Surgery To Change Eye Color: How Dangerous Is It?

Just as we are born with a variety of hair colors, genetics also determine the color of our eyes. They come in various shades and mixtures of brown, blue, green, hazel, etc.

This colored portion of the eye is known as the iris — which is situated behind the cornea i.e. the clear, outermost layer of the eye. And just as many of us are interested in changing the color of our hair, a lot of people have a desire to change the color of their eyes.

Unfortunately, the procedure to do so is not quite as simple as an everyday appointment at the hair salon. In recent years, many have been lured into cosmetic iris implant surgeries which promise to permanently alter the color of the iris.

First, the patient chooses the color of the artificial iris which is made of silicone. Then, in a surgical procedure, a cut is made in the cornea so that the artificial iris can be placed over the real one.

Sounds a bit too easy, doesn't it? As you may have guessed, there are serious risks involved. In fact, iris implants for cosmetic-only purposes are currently not legal in the United States. 

Out of sheer desperation and ignorance, people travel to countries like Mexico, Panama, and India to undergo the surgery. Online marketing persuades such individuals by downplaying the risks, claiming the procedure is safe and similar to a cataract surgery. 

"This is inaccurate as well as misleading," says ophthalmologist James Tsai, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "We strongly caution people against having cosmetic iris implant surgery."

Among the dangers, the cornea faces potential damage and may require a cornea transplant. Post-surgery, many patients have also reported painful inflammation, redness, and swelling in their eyes — symptoms which can lead to partial or total blindness over time. The placement of the implant can also add pressure over the eyes and lead to glaucoma.

Speaking to i-D, an unnamed male patient noted how he developed cataracts and secondary glaucoma after undergoing the procedure in Panama. "You have to use anti-inflammatory drops for the rest of your life," he said. "Please don't be that stupid. Your health is so much more important."

Given the number and severity of possible complications, it becomes clear that people with a healthy iris should not attempt such dangerous alterations. But what about wearing colored contact lenses for decorative or aesthetic purposes?

This option is certainly safer as long as you receive a prescription from a qualified ophthalmologist. Never purchase colored contact lenses from unauthorized vendors who do not require a prescription, even if you plan to wear them only once.