Cancer-Causing PFAS in Contact Lenses: Should You Worry?

Continuing to expose everyday items that contain “forever chemicals,” soft contact lenses from the United States are a new concerning addition. Our previous blog discussed the trace amount of PFAS in toilet paper. Now, the same cancer-causing chemicals are in the lenses people need to correct vision problems. Making matters worse, many soft lenses in the US are “almost pure PFAS,” revealed Scott Belcher, a contact lens testing advisor and researcher from North Carolina State University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as “a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water.” Food packaging, non-stick and heat-resistant kitchen tools, adhesives, furniture, clothing, and the insulation of electrical wires are some (yes, only some) of the many everyday items containing toxic chemicals. Many PFAS, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), are worrying because they:

  • Do not break down in the environment, thus the term “forever chemicals.”
  • Can spread across soils, contaminating vegetation and drinking water sources.
  • Bioaccumulates in people, wildlife, and the environment.
  • Impair health by elevating cholesterol levels, damaging the liver, inducing fertility issues and fetal complications, increasing cancer risks, and more.

Humans, in particular, are more prone than ever to the aforementioned health issues due to the presence of PFAS in contacts.


Discovery of PFAS in Contact Lenses from US Companies

A 2023 consumer study by Mamavation and Environmental Health News found that 100% of the 18 contact lenses they investigated had varying levels of organic fluorine – a known marker for PFAS.

Their EPA-certified laboratory uncovered the following:

  • Alcon, Acuvue, and CooperVision – some of the most popular brands of optical contacts in the US — have indications of PFAS.
  • The levels of organic fluorine ranged from 105 to 20,700 parts per million (ppm).
  • 22% of the products examined (4 out of 18 products) had more than 18,000 ppm of organic fluorine.
  • 44% of the products examined (8 out of 18 products) had more than 4,000 ppm of organic fluorine.
  • 34% of the products examined (6 out of 18 products) had low levels of organic fluorine but still surpassed the recommended safety limit.
  • The three contact lenses with the highest levels of PFAS were from the brand Alcon. The Alcon Air Optix (No HydraGlyde®) for Astigmatism had 20,000ppm of organic fluorine; Alcon Air Optix Colors with Smartshield Technology had 20,700ppm; and Alcon Total30 Contact Lenses for Daily Wear had 20,400 ppm.

All 18 lenses exceeded 100 ppm, which is equivalent to 100,000,000 parts per trillion (ppt) and is 50,000 times more than the highest level deemed safe in drinking water by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


How Many People Wear Contact Lenses?

According to a population-based survey, 40.9 million individuals in the US over 18 wear optical lenses (16.7% of American adults), and 93% of wearers use soft contact lenses.

In addition, 14.5 percent of children in the US wear contact lenses. Of them, 2% are 9 years old or younger; 7% are between 10 to 12 years old; 13% are between 13 to 14 years old; and 19% are between 15 to 17 years old. These statistics are from the American Optometric Association, the leading authority on eye and vision care.


Dangers of Wearing Contact Lenses with PFAS

US military members and their loved ones reported the following eye conditions linked to PFAS exposure in military bases, according to plaintiff attorneys:

  • Astigmatism: This common ocular condition distorts or blurs vision due to the irregular shape of the cornea (the eye’s clear front layer) or lens (inner part of the eye responsible for enhancing focus). What’s alarming is that one of Alcon’s PFAS-containing contact lenses for astigmatism may make the condition worse.
  • Myopia: Also called nearsightedness, people with this eye problem can see close objects clearly, while objects farther away appear blurry. Myopia results from the eyeball being too long, or the cornea having a non-uniform curvature.
  • Hyperopia: Also known as farsightedness, those with hyperopia have difficulty seeing or focusing on objects that are close to them, but can clearly see objects that are close to them with ease. It occurs when the eyeball is too short, or the refractive power within the lens is weak.
  • Presbyopia: This ocular condition refers to the progressive loss of the eyes’ ability to focus on proximate objects. Presbyopia is common among the elderly, but younger individuals exposed to PFAS can contract it early.

These eye problems may develop faster or worsen with exposure to toxic chemicals like PFAS in soft contact lenses.


The Link Between Cancer and PFAS in Your Eyeballs

“Forever chemicals” are known to cause malignant diseases. Long-term or excessive exposure can lead to the development of cancer in the kidneys, thyroid, endometrium, ovaries, testes, and prostate. PFAS are also associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and childhood leukemia.

But the billion-dollar question remains: how concerned should people be?


Expert Insights on PFAS in Soft Contact Lenses

“It is absolutely unclear,” utters Belcher. Although scientists have known for several decades that contact lenses contain fluorine atoms, legislators and regulators have not given them adequate attention.

“Could this cause dry eye and eye allergies? We do not know,” says Bavand Youssefzadeh, an ophthalmologist at Global Lasik and Cataract Institute, California. 

“No one today can tell you that fluoropolymer exposures are safe, because no jurisdiction has been demanding the development and scrutiny of appropriate safety testing,” asserts Terrence J. Collins, Carnegie Mellon University’s Director of the Institute for Green Sciences. “But we know enough about PFAS chemicals to guess and fear that fluoropolymers in human cells or the environment are anything but (…) safe,” Collins added, advising everyone to avoid contact lenses with forever chemicals.


Best Contact Lenses for Your Overall Health

While the dangers of wearing lenses contaminated with PFAS remain unclear, as always, opt for caution over regret. Mamavation and Environmental Health News found these contacts to have under 200 ppm of organic fluorine. Sadly, 100% of the products examined contained PFAS.

  • Alcon DAILIES TOTAL1 ® Multifocal Contact Lenses Water Gradient
  • Alcon Dailies TOTAL1® for Astigmatism
  • ACUVUE OASYS® with HYDRACLEAR® PLUS for Astigmatism
  • ACUVUE OASYS® with HYDRACLEAR® PLUS Brand Contact Lenses with Class 1 UV-blocking technology
  • AIR OPTIX® plus HydraGlyde® for Astigmatism
  • AIR OPTIX® plus HydraGlyde® with Smartshield Technology

As there are no studies on how PFAS from contact lenses would affect the eyes, choosing any of the above products is the best way to reduce or prevent unwanted complications. New Hope Medical Center also advises all contact lens wearers to attend eye appointments (as needed) to maintain optimal vision and eye health.



[1] (2022, May 2). Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) Factsheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from

[2] Cope JR, Collier SA, Rao MM, et al. Contact Lens Wearer Demographics and Risk Behaviors for Contact Lens-Related Eye Infections – United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015 Aug 21;64(32):865-70. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6432a2. PMID: 26292204; PMCID: PMC5779588.

[3] Lazarus, R. (2020, May 3). Can Children Wear Contact Lenses? Optometrists Network. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from

[4] Mascarenhas, C. (2023, May 13). Contact lenses contain dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals: Study. New York Post. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from 

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