I can’t recall where I first saw circle lenses, but it was probably on one of the youtube instructional videos for Halloween make up for dolls. I’ve wanted to try color contacts for awhile (for the first run of Blackfyre Rising, I was hoping to be cast as a Targaryen and was planning to get purple contacts, but I ended up playing a Tyrell.) I’ve seen people playing fae wear them to great effect. Circle lenses are a type of colored lenses that are bigger than your natural iris, so when you put them in, your irises look huge. This typically creates a young, cartoony look or even an inhuman, alien appearance for the biggest ones.
Turns out, circle lenses are very popular in Asia, but they aren’t sold in the US. So it took a bit of research to find the right pair. I was looking for a reasonable price, comfort, something that wouldn’t interfere with my vision, and would have a striking visual effect that would enhance my costume. Here’s what I learned.
(Note: this post doesn’t include any basic contact tips that you can easily find just by searching online. It’s only things I specifically learned after deciding to get circle lenses.)
Prices range from $20ish to $60ish per pair, but can go even higher. Keep in mind they have to be shipped from Asia, so shipping costs can be high (though mine came with free shipping.)
Prescription lenses are available. So are prescription free (0.00 or plano) lenses. Some sites will make you order two of the same, so if you have eyes with different prescriptions (like me- my right eye prescription is a bit stronger than my left eye) it’s worth finding a website that will let you order left and right separately.
Size varies. They’re mostly between 14 and 16 mm diameter. The typical plain contact lens is 14.2, which are usually a bit bigger than your iris. Also keep in mind that the pigment on the circle lenses doesn’t always go all the way to the edge, meaning that a bigger diameter doesn’t necessarily mean your eye will look that much bigger. I don’t know how “effective diameter” can be bigger than the actual diameter, though some websites will describe their products as such. Just bear in mind that something closer to 14.2 will be subtler. My character isn’t human, so I went for one of the biggest pairs I could find. They’re 16.2 mm, and as you can see, the effect is pretty striking. And unnatural.
Color– If you have light eyes, most colors will show up well over them, but darker colored circle lenses will create starkly colored rings around your eyes, which looks unnatural. (This is fine for inhuman characters, I think.) If you have dark colored eyes like mine, dark contacts will blend well with them (in the picture above, I’m wearing black contacts over my dark brown eyes) but lighter colors won’t show up as well unless the color on them is quite solid (which looks tends to look a bit freaky.) Don’t rely on the ad images, many companies just use the same stock images over and over for any given color. Look at the images of the lens themselves — is the color a solid block, or does it have gradients of color, intended to blend with your natural eye color? Search online — lots of people have blogs dedicated to reviewing costume contacts, and you can probably find real pictures of normal people wearing the products.
An added bonus of the pair I bought — they don’t seem to reflect light as well as my real eyes do, which kind of adds to the soullessness look.
Comfort– this was very important to me. Turns out water content matters. Under 50% is considered low, over 50% is considered high. Under 40% is pretty low, and is unusual for regular contacts, but not uncommon for circle lenses. (I saw a lot at 38%). Higher percentage tends to be more comfortable, but can dry your eyes a bit more as the day goes on (so if you have very dry eyes, you might want a lower percentage.) Also, higher water percentage tends to mean they’re a bit more fragile.
Normally, I can wear contacts just fine, but occasionally they bother me just a little bit. My left eye handled the circle lens just fine (I thought the bigger diameter might affect how it felt, but it didn’t.) My right eye seemed pretty unhappy at first (which isn’t unusual for me) and now and then I could feel it move when I blinked, which was a bit irritating, but not problematic. I wore them for about 12 hours (too long, but I didn’t get a chance to take them out sooner) with no real trouble.
I’m also pretty terrible at getting contacts in my eyes- I wear them so rarely that I never really get used to it, but these were no harder to get in than any other pair. Easier, actually, but that might have just been a fluke. It also could have been because the pigment made it so easy to see whether or not it was in place.
I read a lot of reviews, and the GEO brand got the most complaints about comfort. I got a few recommendations for i.fairy/Vassen, which is the brand I ordered.
Vision– A friend of mine wore colored contacts for a LARP (actually, as a Targaryen for Blackfyre Rising) and said she could see a purple haze with them in around her peripheral vision. That’s a sacrifice I might make to look great at a theater LARP, but in a boffer LARP, I want my peripheral vision to be at its best (gotta spot those monsters.) I also read one review that said when it got dark, she could see the pigment, and someone suggested it’s because your pupil expands in the dark, so the pigment will start to come into your vision. Most reviews didn’t mention any color in their peripheral vision.
With mine, I never saw any color (phew!), neither in the light nor the dark. I tried to order a pair with a big clear aperture in the middle. My guess is that if aperture size makes a different, bigger will make it less likely for you to see the color, though if you want to cover all of your natural iris color, you’ll need the smaller aperture designs. That’s just a guess, though.
Where to Order From– I did a lot of research on this, since a lot of websites look pretty sketchy. I ended up using this site. The shipping was free, though it came on the very last day on the range of days it said the lenses would arrive. Honestly, when you’re ordering from overseas, it’s best to give yourself as much time as possible- more than they say it will take, if you can.
This forum thread was actually one of the most helpful things I found online- tons of reviews of many different brands, colors, and styles, and it includes comments on websites to order from. 5 stars means at least 5 people have ordered from it with no trouble. They also red flagged some websites that gave people trouble.
A few more general thoughts:
– Most contacts have to be prescribed (certainly any FDA approved contacts do. Many costume and circle lens vendors don’t require it, but it is a really good idea even if you have perfect vision – the size of the contact matters.) Some places won’t take a prescription over a year old. (This is mostly relevant for colored lenses from the reputable brands, less so for vendors who only deal with costume contacts.) Also, some places won’t actually give you your old prescription. I ran into these kinds of bizarre policies when I was shopping for glasses, too. One place was willing to call up another glasses store and get the prescription they had for me on record, but then wouldn’t tell it to me. My optometrist won’t give me a prescription for contacts if I haven’t had an appointment in over a year, even though I’m wearing the same glasses with no problems. Go figure. Point is, if you know your prescription, keep a record of it. You don’t want to lose or forget it, then find you can’t get that information without an appointment.
– Use cases you trust- and check to make sure there’s still contact solution in them from time to time. I’ve had contact cases that didn’t appear to leak, but after they tumbled around in a suitcase for a couple days, the contact solution had slooooowly leaked out over time, and my contacts became dried out, hard, brittle, and shrunk- completely unusable. Mildly annoying when my disposable pair got ruined, but if it happened to the expensive pair I ordered from overseas, I’d be pretty upset.
– If you’ve never put in contacts before, give yourself plenty of time. People who use them daily can just pop them in with no mirrors, no problem. Me, the first few times it took me like half an hour per eye, and now sometimes it takes me 10 solid minutes, sometimes I get them in on the first try… and never without a big mirrror. I budget time for it when prepping for a LARP. The friend who used colored contacts for the very first time for Blackfyre Rising had a lot of trouble getting them in, and then had to have help getting them back out. And she kept flinching away, so the guy helping her had to literally force her against a wall, and pin her with an elbow while taking them out. Kinda funny, but the point is, if you’re not used to it (and especially if the idea of poking yourself in the eye is terrifying) give yourself a ton of time.
– Put them in BEFORE any make-up! You will get make-up on your fingers and in your eyes if you try to do it in the wrong order, and that can be very bad.
– Do not wash you contacts in plain water – use contact solution. The concentration of the fluid matters.
That all said, I was really pleased with the reactions my dolly eyes got. I’ve always loved how colored contacts really enhanced costumes, so I expect I’ll be getting more pairs if the costuming opportunities arrive.
Please feel free to ask any questions. I found it really frustrating to get reliable information before ordering, and a lot of my inquiries got no response. I have very little experience so far, but I’m happy to offer whatever help I can.