Optometrists warning over illegal and unsafe contact lenses as online buying soars

  • Eye experts warning over unsafe contact lenses sold by unregulated suppliers as one in ten (13%) contact lens wearers buy products online during pandemic restrictions     
  • Some optometrists report seeing as many as nine patients in a month who’ve experienced problems as a result of contact lenses they’ve purchased online
  • Ill effects of the illegal contact lenses can in extreme cases cause sight threatening conditions and permanent damage to the eye     
  • Almost half (45%) of contact lens wearers are unaware that some online suppliers are unregulated and do not comply with UK safety regulations
  • Association of Optometrists is calling for tighter regulations around online supply and advise the public to be vigilant to ensure they are buying from a safe UK supplier   

The Association of Optometrists are warning that unsafe contact lenses bought online, from unregulated suppliers, are putting the public’s eye health at risk. 

During the pandemic, UK optometrists have seen a shift in patients turning away from their trusted eyecare professional to source their prescription eyewear online. Yet almost half (45%) of the public are unaware that some online contact lens suppliers are registered overseas to avoid complying with UK safety rules. 

In a survey of over 1000 optometrists, over half (56%), report seeing as many as nine patients in a month who’ve experienced problems as a result of lenses they’ve purchased online with problems spanning from poor fitting lenses (57%) which can damage the eye, blurred vision (57%) to eye infections (36%) and even sight threatening conditions (12%) – with eye irritation, redness and discomfort (80%) being the most likely issues.   

In the UK, contact lenses can only be supplied under the general direction or supervision of a registered practitioner. However, some UK websites are run by companies based overseas and fall outside UK jurisdiction, meaning some products are sold illegally or do not comply with safety regulations. The research from the Association of Optometrists found that over half (55%) of its members reported seeing evidence that the law is being broken by suppliers.       
When asked, two-thirds (67%) of contact lens wearers who had bought contact lenses online experienced a problem – citing eye irritation (18%) or poor-fitting lenses (18%) as the main issues. An alarming 17% reported that the contact lenses they bought online had led to permanent eye damage and 15% said they had a painful eye condition that required urgent treatment.

Optometrist and Clinical Director for the Association of Optometrists, Dr Peter Hampson, explained why some products bought online pose a risk to eye health: “While of course people might want the ease of buying online, optometrists such as myself see the consequences for consumers all too often. It’s awful to see people whose eyes have been damaged, sometimes permanently, by the sort of problems and infections that can result from lenses that haven’t been fitted or are not genuine products. Sadly, many people are completely unaware of the risks.” 

Adam Sampson, Chief Executive at the Association of Optometrists said: “Illegal supply is a longstanding issue for the sector, and we’ve often reported what we suspect are illegal suppliers to the regulator of the profession, the General Optical Council (GOC) to investigate. But it’s time that there is more in place to protect the public – particularly, as the trend for consumers to buy online is only set to grow. Our eyes are delicate – we cannot possibly afford for people to trust unregulated sites over the skills of a trained and regulated professional." 
Mr Sampson added: “The Government is currently reviewing the way healthcare in the UK is regulated.  As part of that, urgent attention needs to be given to how better to protect UK consumers from unregulated internet sales.” 

The Association of Optometrists is calling on the government to close the loophole which enables online suppliers to operate outside UK safety laws and suggest that suppliers carry an approved kitemark to make it clear to consumers they are buying a trustworthy and safe product. 

The AOP’s Know Your Lenses campaign launches on 20 October 2021. As part of the campaign, consumers can read expert advice on eyecare and top tips for buying safely online,    

The AOP jointly produced an information leaflet Do you know the law on selling contact lenses? which sets out the facts and the GOC’s legal remit in this area. The leaflet can be used by optical practitioners who wish to advise suppliers of the law, 


For more information, please contact Serena Box, PR and Media Manager, at the Association of Optometrists, [email protected] or telephone 020 7549 2040.

Notes to Editors

Spokespeople from the AOP are available for interview and discuss the findings: 

AOP spokespeople: 

  • Adam Sampson, Chief Executive of the Association of Optometrists 
  • Dr Peter Hampson, Optometrist and Clinical Director at the Association of Optometrists  

You can download hi-res images related to the campaign via Dropbox. 

Association of Optometrists

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) is the leading representative membership organisation for optometrists in the UK. We support over 82% of practising optometrists, to fulfil their professional roles to protect the nation’s eye health. For more information, visit