A cosmetic contact lens is designed to change the appearance of the eye. These lenses may also correct refractive error. Although many brands of contact lenses are lightly tinted to make them easier to handle, cosmetic lenses worn to change the color of the eye are far less common, accounting for only 3% of contact lens fits in 2004.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration frequently calls non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses decorative contact lenses. As with any contact lens, cosmetic lenses carry risks of mild and serious complications, including ocular redness, irritation, and infection. For this reason all contact lenses, even purely cosmetic ones, are classified as medical devices in many countries (U.S., Canada, UK, Australia). All individuals who would like to wear cosmetic lenses should have a contact lens examination with an eye doctor prior to first use, and if used long-term, regular aftercare examinations, in order to avoid potentially blinding complications.
Cosmetic lenses can be used to drastically alter the appearance of the eye, as seen in the entertainment industry. Scleral lenses that cover the white part of the eye (i.e., sclera) are used in many theatrical applications. These lenses are typically custom made for a specific production and as a result have very limited availability to the general public. As with any cosmetic lens, if the design changes the clarity of the center of the lens, the lens may interfere with vision.
A new trend in Japan, South Korea and China is the circle contact lens. Circle lenses extend the appearance of the iris onto the sclera by having a dark tinted area surrounding the iris. The result is the appearance of a bigger, wider iris, a look reminiscent of dolls' eyes.
Cosmetic lenses can have more direct medical applications. For example, some lenses can restore the appearance and, to some extent the function, of a damaged or missing iris.