CONTINUING EDUCATION, 1 CE Credit – $9.99, 1 Hour, General Knowledge, Level 1, Release date: October 2007, Expiration date: October 31, 2012

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Lady Gaga
and the Circle Contact Lens

Lady Gaga is a singer/entertainer noted for her unusual approach to her profession. She wears exotic outfits like the one seen in her latest video, "Bad Romance".

In the much talked about bathroom scene she created a look with her dark, shiny, extra large anime cartoon like eyes that caused a storm of curiosity in the USA and all points overseas. Some commentators believe it was generated by a digital technique. Nevertheless, teenagers and young women have grasped the circle lens as the latest item in their search for a different venue to express themselves.

Asian girls are notorious for wanting a change in their looks to make them look different. That means a whiter or fairer skin, double eyelids and bigger eyes. This has produced a boom in the consumer's demand for Asian cosmetic items. Korea has led the field, not only in cosmetics but also in their ethnic foods production and now the "big eye" contact lens. The lenses are imported from Asia and come in a dark color as well as violet, pink or lime for a special effect. The diameter of the lens is usually about 14mm. This is more than needed to cover the average cornea diameter. While it is not unusual as a standard soft contact lens size, the effect as a dark lens, edge to edge, is nothing less than spectacular. We thought that with the arrival of Halloween we would, once again, have to endure the traditional, scary fright lenses. But no! Now the “Circle" lens looms large on the horizon. The little beggars make the eyes look unusually large since they cover not only the cornea but also an extra margin of the sclera.

The country of Thailand refuses to be overlooked in this madness. It is not unusual to find a group of female college students in their cafeteria surrounding a tray containing tiny vials, the lenses are submerged in a saline solution labeled with color descriptions like, "Candy, "Magic Color", or "Barbie". Many Thais are attracted to the big eye lenses since they believe that they achieve a cute, babyish look. One student, Darapan Wisutthiareeruk, says, "They make you look like a baby doll." Some young men have come under the spell of the anime cartoon look. Chaiwat Muangthong is one of them and claims, “I want to catch people's attention.” He also sports a thorny-tousled lavender hairdo with matching lenses. "I match my hair color to my lenses," he adds. He has run the gamut of lens colors from ocher to pink to blue to green. Thai youngsters see the cute look as a special prerogative. The subculture dictates that a girl must be doe-eyed. An extra added attraction is afforded to the wearer by the glistening, watery sheen appearance given to the big eyes.

Chantal George, age 19, has a collection of fourteen pairs of Circle lenses accumulated over the past three years. Even at $20 to $30 for each purchase, she just can't resist. She states, "I'm hooked. It’s all for the fun of it. For the same reason I'd pick up a hoodie or a pair of jeans with a crazy design on them. It's an extension of fashion, Chantel says. “It’s not that the lenses make me look prettier, it’s a conversation starter and provides an aura of something interesting.”

These lenses might be considered just another fad; however they are imported as contraband. This gives the eye care provider serious concerns. It is illegal in the U.S. to sell any type of contact lenses, corrective or cosmetic, without a prescription. Yet, as in other cases of illegally distributed lenses, they are easily available via the internet. Message boards and YouTube videos are buzzing with information about these lenses spread by teenage girls and announcements where to buy them. The price of the lenses includes plano decorative lenses as well as those with corrections. Acuvue, FreshKon and Clearvue companies are the chief manufacturers of this remarkable lens. Knowledge of this lens has been talked about for seven or eight years. Only recently has its popularity reached unexpected proportions.

Wannabe celebrities and front page seekers are called "ulzzang girls". They provide sexy head shots of themselves online, invariably sporting Circle lenses to call attention to their eyes. Ulzzang means "best face" in Korean but also means "pretty”. Voting and chatting are done on many sites. There are contest sites, both internet and real where the best Ulzzangs are selected. Some Ulzzangs are attractive and their gained popularity has skyrocketed interest in the Circle lens. To become a bona fide Ulzzang, young girls will use products like fake eyelashes, skin foundations, eyelid tape, etc. Some have become celebrity figures such as actors, singers or models.

The lenses are extremely popular in Japan, Singapore and South Korea. They are starting to make their appearance in American and Canadian high schools and colleges. Students and young women claim that wearing the lenses is akin to the use of mascara or eye liner. According to FDA rules, any website that sells contact lenses online is required to verify prescriptions with the customer's eye doctor. In contrast, sites that are selling the Circle lenses allow the customers to indicate their prescription values as well as their choice of color. Karen Riley, an FDA spokesperson states, "Consumers risk significant eye injuries, even blindness, when they buy contact lenses without a valid prescription or help from an eye care professional."

Another criticism comes from Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York State. He says, “If it’s not getting enough oxygen, the cornea can develop an infection or an ulcer which may lead to permanent blindness." He adds that in addition to a proper fit the care and management of the lenses are important to prevent infections. The other side of the coin is expressed by those who note that no reported case of damage due to Circle lens use exists. They argue that FDA approved lenses may also cause negative results in spite of the rigid restraints espoused by our national regulatory system. The YouTube video, “Lady Gaga Romance" has been watched more than 9.4 million times. It has been the single most significant thrust that accounts for the wide appreciation among our teenagers.

Some students were suspicious at first. However, a groundswell of satisfied users has convinced others that the Circle lens could be successful. Many have become addicted to the use of this new development. A video makeup artist states, "It's all about the eyes, in makeup. They love that innocent look." The popularity has spread to other races. For instance, students from Africa can achieve the “Avatar” look with the use of a gray tint to create that mystical, out of this world look. Overseas manufacturers are well aware that shipments to the U.S are illegal. However, they state that they are sure of the safety. This is why, they add, that so many positive recommendations are made by customers to their peers. The situation provides a ready made market for the manufacturers. However, internet bloggers have described the lens as "an alien appearance", "scary," freaky", “something from a Japanese horror movie", "creepy" and "weird". And those were the more conservative comments.

Many a man wishes he were strong enough to tear a telephone book in half....particularly if he has a teen age daughter.-Guy Lombardo

Elmer Friedman, O.D.

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