July 11, 2008 / 6:29 AM / 11 years ago

Japan govt eyes risks of colored contact lenses

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Many young Japanese women are as happy to change their eye color as to change their shoes, but the government may slap restrictions on the sale of the trendy colored contact lenses they use, after a series of cases of eye damage.

In a study backed by the industry ministry, optometrists reported about 170 cases of eye damage over a two-and-a-half year period among those who used non-prescription colored contacts.

Several cases required the patients to stay overnight in hospital and some users risked losing their eyesight, according to a statement from the National Institute of Technology and Evaluation (NITE).

Colored contacts are sold in many countries, but millions of pairs are in circulation in Japan, where young women often use them to try to make their eyes look larger. They are currently sold in cosmetics stores and over the Internet, rather than by licensed opticians.

“We see foreigners who have many different eye colors, but Japanese people only have brown or black eyes,” said Kanako Tsutsumi, a 20-year-old student who used to wear the lenses.

“I liked colored contacts because I had black hair and I thought grey contacts would look more fashionable,” she said.

She stopped using them after she found they hurt her eyes.

“People assume that if non-prescription lenses are made by the same companies that make regulated prescription contacts, they are applying the same standard to colored contacts,” said Satoshi Nagata, a researcher at NITE. “The results of this study showed otherwise,” he said.

The health ministry and the ministry of industry have both decided to regulate colored lenses under pharmaceutical law within this year, he said.

Under the present law, opticians have to supervise any sale of prescription contact lenses in Japan. However, non-prescription colored contacts are not subject to such restrictions because they are classified as “beauty goods”.

About 30 of the total 170 cases of eye damage in the study were caused by quality problems, such as color leaking from the lenses. Most of the cheaper color contacts sold in Japan are imported from South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan.

Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Isabel Reynolds

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