with recently cleaned hands.
- Dispose of lenses on their intended schedule.
- Remove lenses before sleeping.
- Never place a contact lens in your mouth or use saliva to moisten them.
Good lens hygiene helps to prevent your lenses from becoming a serious health risk to your eyes. If lens hygiene seems too much to handle daily, you can wear glasses regularly and save your contact lenses for special occasions.
Putting Lenses In & Taking Them Out
When putting a contact lens in your eye or taking it out, following the proper procedure is again important. This is both for hygiene and safety reasons.
First, wash and dry your hands. Ideally, use a lint-free towel to dry your hands to avoid any lint or debris getting in your eyes.
Once you are certain the lens isn’t inside out, put the lens on the tip of your finger and use another finger on that same hand to hold your bottom eyelid down. With the other hand, hold your upper eyelid open and avoid blinking.
Look upward with the eye and gently place the contact on the center of your eye. Then, release your eyelids and slowly close the eye.
Removing a lens is a similar process. Wash and dry your hands. Then, looking up and with your eyelids held as described above, take the thumb and index finger to your eye, very carefully squeezing the lens. Slowly remove it from the eye, and then clean or dispose of it as appropriate.
Benefits of Contacts
What attracts many people to contact lenses is their subtlety. Detecting contact lenses is very difficult unless someone is very close to the observer.
Once in place, most people find contact lenses more manageable than glasses. Contacts rarely impede everyday tasks. They also work particularly well for sports and other activities during which it can be cumbersome to have glasses on your face.
Risks of Contact Lenses
Contact lenses can expose the eye to infection risk if you don’t follow the proper precautions.
Improperly sized contacts or damaged contacts can cut the eye, which is an infection risk and may also scar or do permanent damage. Similarly, if you use too much force or slip when applying a contact lens, you could scratch or otherwise injure your eye.
Most of the risks of contact lenses come from poor discipline when following the various recommendations in terms of hygiene and application. If you follow the best practices outlined by your doctor and any provided instructions, the risks of using contact lenses drop significantly.
Contacts vs. Glasses
Glasses are the most immediate alternative to contact lenses. Similar to contacts, they correct vision temporarily while they are worn.
Glasses rarely require replacement unless damaged or your eyes change. They have far fewer risks associated with them, as they don’t sit directly on the eye. Improper glasses care usually only results in seeing less clearly through the dirtied lenses.
Contacts provide more freedom, as they aren’t cumbersome, heavy, or awkward on the face. Most people who wear contacts switch back and forth between glasses and contacts to some degree.
Contacts vs. LASIK
LASIK stands for laser–assisted in situ keratomileusis. LASIK surgery uses an extremely precise laser to permanently reshape the cornea. In many cases, LASIK can help people who need corrective eyewear to no longer need it.
The results of LASIK are permanent, and overall, patients are very satisfied with the results of the surgery. In fact, LASIK boasts a nearly 99 percent satisfaction rate, and complications are rare.
Overall, people who wear contacts regularly enjoy the freedom afforded by LASIK. Most patients no longer have to wear any corrective eyewear — glasses or contacts. While LASIK involves a larger upfront cost, it can actually save money in the long run since people no longer need to regularly purchase contacts or glasses.
Contact Lens Costs
As with many eyewear solutions, contact lenses can vary in cost quite significantly. For soft lenses, you can expect to spend at least $18 to $40 a month for daily disposables, with some brands and types costing significantly more. Costs drop substantially the longer a pair of lenses is intended to last.
Notably, your insurance may cover some or all of these costs. If you find contact costs prohibitively expensive, even with the coverage your insurance provides, remember that glasses can usually serve the same purpose and are almost always cheaper over time.
It’s easy to order contact lenses online. First, get a prescription from an eyecare professional. Then, you can visit a well-reputed online retailer to see your options and place an order. Remember to factor any shipping costs into the final price.
Here are some popular online retailers for contact lenses:
Contact Lenses. Walgreens.
Contact Lens Materials: A Materials Science Perspective. (January 2019). Materials (Basel).
Contact Lens Risks. (September 2018). FDA.
Functional Outcome and Patient Satisfaction after Laser In Situ Keratomileusis for Correction of Myopia and Myopic Astigmatism. (January–March 2015). Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology.
On the Art and Science of Rigid Contact Lens Fitting. (August 2021). Clinical & Experimental Optometry.
LASIK. (March 2018). FDA.
Risk Behaviors for Contact Lens–Related Eye Infections Among Adults and Adolescents — United States, 2016. (August 2017). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Types of Contact Lenses. (January 2018). FDA.
Your Eyes First. LensCrafters.
Last Updated April 5, 2022
Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.