Scary Contact Lenses

My 82-year-old dad is like a character from a 1950s horror movie. All year long, he's a retired suburban gentleman who goes to church on Sunday, keeps his lawn mowed short, and waves to the neighbors. But at Halloween, he transmogrifies into a horrifying beast who terrorizes the neighborhood kids. Every year, he dons a disguise to scare the Cinderellas and Luke Skywalkers who come to the door. He has dressed as Groucho Marx, a one-eyed pirate, a gorilla, and even Snow White. Forty-five years of his Halloween antics have earned him legend status in the neighborhood. Every year, hordes of trick-or-treaters come to ogle him, holding their pillow cases and plastic jack-o'-lanterns at arm's length so as not to get too close to the character at the door. Dad still has the Halloween spirit, but at his age, shopping for costumes has become difficult for him. He's considering hanging up his fake vampire fangs and retiring from the fright game. My mom called the other day and told me, "It's so sad. Normally your father is so chipper this time of year -- planning his Halloween spectacular, zipping around buying his costumes and props. But the doctor doesn't want him driving for a while. He's so glum about it that he's even let the lawn grow longer than I've ever seen it."

Mom's report made me glum too. It was Eve-to-the-rescue time. With a couple of weeks until Halloween, I had enough time to get Dad a really super costume, something he hadn't done before. But what? At our weekly coffee klatch, Bernice suggested scary contact lenses. It was perfect. Outside of Groucho glasses, changing his eyes is one trick he has not tried.

I ran home and hit the computer. In a minute I was on coastalcontacts.com and called their phone line. "The lenses are referred to as theatrical lenses, special effects lenses, or Halloween lenses," said Patty Gibson, marketing associate for Coastal Contacts. "They have been around for about four or five years, but they are definitely increasing in popularity. We do offer them year-round, but this is the biggest time of year. Sales start around mid-September and really start going crazy once October hits. We sell one particular style called Angelic, which is popular through the entire year. Some people wear them as a bright-colored blue lens. So that one sells fast around the year, but others mainly for Halloween. We offer about 40 different style lenses for Halloween."

Gibson laid out a few different aspects to their lenses. "Some special lenses out on the market are hand-painted. We don't sell any of those. They are all custom made so it takes anywhere from two to six weeks sometimes to get them. The other thing that's different about our lens is that the color design is sandwiched inside the contact lens material, so anything that touches your eye is softer, plastic silicone material. That makes it a lot more comfortable to wear. It's not stamped on the outside where you might feel it on the back of your eyelid."

Do they come in prescription and non-prescription?

"Our top sellers we offer in prescription powers. The others are just a no-correction lens or plano -- there's no corrective powers to them."

Are they a one-time use lens?

"I wouldn't imagine a lot of people would want to wear these on a day-to-day basis," Gibson replied, "but they are made as a conventional lens, which means typically they last three to six months for daily wear, taking them out each night and cleaning them. But usually people would just wear these for one or two parties and maybe save them for the following Halloween. You have to take them out at night, clean them just like you would any other contact lens, and then store them in a lens case with a proper solution. For someone wanting to save them for the following year, there is a little bit of maintenance that you need to do like changing your contact lens solution every 30 days. I would say they last a year at the max; that is with proper maintenance."

Gibson added, "We always recommend that people be fitted by an eye-care professional first, because it is a medical device, and then they can take their prescription and order through us."

Are the theatrical lenses big in any other countries?

"They are probably most popular in the United States, but we do also sell them in Canada and in Europe. But really Halloween isn't as big in the UK and other European countries as it is here. So mainly in the U.S. and Canada."

What are some of the more popular lens designs?

"Year-round Angelic is a big seller, but a popular one for Halloween is Banshee (a black vertical pupil surrounded by yellow, orange, and red). I actually wore that lens last year with my Medusa costume. Manson (black pupil surrounded by white, the outside lined in black) is also a big seller. We sell a couple of cat eyes, White Cat Eyes and Red Cat Eyes, which are both very popular, as is the Vampire Red lens. Black Out is really big; the same type of lens is used in the movie The Covenant, which came out recently. And we also have a couple of Star Wars lenses; the Darth was extremely popular last year with the release of the third Star Wars .

"A couple of the lenses are bigger; they are not just a round lens, they cover the entire eye. Slither (army green color over the entire eye with a black horizontal stripe across the middle of the eye) and Flames (an eye full of orange, yellow, and black flames) cost more. Slither runs $140 and Flames $200 . But the other lenses cost around $80 a pair."

Gibson added that purchases of specialty lenses should be placed by October 25 for people to receive them in time for Halloween.

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