MANY SOFT CONTACT LENSES CONTAIN COMPOUNDS associated with health problems, including autoimmune disorders, fertility problems, cancer, liver problems, and kidney disease. This article explores whether there is a connection between contact lenses and cancer.
Approximately 45 million individuals in the United States wear contact lenses. Two out of three people using contact lenses are female. In the USA, contact lenses are medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
What Are “Forever Chemicals?”
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of artificial chemicals used in various products for decades. They are known for their water- and stain-resistance and are in products like nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, carpets, firefighting foam, and food packaging.
PFAS are very persistent in the environment, meaning they do not break down easily and can accumulate in the body over time. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to several health problems, including cancer, thyroid disease, reproductive problems, and immune system suppression.
In recent years, there has been growing concern about the health risks of PFAS. In 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a health advisory for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most common PFAS chemicals. The advisory set a limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
Since then, many states have taken steps to regulate PFAS. In 2020, New York became the first state to ban PFAS in food packaging. Other states, such as California and Minnesota, have set limits on the levels of PFAS in consumer products.
The EPA is currently developing a national strategy for addressing PFAS contamination. The agency is expected to release a draft plan in 2023.
If you are concerned about your exposure to PFAS, you can take steps to reduce your risk. These steps include:
- Avoiding products that contain PFAS, such as nonstick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics.
- Drinking filtered water, especially if you live near a Superfund site or other area where PFAS contamination is known to exist.
- Eat organic foods, as PFAS are often used in conventional farming practices.
- Getting your blood tested for PFAS levels.
PFAS are “forever chemicals” because they don‘t naturally break down.
Contact Lenses and Cancer: New Research
American researchers tested 18 pairs of soft contact lenses to see if they contained PFAS. More than half were daily lenses. The tests looked for traces of organic fluorine in lenses by brands Acuvue, Alcon, and Coopervision. Let’s look at the disturbing results:
Researchers detected fluorine levels (in contact lenses) between 105 parts per million (ppm) to 20,700 ppm. All tested contact lenses exceeded 100 ppm, equivalent to 100,000,000 ppt, or 50,000 times higher than the maximum level deemed safe in drinking water by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Here are the lenses with the highest amounts of organic fluorine: Alcon Air Optix (No Hydraglide) for Astigmatism (20,000ppm), Alcon Air Optix Colors with Smartshield Technology (20,700ppm), and Alcon Total30 Contact Lenses for Daily Wear (20,400ppm).
Key Points — Contact Lenses and Cancer: Is There a Connection?
Question. Do contact lenses contain dangerous substances?
Findings. Fluoropolymers are described as PFAS or “forever chemicals,” and some contact lenses are found to have extremely high levels of organic flueronic, a marker of PFAS, in each.
Meaning. Fluoropolymers are PFAS or “forever chemicals.” Some contact lenses have extremely high levels of organic flueronic, a marker of PFAS. Still, we cannot leap to say that the high levels of the substance influence the health of contact lens wearers. The study authors present no evidence of harm. I look forward to epidemiologic studies.
I want to remind the reader that not having good contact lens hygiene increases the risk of serious eye infections. Serious eye infections that can lead to blindness affect up to one out of every 500 contact lens users annually.
This number should get your attention: Upwards of 40 to 90 percent of contact lens wearers do not follow the care instructions for their contact lenses. Moreover, 99 percent of users report one or more contact lens hygiene behavior previously associated with an increased risk of eye infection or inflammation.
The forever chemical data raises concerns, but proper contact lens hygiene is immediately actionable. To my knowledge, there is no high-level evidence linking contact lens use to cancer.