Working Healthy

Contact Lens Safety

Do you ever leave the salon with red, swollen, itchy eyes? It could be more than a long day causing you to rub your tired eyes. If you wear contacts, you could have residue built up on your lenses that’s causing irritation. The discomfort you feel may be the result of neglecting proper eye safety in the salon.


Nail techs who wear contact lenses in the salon undoubtedly relate to the symptoms of contact lens irritation: dry, red, swollen eyes. Blurry vision. Contacts feel thicker than normal and the edges feel rough and irritating. Sometimes the irritation is so intense, the only relief is to take the contacts out and soak them while you rinse your eyes with saline. This may be a familiar scenario, but it’s also dangerous.


The salon is laden with risks for the tech who wears contacts: dust, natural nail or enhancement filings, clippings, and vapors. Throughout the day, debris gets in your eyes and vapors penetrate the lenses. Though techs who don’t wear contacts have the same exposure, the risk isn’t the same. Wearing contacts increases the risk because “there is a tendency for these materials to associate chemically,” says Nellie Brown, director of Workplace Health & Safety Programs at Cornell University. “It’s just chemical nature.” Your body naturally cleanses the eye throughout the day by blinking and tearing, but exposure in the salon is too much for the gentle cleansing the body provides. Before long, every blink can feel like it’s moving over sandpaper instead of the hydrated, smooth surface of a clean eye.


In her book The Complete Nail Technician, author Marian Newman says, “Never wear contact lenses when working with nail products. It is possible that vapors can be absorbed by soft lenses and seriously affect the eye. Safety glasses worn with lenses will not protect your eyes from vapors when wearing contact lenses.” Along with vapors, small dust particles can get trapped between the eyelid and the lens or between the lens and the eye surface. The only way to completely prevent eye irritation caused by contact lenses is to avoid wearing them to the salon. To reduce irritation, follow the suggestions below.


If you choose to wear contacts in the salon, take steps to prevent irritation. First, wear protective glasses to reduce the risk of debris landing in your eye. Particles trapped in the eye could create abrasions on the eye’s surface, causing pain and making the area susceptible to infection. Second, rinse lenses and eyes throughout the day. Wash hands and remove contacts. Soak contacts in saline while you rinse your eyes, then reinsert cleansed lenses. Third, use a ventilated desk in a well-ventilated salon to reduce vapors in the air. Vapors from enhancement products, polishes, primers, or adhesives can penetrate the contacts and cause larger problems, such as chemical pinkeye (conjunctivitis). Though typically cleared through flushing the eye, chemical pinkeye can cause severe pain.

Contacts are so common, they are commonly overlooked as a risk. However, without proper cleansing, dirty contacts can cause severe damage to the eye, including blindness. Reduce the risk by choosing eyeglasses in the salon instead of contacts.



  • Consider wearing glasses to work instead of contacts.
  • Wear protective glasses over contacts to reduce risk of dust or clippings landing in your eye.
  • Rinse eyes and lenses regularly throughout the day (with clean hands).
  • Use a desk with a built-in ventilation system and make sure the salon is well ventilated.
  • Use a nightly cleanser that removes protein build-up on lenses rather than simply soaking in saline.
  • Choose contacts that are replaced frequently, such as daily-wear lenses.


  • Work without protection. While filing nails, wear protective eyewear to reduce dust and shavings from landing in the eyes.
  • Rub your eyes when they are irritated, which could scratch your cornea. Wash your hands, remove the lenses, and rinse with saline.
  • Use tap water or put lenses in your mouth to rinse them.
  • Sleep overnight in your lenses. Take them out and clean them daily.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.

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