More than 45 million people in the U.S. wear contacts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And it's no wonder — they're a convenient way to correct impaired vision.
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But it's important to use contacts properly and keep them clean and cared for in order to avoid eye infections, per the CDC. Enter contact solution, which can help you safely scrub and store your lenses.
There are tons of solutions (and contact solution alternatives) out there, so it can be overwhelming to pick one. According to the CDC, you should consider these factors when shopping for a solution:
- The type of lens you have (soft or hard)
- Convenience — multipurpose solutions, for instance, can clean, rinse, disinfect and store soft lenses all at once
- Disinfectant properties
- Time (how long the lenses need to soak in the solution before they're safe to use)
Many name-brand and generic contact solutions seem to check a lot of these boxes. But is one better than the other? We spoke to ophthalmologists to find out.
The best contact solution for you doesn't just come down to name-brand versus generic: It also depends on factors like whether or not you have dry eye or sensitive skin, says Ashley Brissette, MD, board-certified ophthalmologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. Your best bet is to talk to your eye doctor about what solution they recommend for your specific concerns.
What Is the Best Contact Solution: Name-Brand or Generic?
There are all sorts of contact lens solution brands on the market, so it can be tricky to determine which to buy. But typically, name-brand is the way to go.
Here's why: "Brand-name eye solutions go through a rigorous trial period to ensure that they are safe for you to use," says Usiwoma Abugo, MD, board-certified ophthalmologist at Virginia Consultants. "This rigorous process ensures they are up-to-date with the current technology that would be needed to make sure the contacts are optimal for your eye."
Dr. Abugo says generic contact solutions may use older technology and don't undergo the same thorough testing processes as brand-name solutions.
What's more, generic solutions may not always use consistent ingredients. And this is important to note, because ultimately, which contact solution brand is best depends on what it's made of.
"It's not the brand name you should be looking at, but more so the ingredients," Dr. Brissette says. "If you're using it frequently, then you want to be using a solution that is preservative-free."
In general, here are some preservatives that may be best to avoid, per September 2021 research in Clinical Optometry:
- Polyquaternium-1 (PQ-1)
- Biguanides (PHMB)
Indeed, "generics can be safe to use as long as you do your research to ensure that the same quality and up-to-date materials are in the generic form of the solution," Dr. Abugo says. "Always compare ingredients!"
As for which ingredients are best for your eyes, there's no one straightforward answer — what works best for you depends in part on your underlying eye problems. For instance, if you have dry eye, you may want to look for different ingredients than someone without the condition. As a result, it's always best to ask for your doctor's recommendation.
Disinfectants to Consider
Certain ingredients do seem to be particularly effective at protecting against a common eye infection called microbial keratitis.
A July 2016 study in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy found that multipurpose products containing the following disinfectants helped destroy the two pathogens that most frequently lead to keratitis:
- Polyaminopropyl biguanide (PAPB)
- Antibacterial preservative ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDPA)
Potential Downsides of Using Generic Contact Solution
Generic brands are often the best contact solution when it comes to affordability — they're typically more cost-effective than name-brand options. While this can be a perk if the generic solution contains the same ingredients as its brand-name counterpart, a lack of quality ingredients doesn't justify a lower price tag.
With that in mind, here are some other cons to consider if you're shopping for generic solution:
1. They May Contain More Preservatives
Generic solutions typically contain more preservatives than name-brand options — this is what allows stores to sell a larger amount of product at a lower price.
However, more preservatives means there's a greater risk that the solution will irritate your eye or mess with the quality of your contact lens. For instance, a preservative-heavy solution may cause your lens to ripple or tear, Dr. Abugo says.
"I typically will only recommend a generic solution if it is tried and true, meaning that several of my patients have tried it without any reaction," Dr. Abugo says. "If the patient has sensitive eyes, I recommend a brand name first."
2. There's a Lack of Consistency
It's impossible to know if any given generic brand reliably contains the same ingredients until you try it.
Because of a lack of rigorous testing, generic brands are often more inconsistent than the name-brand alternatives, Dr. Abugo says. As a result, you may have to try out different generic solutions until you find what you're looking for.
How to Pick the Best Contact Solution for You
There are more factors to consider than name-brand versus generic when it comes to selecting the best solution for your eyes. For one, your solution of choice should address any underlying eye concerns that you have.
For example: "Preservative-free solutions have additives, so they're usually recommended for people with more moderate to severe dry eye, especially if you're using them more frequently during the day,'' Dr. Brissette says. "If you find you also have very sensitive skin and are sensitive to preservatives, these solutions might be better for you."
The best contact solution can also vary based on the type of lenses you wear.
"I typically recommend the one that is recommended by the contact lens manufacturer," Dr. Abugo says. "The main and most important pro of doing this is ensuring that the contact lens will behave in the most optimal way for the patient in terms of clarity of vision, comfort and safety of the eye and longevity of the contact lens."
- Clinical Optometry: "Common Ophthalmic Preservatives in Soft Contact Lens Care Products: Benefits, Complications, and a Comparison to Non-Preserved Solutions"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Contact Lenses"
- Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy: "Component Analysis of Multipurpose Contact Lens Solutions To Enhance Activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus"