It’s convenient to buy contact lenses online. But when you use the web to buy contacts, there are a lot of things you’ll need to consider, including cost and safety.
Here’s some general information on contact lenses, as well as a few tips to help make sure your online sale goes as smoothly as possible.
Types of Prescription Contact Lenses
If you’re new to contacts, it’s important to know the different kinds of lenses that are available. The type of lens you need will depend on the kind of eye issue you have.
Hard Contact Lenses
Hard contact lenses, such as rigid gas-permeable lenses, are made of plastic and other materials. Prescription hard lenses hold their shape in your eye while letting oxygen get through.
If you have astigmatism (an irregularly shaped cornea that can cause blurry vision), your eye doctor may recommend hard lenses. These lenses may provide sharper vision than soft lenses if you have astigmatism.1
Soft Contact Lenses
Most people prefer soft prescription lenses because they’re usually more comfortable. There are several subtypes of soft lenses. Here are a few:
- Toric lenses – Toric soft contact lenses are prescribed for astigmatism. They can be worn daily or for extended periods of time, and they are usually more expensive than regular soft contacts.2
- Daily wear lenses – Daily prescription lenses are just like the name implies. You wear them during your waking hours and then take them out before you go to bed. They are often disposable lenses – you put in a new pair each morning.
- Extended wear lenses – These contacts are worn 24 hours a day, but you need to clean them at least once a week. Your eye doctor might be hesitant to prescribe this kind of lens because people who wear them are at a higher risk for an eye infection.3
Lenses for Presbyopia
Now, there are other kinds of contact lenses that are made for specific eye problems. For example, you’ll find lenses for a condition known as presbyopia. This problem, which usually develops after age 40, makes it hard to focus on nearby objects. For many, presbyopia is a part of aging.
(Some people with presbyopia wear a lens for distance in one eye and another for close-up vision in the other eye. Surprisingly, this can cause your eyes to automatically focus correctly, based on what you’re trying to see.)
There are also multifocal lenses that provide near and far vision correction in the same lens.4
Colored contacts, or decorative contacts, are typically used for cosmetic purposes. However, the government still considers them to be “medical devices.” That means you need to treat them like prescription lenses and clean them regularly.
However, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA), nearly 25 percent of people who purchase decorative lenses do so without a prescription. This is illegal – whether you walk into a store or buy lenses online.
Note: Never order decorative lenses without talking to an eye doctor first. They can cause severe problems, such as pain, infections, and even cuts on the surface of the eye known as corneal abrasions.5
How to Assess an Online Contact Lens Retailer
You’ll see that there is a wide range of online retailers selling contact lenses. Some are well-established, traditional retailers. Others might be newer to the market. There’s a good chance you’ll see a brand or two with which you’re unfamiliar.
If you decide to order contact lenses online, look for a retailer who has the best products, while also providing excellent customer service.
So, which online retailer is better? Let’s take a look at both sides.
Finding Online Retailers You Can Trust
Now, when it comes to comparing established online retailers (ones with names you’ve heard of before) with newcomers, an established company:
- Might have more contact lenses in stock
- May be able to fulfill your order more quickly
- May be more stable than a newer company
If you need a refund, or you need to exchange your contact lenses, you may have better luck with a long-standing company.
Note: A smaller operator may be able to offer discount contacts at lower prices than the “big guys” because they have lower overhead. At the same time, though, larger companies can also offer discounts because of their buying power. They may be able to pass the savings on to customers they get from their suppliers.
Things to Consider When Buying Contact Lenses Online
No matter where you order your contact lenses online, you should consider several important things:
- Do they take telephone orders? – If you run across a web retailer that has a customer service telephone line, that’s a good sign it’s a stable company.
- Will your credit card purchase be secure? – Regardless of the size of the company, there is always risk when giving your credit card number online. Do some research and make sure the company from which you’re buying your contact lenses has a secure site. If the website starts with “https://,” that’s a good sign it is.
- Do they have reputable customer service? – Another way to tell if you can trust a web retailer is whether you can contact them with any questions or concerns. The site should not only provide a phone number, but also an online contact form.
Note: Still hesitant about ordering your contacts online from a particular company? Call the customer service number and discuss things with a customer service agent. A reputable company will welcome your inquiry.
Dealing With Potential Disputes
No matter how well-respected an online retailer may be, there are times where a customer will not be satisfied with an order. In some instances, a dispute can arise between the customer and the company.
Disputes can sometimes get to the point where the company and customer can’t agree on a solution. When this happens, the matter will sometimes head to arbitration.
What is American Arbitration?
Arbitration clauses state that you have to resolve your dispute through arbitration — process of going to a third party to make a decision — rather than filing a lawsuit.
Arbitration clauses are found in the fine print in many kinds of contracts between a customer and a company. Check the website’s “terms of service” or “terms and conditions” section for phrases such as “resolution programs” or “binding arbitration.” A local arbitration association can help if you have questions.6
Is Ordering Contact Lenses Online a Cheaper Option?
So, which is the less expensive option: going to your eye care professional for contact lenses, or ordering them online?
Well, the online approach may be cheaper because the retailer will probably have less overhead than your eye doctor. But there’s also a chance that your eye care professional might match the online price. Talk to your doctor to see if he or she will do so.
Rebates are something to consider. The online retailer may offer them, while your eye doctor might not (or vice versa). You won’t know for sure until you ask.
Now, there are many different kinds of rebates out there. For example, they might be available to first-time online contact lens buyers. Your doctor’s office could offer rebates if you get an exam and buy lenses in the store.
Manufacturers may offer rebates that you can redeem by sending in a proof of purchase. That usually means mailing in the part of the box that contains the bar code. Wherever you find them, rebates can help you maximize the value of your contact lens purchase.
Checking Online Prices
Don’t just go for the first price you see, if you choose to go the online route. A lot of companies offer contact lenses on the web, so shop around.
Look at how much each company charges for shipping and handling. Shipping costs can vary a great deal among different online retailers. Also, look into buying in bulk if that’s an option – you might get a better deal that way.
One easy way to compare online prices is to use a price comparison site on the web. There are general sites as well as those that are specific to contact lenses. Do a quick online search and you’ll see a lot of them.
Can Vision Insurance Benefits be Used for Buying Lenses Online?
If your health insurance plan covers vision insurance, there’s a good chance it will cover online purchases of contact lenses, as well as those from eye care professionals. But don’t assume anything. Take a good look at your plan to make sure.
Now, there are typically two ways that insurance benefits work when it comes to contact lenses. The first is a percentage discount. You may, for example, be able to use your coverage to get 15-20 percent off your lenses. The second is a flexible spending account (FSA).
Flexible Spending Accounts
Some insurance plans include a benefit known as a flexible spending account (FSA). This is an account that can be used not only for vision care, but also dental and medical expenses. You determine how much money you will contribute to the FSA, and the money is deducted from your paycheck before taxes are taken out.
The catch with an FSA is that it usually expires at the end of the year. It’s a “use it or lose it” situation. If you don’t use the account, it disappears. A lot of people wait until the last minute to use their FSA funds. Don’t be one of them.
If you rush to use your FSA funds to find an online contact lens provider, you might not have enough time to find the best deal. Even worse, you might wind up buying lenses that don’t work as they should, leading to a major hassle.
Is It Safe to Buy Prescription Lenses From the Web?
In the majority of cases, it’s safe to buy contact lenses online. Remember, the government requires you to have a prescription, even if you only use the lenses for cosmetic purposes.
Whether lenses are for vision correction or for decorative purposes, there are several things you need to do to make sure they’re safe. Here are a few recommendations from the American Optometric Association to keep in mind:
- Make sure you follow care instructions to keep the lenses clean and disinfected
- Never handle or clean your lenses without washing your hands first
- Don’t swap lenses with anyone else
- Unless your lenses are extended-wear, always take them out before you go to bed
- See an optometrist to make sure your lenses fit correctly7
The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act
In 2004, Congress passed the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act to make it easier for people to buy contacts online. The act requires eye doctors to release a contacts prescription to any patient who wants it. Doctors can’t force someone to buy contacts from their office.
The Act also requires lens sellers to only dispense contacts with a valid prescription.8
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission then implemented the Contact Lens Rule. A prescriber must provide a prescription to a patient after a contact lens fitting.9
So, is it Worth it to Buy Contacts Online?
If you have a new prescription or you need replacement contact lenses, it should be safe for you to buy them over the web. Just do some research beforehand, take the time to shop around for the best deal, and don’t skimp on quality.
Doing your due diligence will not only help your wallet, but your vision as well. This is true whether you order lenses online or get them from your doctor.
Contacts vs Glasses (and the benefits of both)
Computer Vision Syndrome, also known as Digital Eye Strain
What is Astigmatism? (and can it be corrected?)