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GOC warns public could risk sight loss with illegal cosmetic lenses

17 Jun 2011

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People could be putting their sight at risk by wearing illegally sold cosmetic contact lenses, warns a new booklet published by the General Optical Council (GOC).

Cosmetic lenses – also known as plano or zero-powered lenses – are often used to change the appearance of the eye in fashion, fancy dress or films. They are particularly popular among young people, who can increase the risk of infection by sharing them with friends.

According to law, the lenses can only be sold where a registered optometrist, dispensing optician or medical practitioner is on the premises. David Howell, Director of Regulatory Services at the GOC said: “We are aware of instances of them being illegally sold by outlets such as hairdressers, market stalls and novelty shops. The GOC is taking action against unregistered retailers selling the lenses illegally using its power to prosecute under the Opticians Act.”

The booklet, also endorsed by the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), explains that customers should only buy the lenses from a legal source, have them fitted by a professional and follow all advice about how to wear and look after the lenses.

President of the BCLA and London-based contact lens practitioner, Shelly Bansal, said: “The Association is pleased to endorse the new GOC booklet on cosmetic lenses. Getting the health and safety message across to consumers, in relation to the wear and care of all types of contact lenses, is one of the primary concerns of the BCLA and its members.”

GOC staff will attend the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) conference 21-23 June to raise awareness among trading standards officers and distribute copies of the leaflet. It will also be distributed at events such as the Citizens Advice conferences, as well as being targeted at colleges and universities.

Copies are also available directly from the GOC by phoning 020 7580 3898 and selecting option 4.

Notes for editors:

1. The booklet is available from

2. The laws concerning the sale and fitting of cosmetic (zero-powered) contact lenses are set out in the Opticians Act. This is available on the GOC website at

3. The GOC has a factsheet interpreting some of the legislation:

4. The GOC and BCLA also have a joint booklet giving the public advice on buying powered (sight-correcting) contact lenses. This is online at

About the General Optical Council (GOC)

The GOC is the regulator for the optical professions in the UK. Its purpose is to protect the public by promoting high standards of education, performance and conduct amongst opticians. The Council currently registers around 24,000 optometrists, dispensing opticians, student opticians and optical businesses.

About the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA)

The BCLA is the UK's leading source of information and education on contact lenses and the anterior eye. An educational and scientific membership organisation, the BCLA is committed to developing and maintaining channels of communication between research scientists, manufacturers, industry personnel, optometrists, contact lens opticians, ophthalmologists, and the public. The BCLA currently has around 1,900 members in nearly 40 countries around the world.


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