How do contact lenses work?

Medically reviewed by Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts.

Why are contact lenses called ‘contact lenses’?

Named ‘contact lenses’ because they’re literally lenses that come into contact with the eyes, they ensure clear vision for the wearer by focusing light and correcting refractive errors. What makes lenses most different from glasses is that they float on the tear film and move with your eyes.

Since the development of soft contact lenses in 1971, many different types of contacts have been created. Made from different materials, with different qualities and designed for a different period of wear, the contact lens range available today can cater for anyone and everyone’s needs. Contact lenses seem to be a recent phenomenon, the famous inventor Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) produced the first known sketches (in 1508) that suggested the optics of the human eye could be altered by placing the cornea directly in contact with water. He demonstrated how seeing through the bottom of a glass bowl filled with water could help rectify the issue. While dunking your face in a bowl of water is a clearly impractical way of doing things, his method does acknowledge the necessity of the lens making contact with your eye!

Read our guides on how toric lenses for astigmatism and multifocal contacts work in specific ways to correct eye conditions.

What are contact lenses made of ?

Contact lenses can be categorised into two main types:

  • Soft contact lenses - made of water-containing plastic
  • Hard (rigid gas permeable) contact lenses – they are less flexible compared to soft contact lenses

Soft contact lenses can be hydrogel or silicone hydrogel. Hydrogel lenses are thin and very soft. The addition of silicone to hydrogels, makes the lens material more breathable; this means more oxygen passes through the lenses and reaches the eye making it a healthier option for those who require longer wearing times. Both, silicone, and silicone hydrogel lenses have their own advantages.

Nowadays most rigid gas permeable lenses are made from a material known as fluorosilicone acrylates. These lenses are smaller in size and are usually better at correcting irregular shaped eyes. They usually take longer to adapt to and should be replaced every 6 to 12 months.

When it comes to contacts, does one size fit all?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ contact lens. Unfortunately, contact lenses do not all come in one size, with each lens having a specific base curve and diameter. This is because people have different sized eyeballs, and some have astigmatism – which means their eyeball is less round and more like a rugby ball in shape. In these cases, it’s not just base curve and diameter that affect the size and shape of a contact lens, the axis of a lens is also important if you’re wearing toric contacts to correct astigmatism.

Your optician will help you decide which lenses is most suitable for you. The size and shape of the contact lens needed to fit your eye, as well as your prescription, will be prescribed and written down for you when you go for a contact lens fitting or aftercare. After you have been properly fitted, you may purchase the exact same contact lenses online for cheaper.

Quick links:

How are contact lenses made?
The history of contact lenses
How to apply and remove your contact lenses

Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace medical care or an in-person check-up. Please check with an eyecare professional before purchasing any products or remedies. For information on our article review process, please refer to our Editorial Policy.

live chat

10% OFF


Privacy Policy.

Thank You!