Contact lenses contain toxic 'forever chemicals', study says: Should Canadians worry?
PFAS — also called 'forever chemicals' — have been known to cause cancer and autoimmune diseases.
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For people with imperfect vision, contact lenses are an easy way to see the world with greater clarity.
They also allow for more natural vision, and are a welcome alternative when playing sports or working in high-speed environments.
However, according to a recent study commissioned by the Mamavation and Environmental Health News public health blog, contact lenses might not be as safe and convenient as once thought.
The lab testing found many soft contact lenses on the market contain high levels of PFAS — also called "forever chemicals" — which have been known to cause cancer and autoimmune diseases.
But how accurate is this study, and should Canadians be worried? Read on to learn more about the findings, plus what an eye expert has to say about the safety of your contact lenses.
Here's a roundup of the research:
Earlier this month, a study conducted at an Environmental Protection Agency-certified lab tested 18 different sets of soft contact lenses from major brands.
According to the research, brands including Acuvue, Alcon and CooperVision were tested.
Researchers found organic fluorine (an indication of PFAS), in each of the lenses.
The study said that PFAS are "persistent and toxic" and can have lasting effects on the human body and the environment.
What are forever chemicals?
According to the Canadian Environmental Law Association, forever chemicals are "among the worst of the toxic chemicals found in consumer products."
They are a group of about 14,000 man-made chemicals that have lasting effects on the human body and the environment.
Also known as "perfluorochemicals" (acronym PFAS, for per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), forever chemicals have high chemical and heat-resistant stability. They repel water, oils and stains, and can be used to make non-stick coatings.
These chemicals are found in a wide range of common products and industrial processes, including repellants, lubricants, surfactants, textiles, food packaging and cosmetics.
Forever chemicals are present across the globe and can take hundreds — or even thousands — of years to disintegrate.
How do forever chemicals impact our health?
Various studies have shown forever chemicals are linked to several cancers, kidney and liver disease, and autoimmune disorders. They can also contribute to abnormal reproduction and fetal complications.
Additionally, exposure to PFAS might also affect metabolism, weight, and could negatively impact mental health and neurological efficacy.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified forever chemicals as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
An expert's opinion on the lens study
While this study on lenses seems unsettling at first glance, Lyndon Jones, the Director for the Centre for Ocular Research & Education at the University of Waterloo, wants people to take this information with a grain of salt.
In his opinion, readers must beware of sensationalist news and try to understand the study within proper context.
"Let's think about this study rationally versus the sensationalist headlines. We don't know how the data was obtained and we don't know how they exactly tested the contact lenses," Jones said in an interview with Yahoo Canada.
"It's also important to think about how realistic the testing environment is in relation to how you actually wear a contact lens and how it comes in contact with your eye."
Jones added that because the analytical method of the study is different to the way contacts are worn, it "doesn't mean patients wearing contact lenses would be exposed to the same amount of chemicals found in the study."
Additionally, in his extensive career, the specialist has been unaware of adverse health effects or complications due to wearing contacts.
"I'm completely unaware of any concerns around either systemic or ocular complications from contact lenses that are greater in those than there are in spectacles or someone who doesn't need a vision correction at all," Jones said.
"The fact that these chemicals have been found doesn't mean they will cause problems."
Do Canadians need to worry about forever chemicals in their contact lenses?
In a nutshell, Jones cautions Canadians to remember that contact lenses have been thoroughly tested time and time again. If they were ever deemed harmful or unsafe to wear, they would have been flagged.
"When a contact lens is approved for wear, it's an intensely regulated environment. So whether it be Health Canada or the FDA, they have very strict regulations about leachables or what comes out from a contact lens," Jones explained. "During the development process, it'll have gone through an extensive testing process to make sure it's safe."
He added that because 140 to 150 million people globally have been wearing contacts for a long time, systemic problems would have been flagged due to vast market research.
Overall, Jones wants Canadians to not worry about the study and try to put the information into perspective.
"It's a complex issue and try not to be overly concerned about the sensationalist reporting. The results of the testing don't at all relate to the realization of how they're worn in the real world," Jones said. "And remember, PFAS are found in many household products we use daily, so it's all about context."
However, if you are concerned about PFAS or your eye health, make an appointment with your eye or family doctor for further discussion.
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