Evidence Based

Types of Contacts and Their Expiration Dates

Do Contact Lenses Expire?

Contact lenses expire, so it’s essential to make sure your prescription is current. Don’t order contact lenses with an expired prescription, and don’t stock up on contact lenses before the prescription is about to expire.

Soft contact lenses have an expiration date. Contact lenses can be soft or hard, and they are produced for extended or disposable use. Most soft contact lenses usually expire around four years from the date they were packaged.

contact lenses

Take an annual eye exam to make sure you’re aware of any recent problems. If you haven’t had your eyes examined within the last year or two, you may have eye issues that you’re unaware of. Or, your contact lenses may not improve your vision as well as possible. 

Your state usually sets the expiration date for your contact lenses prescription. This may require renewal between one to four years. If your state has not indicated a prescription expiration date, your order will expire less than one year following the prescription’s issue date. This rule is set by federal regulation.

Types of Contacts & Their Expiration Dates

There are different types of contact lenses that fix different vision problems:

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Soft Contact Lenses. Soft contact lenses are produced from soft and flexible plastics. These materials allow oxygen to reach the cornea. Soft contact lenses are easy to adjust to and are more comfortable to wear than rigid gas permeable lenses. Daily disposable soft contact lenses are usually worn daily and are disposed of after each use.

Rigid Gas Permeable (RGP) Lenses. Rigid gas permeable contact lenses are more durable and resistant to build-up than soft contact lenses. Hard lenses also usually provide a clearer and cleaner vision. Rigid gas permeable lenses are also more affordable in the long term than soft lenses, as they last longer. If hard lenses are properly cared for, they can last for up to two years or even longer. They’re also easier to handle and are less likely to break or tear than soft lenses. However, rigid gas permeable lenses aren’t as comfortable as soft contacts. 

Extended Wear Lenses. Extended wear lenses are used for overnight or continuous wear. This can range from one to six nights or up to 30 days. Extended wear lenses are usually soft. However, there are a few hard lenses that are produced for overnight wear. The length of continuous wear depends on the type of lens and the evaluation of your eyes from your optometrist. 

Disposable Lenses. Most soft contact lenses are disposable lenses. Disposable means they can be used daily and removed at night for overnight cleaning and disinfection. Depending on the wear schedule, a pair of disposable lenses is usually kept for 1 week, or up to 1 month.  It’s important to note that some soft contact lenses are listed as disposable by contact lens sellers, but instead, they’re used for frequent or planned replacement. 

Decorative Lenses. Decorative lenses alter the look of your eyes. They aren’t usually worn to correct vision. They can temporarily change the look of your eyes to different colors, shapes, or styles. The same rules and regulations of regular contact lens care and expiration apply to decorative lenses, whether worn for medical or recreational purposes. Whether you require decorative lenses for vision correction or not, they should always be obtained by a valid prescription. Decorative lenses are usually disposable.

Contact Lens Packaging

To check the expiration date of your contact lenses, refer to the packaging they come in. By checking the expiration date, you can avoid any issues or complications with wearing expired contacts.

Risks of Wearing Expired Contact Lenses

There are various risks linked with wearing old contact lenses. 

Improper lens and eye care and ignoring expiration dates are the two primary causes of eye infections linked to contact lens use. Poor contact lens hygiene is a considerable risk factor for eye health.

The risks of wearing expired contact lenses include:

  • Inflammation and reddening of the eye
  • Moderate to severe eye pain
  • Partial or total loss of vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye infections
  • Scarring

To avoid these eye issues, always check and follow your contact lens expiration date. Even unopened contact lenses that have expired can collect deposits on them and are unsafe to wear.

Following proper contact lens use is also recommended to reduce your likelihood of experiencing risks linked to contact lenses. Proper lens hygiene includes:

  • Cleaning your lenses thoroughly in a disinfecting solution
  • Never use plain saline solution or saliva to clean your contacts
  • Storing lenses properly in an airtight container
  • Frequently replacing your lenses case
  • Resting your eyes often without contacts in
  • Never trying to extend contact use beyond their shelf life

The longer you wear lenses, the more germs, proteins, and other residues collect on the surface of your contacts. With time, these deposits can affect your eyes.

To prevent irritation caused by old contact lenses, it’s essential to replace them as recommended by an eye doctor or optometrist. Even if you practice proper eye care and contact lens hygiene, contacts must be discarded and replaced as directed.

Approximately 99 percent of people wearing contacts report at least one contact lens hygiene behavior that increases their risk of eye inflammation or infection. Around 40 to 90 percent of wearers don’t practice proper care instructions for their contact lenses.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018

FAQs - Common Questions & Concerns

Why do contacts expire?

Contact lenses and their prescriptions provide expiration dates to ensure that wearers receive suitable medical products and to identify any issues linked with their use.

What happens if I wear my contacts beyond the expiration date? 

Wearing contact lenses that are past their shelf life significantly increases your risk of eye infections and other related issues.

What if I have unused contacts that are expired?

If you’re concerned about wasting contact lenses that will expire soon, wear your contacts in order of oldest to newest, as long as none are past their expiration date.

This method of use means that older lenses won’t be forgotten or discarded because they’ve expired.

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Author: Ellie Swain | UPDATED August 7, 2020
Medical reviewer: MELODY HUANG, O.D. | REVIEWED ON August 4, 2020

Focusing on contact lens safety, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2019, https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/focusing-contact-lens-safety

Types of contact lenses, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2018, https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/contact-lenses/types-contact-lenses

Decorative Contact Lenses for Halloween and More, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 2019, https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/contact-lenses/decorative-contact-lenses-halloween-and-more

Estimated burden of keratitis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6345a3.htm?s_cid=mm6345a3_w 

Fast facts, Healthy contact lens wear and care, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/fast-facts.html

Six Steps to Avoid Contact Lens Infections, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2020, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/6-steps-to-avoid-contact-lens-infections