Eye Color Change Surgery

11 sources cited
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Is it Possible to Change Your Eye Color?

Technically, yes. There are three different surgical procedures to change eye color:

  • Cosmetic iris implant surgery
  • Laser pigment removal
  • Keratopigmentation

Cosmetic iris implant surgery and laser pigment removal are not approved in the United States.

Keratopigmentation is a relatively new procedure and is currently only practiced at KERATO in New York City.

Color-changing contact lenses are currently the safest way to change the color of your eyes.

Keratopigmentation

Keratopigmentation (KTP) is a relatively new procedure to change the color of your eye. This procedure has been tested and shows promising results.

The American Academy of Opthalmology has not issued any warnings against this procedure. They published an article reviewing a 2011 study by the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

This study suggests that keratopigmentation could be an effective surgery to manage moderate to severe visual dysfunctions due to iris defects.

Another study was performed to test this procedure for purely cosmetic purposes. All seven patients had stable vision, no complications, and reported high satisfaction with the procedure within the follow-up period (6 months to 2.5 years).

Procedure

Keratopigmentation has been performed in many different ways throughout time.

The modern procedure utilizes a femtosecond laser (the same type of laser used in some LASIK and cataract surgeries).

During the procedure, the femtosecond laser creates an intracorneal tunnel. A special pigment is then inserted into the cornea. This pigment covers the natural pigment of your eye.

The procedure takes about 20 to 30 minutes overall.

Risks

The risks of keratopigmentation are similar to other refractive procedures (such as LASIK, PRK, and SMILE).

Common symptoms experienced after surgery include:

  • Dry eye
  • Increased sensitivity to light

There is always the chance of an allergic reaction to the pigment. There have been no reported cases of this as of yet.

More research is needed to determine whether or not this cosmetic procedure is safe, but current studies are promising.

Laser Pigment Removal

This procedure uses a low-energy laser to remove pigment from the eye. Basically, it turns brown eyes blue or green.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved color laser surgery. The procedure is undergoing clinical trials at the STRŌMA Medical Corporation.

Many eye health professionals consider this procedure high-risk.

Procedure

According to STRŌMA's website, the patient experience will be similar to LASIK and other laser eye surgeries.

The patient will schedule an initial consultation. There, the doctor will determine their candidacy, explain the expected outcome and risks, and determine costs.

If the patient decides to proceed, the staff will schedule the procedure.

The day of the procedure, the staff will administer Tylenol and a series of eye drops. They will then enter the procedure room.

The doctor will then focus the STRŌMA Laser on the patient's eyes and begin treatment. The laser passes through the cornea and slightly heats the brown pigment on the iris.

The heating of the iris initiates a natural metabolic process. Scavenger cells travel through the bloodstream to the iris and gradually digest the brown pigment.

The pigment gets removed from the iris and carried away through your bloodstream. This reveals the blue or green eye underneath.

The treatment typically takes less than 30 seconds.

Risks

This procedure has not been approved in the United States.

Ophthalmologists are concerned that the accumulation of pigment molecules could lead to: 3

  • Glaucoma
  • Uveitis
  • Vision loss
  • Blindness

“One of the main issues is that we don’t know enough about the procedure to say whether or not it will cause problems like glaucoma down the line."

— Ivan Schwab, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology

Cosmetic Iris Implant Surgery

In 2014 the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) issued a statement against cosmetic iris implant surgery.1 The implants are not FDA approved. However, this procedure is performed in some other countries.

The AAO warning stated that the procedure puts patients at risk of severe eye complications, including blindness.

Procedure

Iris implant surgery was originally developed to treat medical conditions and traumatic eye injury. When used to change eye color, it is called cosmetic iris implant surgery.

During surgery, the doctor makes a small incision into the cornea.

Then they insert synthetic iris implants made of silicone.

Outcomes and Risks

While cosmetic iris implant surgery can change your eye color, the procedure comes with many risks.

Studies show that patients run the risk of developing: 1

  • Reduced vision or blindness
  • Elevated eye pressure (a leading cause of glaucoma)
  • Cataract
  • Injury to the cornea
  • Inflammation of the iris

Alternatives to Eye Color Change Surgery

Many eye health professionals believe the risks far outweigh the benefits regarding eye color change surgery. 

Instead, doctors encourage patients to consider color-changing contact lenses.

Colored contacts are only legal if they are sold with a prescription. Any non-prescription colored contacts sold at cosmetic or retail outlets are illegal.

This is because the FDA considers all contacts to be medical devices. This applies even to cosmetic contacts.

You can obtain a prescription from your eye doctor and purchase colored contacts with no vision correction in them.

This will greatly reduce your chances for:

  • Abrasion of the cornea
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Permanent eye damage

Eye Color Change Surgery FAQs

How Much Does it Cost to Surgically Change Your Eye Color?

The cost of surgically changing your eye color varies from $4,000 to $10,000. The cost is based on the clinic, the surgical equipment used, and the doctor's skills and experience performing the surgery.

Does Eye Color Change Surgery Actually Work?

Based on the limited amount of data from people who have undergone eye color changing surgeries, the procedures do leave patients with different eye colors. 

Keratopigmentation uses a pigment to cover the natural pigment of your eye. The procedure is new, so more research is needed, but it may be successful at changing the color of your eye.

Laser pigment removal does create a change because it removes color from the eye. This change is permanent and the color cannot be added back into the eye once the laser removes it.

With iris implant surgery, the color of the iris doesn’t actually change, but it appears to have changed. This is because the synthetic or artificial iris implant blocks the natural color of the eye.

Can You Reverse Eye Color Change Surgery?

Keratopigmentation cannot be fully reversed. However, the doctor may be able to wash out some of the pigment placed in your cornea.

Laser eye color surgery permanently changes eye color. You cannot restore the brown color in your eyes once you’ve changed them to blue or green unless you use color-changing contact lenses.

Iris implant surgery does not change the color of your eyes. It blocks the color, so people see a different color when looking at your eyes. The change can be reversed by removing the implant. 

11 Cited Research Articles
  1. Iris Implant Surgery to Change Eye Color Can Be Dangerous, American Academy of Ophthalmology Warns.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 31 Oct. 2014.
  2. Hoguet, Ambika, et al. “Serious Ocular Complications of Cosmetic Iris Implants in 14 Eyes.” Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Jan. 2012.
  3. Medeiros, Susanne. “Laser Surgery to Change Eye Color Untested for Safety Risks.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 7 Apr. 2015.
  4. Alió, Jorge L, et al. “Keratopigmentation to Change the Apparent Color of the Human Eye A Novel Indication for Corneal Tattooing.” Cornea The Journal of Cornea and External Disease, Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc, Apr. 2016.
  5. Judkis, Maura. “Laser Surgery Can Change Your Eye Color: Do You Want It To?” Washington Post, 3 Nov. 2011.
  6. “Is Eye Color Determined by Genetics?: MedlinePlus Genetics.” Medlineplus.gov.
  7. STROMA. “Change.” Stroma Medical.
  8. Why Are My Eyes Changing Color?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 28 Feb. 2019.
  9. Cosmetic Iris Implants Carry Risk of Permanent Eye Damage, Vision Loss.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 13 Mar. 2017.
  10. Case Series Suggests Keratopigmentation Is Effective for Iris Defects.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 3 Nov. 2011.
  11. Alio, Jorge L, et al. “Keratopigmentation (Corneal Tattooing) for the Management of Visual Disabilities of the Eye Related to Iris Defects.” British Journal of Ophthalmology, BMJ Publishing Group Ltd, 1 Oct. 2011.
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