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Contact Lenses That Darken In Bright Light Have Been Approved And Could Go On Sale Soon

Researchers have proven over and over again that protecting one’s eyes from UV radiation reduces the risk of vision problems later in life. Complying with this medical advice isn't so rough, as it means pulling on a sweet pair of shades when you go outside.

Yet perhaps you are one of the many people who are seemingly incapable of keeping track of a pair of sunglasses and refuse to use the awkward-looking two-in-one transition glasses.


If so, we have some good news: The Food and Drug Administration has approved the world’s first contact lens incorporating light-adaptive pigments to shield the eye from harmful UV radiation.

Created under a collaboration between the medical product giant Johnson & Johnson and photochromic glasses manufacturer Transitions Optical, Acuvue Oasys Contact Lenses with Transitions Light Intelligent Technology are slated to become available in early 2019.

The contacts are designed to function exactly the same as standard, two-week soft contact lenses, and will be available to patients who need correction for either farsightedness or nearsightedness, including those with some degree of astigmatism.

According to the FDA, the final approval stems from a recent clinical trial wherein 24 volunteers tested the lenses during day and nighttime driving scenarios. No negative impact on vision was noted. Per Johnson & Johnson, efforts to bring the lens to market spanned 10 years of development and numerous earlier trials of almost 1,000 subjects.


Though information regarding the exact makeup of the contact lenses is not publicly available, they are likely created using the same or similar photochromic dyes as are used in Transition Optical’s glasses. Such glasses are produced by binding light-sensitive pigment molecules onto the surface of a plastic lens. When exposed to UV radiation, chemical bonds within the interconnected sheet of molecules break, and the pigments rearrange themselves into a different structure that absorbs a portion of light within the visible spectrum.

In low-UV radiation environments, the molecules revert to a state that allows more visible-spectrum light to pass through the lens to our retinas.

“Very simply put, it is a contact lens that behaves like [light-responsive] eyeglasses, darkening in the sunlight to act like sunglasses and lightening up in the dark to not interfere with night-time vision,” clinical ophthalmologist Dr Rahul Pandit told IFLScience.

“I think this is a fascinating advance in contact lens technology, quite honestly one that I was not expecting.”


One potential downside that the company has not addressed is how the lenses actually look on wearers. As contacts cover the entire iris, lightly pigmented eyes will presumably appear quite different when the wearer is in bright sun. To what degree they make people into creepy gray-eyed monsters is yet to be seen.


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