A recent study conducted by Mamavation analyzed 18 different soft contact lenses from various popular brands to determine the presence of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in the environment. This article discusses the study’s findings, explores the potential health effects of PFAS exposure through contact lenses, highlights the environmental impact of improper disposal, and provides expert recommendations.
Health Effects Linked to PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
PFAS possess properties such as stain resistance, water resistance, and oil resistance, which have led to their extensive use in various consumer products. However, PFAS exposure has been associated with a range of health effects, including:
- Reduced immunity and compromised vaccination response.
- Increased risk of allergies and asthma in children.
- Developmental issues in infants and children.
- Elevated cholesterol levels.
- Metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Decreased fertility in both men and women.
- Increased risk of certain cancers.
- Endocrine disruption.
- Disrupted thyroid function. [2,4]
Potential Risks of PFAS Exposure Through Contact Lenses
Although the extent of PFAS leaching into the body through eye exposure is not well-established, studies have shown that dermal exposure to PFAS can occur. Given the sensitivity of the eyes and the widespread presence of PFAS in the general population, it is important to minimize PFAS exposure from all potential sources, including contact lenses.
Environmental Impact of Improper Contact Lens Disposal
Improper disposal of contact lenses can significantly impact the environment. In the United States alone, an estimated 2.5 billion contact lenses, weighing approximately 44,000 pounds, are discarded annually. Unfortunately, many contact lens users dispose of their lenses by flushing them down the toilet or draining them in sinks, resulting in their entry into wastewater treatment plants. The small size and transparency of contact lenses pose challenges to effective removal during wastewater treatment processes. Consequently, an estimated 6 to 10 metric tons of plastic lenses are in U.S. wastewater each year. [1,5]
How PFAS Enter Contact Lenses
Contact lenses typically comprise poly(methylmethacrylate), silicones, and fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymers, which often contain PFAS, enhance the softness of the lens material and allow for better oxygen permeability to the eye. The presence of organic fluorine, a marker for PFAS, in contact lenses suggests using fluoropolymers in varying amounts and for different functions depending on the lens type and brand.
Findings of the Study on PFAS in Contact Lenses
The study sent 18 soft contact lenses from three major brands to an EPA-certified laboratory for testing. The results indicated the presence of PFAS “forever chemicals” in all tested contact lens products. The levels of organic fluorine, an indicator of PFAS, ranged from 105 to 20,700 parts per million (ppm). Notably, 22% of the contact lenses had organic fluorine levels exceeding 18,000 ppm, and 44% had levels exceeding 4,000 ppm.
Expert Commentary and Recommendations
Prominent scientists and experts in environmental health have expressed concerns about the presence of organic fluorine in all tested soft contact lens products. The lack of safety studies on these products and the potential risks associated with PFAS exposure emphasizes the need for caution. Experts recommend considering alternative chemistries and engaging in discussions with eye care professionals to ensure the safety and well-being of contact lens users.
The study’s findings raise concerns about PFAS “forever chemicals” in soft contact lenses. While the specific risks of PFAS exposure through contact lenses are not yet fully understood, precautionary measures should be taken due to the potential health effects of PFAS exposure. Consumers are advised to discuss these findings with their eye care professionals when making decisions about their eye care. Additionally, optometrists should consider the necessity of fluoropolymers in contact lenses and explore alternative chemistries to prioritize the safety of their patients.
- “Mamavation’s Lab Finds Indications of PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ Inside 100% of Eye Contacts Tested.” Mamavation, 2023,www.mamavation.com/health/pfas-contact-lenses.html.
- Fenton, Suzanne E et al. “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Toxicity and Human Health Review: Current State of Knowledge and Strategies for Informing Future Research.” Environmental toxicology and chemistry vol. 40,3 (2021): 606-630. doi:10.1002/etc.4890
- ATSDR Pfas Clinical Guidance – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease …,www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/docs/clinical-guidance-12-20-2019.pdf.
- “Read ‘Guidance on PFAS Exposure, Testing, and Clinical Follow-up’ at Nap.Edu.” 3 Potential Health Effects of PFAS | Guidance on PFAS Exposure, Testing, and Clinical Follow-Up |The National Academies Press, nap.nationalacademies.org/read/26156/chapter/5.