True Cellular Formulas Team - May 23, 2023
PFAS Chemicals Found in Contact Lenses
Study Findings and Health Implications
A recently conducted consumer study sent 18 different soft contact lenses to an EPA-certified lab for testing. The objective was to determine the presence of PFAS in these popular eye contact products and provide valuable information for consumers and eye care professionals. This article presents the study's findings and discusses the potential health effects of PFAS exposure through contact lenses.
Health Effects Linked to PFAS "Forever Chemicals"
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of chemicals known for their stain-resistant, oil-resistant, and water-resistant properties. These chemicals have been used extensively in various consumer products and building materials. However, PFAS are also associated with serious health effects.
Exposure to PFAS has been linked to reduced immunity, compromised vaccination response, increased risk of allergies and asthma in children, developmental issues in infants and children, elevated cholesterol levels, metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, decreased fertility in both men and women, increased risk of certain cancers, endocrine disruption, and disrupted thyroid function.[2-4]
Can Exposure to PFAS Through the Eyeball Be Problematic?
While 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. Considering the sensitivity of the eyes and the biomonitoring evidence indicating widespread PFAS presence in the general population, it is important to minimize PFAS exposure from all sources, including contact lenses.
Although specific studies on PFAS exposure through contact lenses are lacking, precautionary measures should be taken when selecting contact lenses in consultation with eye care professionals, given the potential risks associated with PFAS exposure.
Environmental Impact of Throwing Away Toxic Contact Lenses
The improper disposal of contact lenses can have adverse effects on the environment. It is estimated that around 2.5 billion contact lenses, weighing approximately 44,000 pounds, are discarded annually in the United States. Unfortunately, a significant portion of contact lens users disposes of their lenses by flushing them down the toilet or draining them in sinks, leading to their entry into wastewater treatment plants. Due to their small size and transparency, contact lenses pose challenges for effective removal during wastewater treatment processes. Consequently, an estimated 6 to 10 metric tons of plastic lenses end up in U.S. wastewater annually, posing risks to the environment.[1,5]
How Does PFAS Get into Contact Lenses?
Contact lenses are typically made using a combination of poly(methylmethacrylate), silicones, and fluoropolymers. Fluoropolymers, often containing PFAS, enhance the lens material's softness and allow for better oxygen permeability to the eye. The detection of organic fluorine, a marker for PFAS, in contact lenses suggests the use of fluoropolymers in varying amounts and for different functions depending on the lens type and brand.
Findings of the Lab 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 laboratory detected indications of PFAS "forever chemicals" in all the contact lens products tested. The levels of organic fluorine, an indicator of PFAS, ranged from 105 to 20,700 parts per million (ppm). The most popular brands, Acuvue, Alcon, and Coopervision, all showed indications of PFAS at varying levels. Notably, 22% of the contact lenses had organic fluorine levels exceeding 18,000 ppm, and 44% had levels exceeding 4,000 ppm.
The Naughty List
These products were sent to an EPA-certified lab and found to have 1,000 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine or more.
- Acuvue Oasys with HydraLuxe 1-Day — 6,096 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Acuvue Vita Astigmatism Senofilcon C Brand Contact Lenses — 5,537 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Air OPTIX (No Hydraglide) Soft Contact Lenses for Astigmatism — 20,000 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon AIR OPTIX Colors Contact Lenses with Smartshield Technology — 20,700 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Dailies Colors One-Day Contact Lenses — 18,400 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Total 30 Contact Lenses for Daily Wear — 20,400 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Coopervision Biofinity Toric Contact Lenses — 4,751 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Coopervision Comfilcon A Multifocal Tinted Soft Contact Lenses — 5,613 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
The Better List
These contacts were sent to an EPA-certified lab and found to have between 200 parts per million (ppm) and 1000 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine.
- Alcon Dailies TOTAL 1 One-Day Contact Lenses Water Gradient — 625 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon MULTIFOCAL Dailies AquaComfort Plus One-Day Contact Lenses — 346 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon Precision 1 One-Day Contact Lenses with SmartSurface Technology — 302 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
- Alcon TORIC Dailies AquaComfort Plus One-Day Contact Lenses — 914 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine
Expert Commentary and Recommendations
Prominent scientists and experts in the field of environmental health, such as Linda S. Birnbaum and Pete Myers, 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 highlights the need for caution. Terrence Collins, a professor of Green Chemistry, emphasizes the necessity of considering health, environmental, and fairness performances when evaluating the safety of products containing fluoropolymers.
The study’s findings raise concerns about the presence of PFAS "forever chemicals" in contact lenses. Given the sensitivity of the eyes and the potential health risks associated with PFAS exposure, consumers are advised to discuss these findings with their eye care professionals when making decisions about their eye care. While further research is needed to understand the specific risks of PFAS exposure through contact lenses, precautionary measures should be taken. Optometrists should engage in discussions about the essentiality of fluoropolymers in contact lenses and explore alternative chemistries to ensure the safety and well-being 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.
- Clspectrum.Com, www.clspectrum.com/issues/2019/august-2019/the-environmental-impact-of-contact-lens-waste.