In an email to theGrio, a representative from BrightOcular wrote that they anticipate having a CE mark — a certification that says a product has met the European Union’s health, safety, and environmental requirements — in 18 to 24 months.
Temporary solutions also risky
Those who prefer a more temporary solution to eye color change may consider color contacts. However, eye surgeons warn against the over-the-counter kind — those sold at beauty supply stores, costume stores or on the Internet.
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” says Dr. Thomas Steinemann, professor of ophthalmology at Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. “There is no fitting, no instruction, no involvement of a qualified professional and therefore no follow-up.”
Infection and scar tissue leading to vision loss are the biggest concerns.
“If one person gets it, that’s one person too many,” Steinemann says. “[These consequences] are avoidable.”
Contacts — which are considered medical devices — that are sold without an eye doctor’s prescription or an eye exam are being sold illegally. And most are not even FDA-approved.
“If you want to change your eye color, do so with the help of an eyecare professional,” Steinemann suggests.
Other sites advertise laser eye surgery to permanently change eye color. The theory is that the laser destroys the pigment cells that create an iris’ naturally dark coloring. Without this pigment, darker-colored eyes begin to look blue. In fact, one site states that it cannot make dark brown eyes light brown — only blue.
However, this procedure is not yet available.
“It’s only in testing phases,” says Steinemann, who has heard of the technique. “It’s not being done on human subjects yet.”
Beauty, at a cost?
The concept of risking vision for aesthetics raises similar questions as the ones asked about plastic surgery and the psychology behind it. Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble says they’re both related to what constitutes beauty in our society.
“My guess is that people are not going to get iris transplants to make their eyes darker,” she says. “It’s either blue or green or hazel, and to me, that speaks to this idea that there is one ideal.”
Breland-Noble, professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, adds that, in the United States, the standard of beauty is very light with very European features, and arguably, blonde hair.
“The further you deviate from that, the more the person feels they’re not meeting a standard,” she says. “It doesn’t surprise me that they would want to make those kinds of changes, but it’s the mechanism they’re going through that’s shocking.”
The majority of people Tsai has seen sign up for this procedure are young adults. Psychologically, this happens to be a vulnerable time when identity and self-esteem is still being developed.
“If you’re comfortable with yourself, you’re less likely to do something that drastic and permanent,” says Breland-Noble.
Tsai says that having the procedure done at a young age is also problematic, because they have to live for a long time with the consequences of the procedure.
“The eyes are incredibly delicate and have to last a lifetime,” he says. “These [implants] can cause problems for the rest of their lives.”
Although, he’s not saying “absolutely not” to the procedure.
“People have a different tolerance for risk,” he explains. “But, they need to know. If you’re going to enter into this, know that you are doing something that’s a bit risky. Are you willing to take that risk?”
Varkey says he has not had any patients with complications, and has even removed implants and re-implanted them without difficulty for a patient who wanted a change of color.
Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty or on Facebook.