While contact lenses might seem like a modern invention, they are, in fact, a phenomenon that dates back centuries. Over time, technology has changed the concept of contact lenses to the type we find ourselves wearing today. The size and shape of these visual aids have changed drastically from the moment the idea was conceptualised to our current period in time. Even the materials used to construct them have substantially evolved. Let’s walk through how contact lenses progressed from their conception to their more recent characteristics.

The Concept of Contact Lenses

It all started with an iconic Italian artist and mathematician – Leonardo da Vinci. If being the mastermind behind the invention of weaponry, musical instruments, and flying machines was not enough – many researchers agree that the birth of contact lenses started with a set of sketches made by the renowned man in question himself. These sketches date back to as far as 1508 and were the first recorded suggestions that the optics of the eye could be improved by placing the cornea directly in contact with water.

Glass Contact Lenses

While da Vinci had had the vision (no pun intended), it was only in the 1800s that the idea was conceptualized. In 1823 a British astronomer named Sir John Herschel elaborated on the notion that the production of corrective lenses that had the ability to conform to the front surface of the eye could help improve a person’s sight. His role was short-lived, however, and the first contact lenses were only designed 50 years later. It was then that a German glassblower, F.A. Muller, took Herschel’s findings and made them a reality. While the outcome was a very uncomfortable glass lens that covered the whole surface of the eye (outer white included), the lens did prove to rectify vision and was the first productive step towards inventing contacts as we know them today.

Plastic Contact Lenses

1936 introduced the first pair of scleral lenses that were made from a combination of glass and plastic. Because these materials were still heavy on the eye, not to mention dangerous, the brainstorming continued and in 1948 California optician Kevin Tuohy invented an all-plastic solution. These lenses were similar to the gas permeable (GP) contact lenses of today and were also the first design to only cover the cornea. Plastic contacts were comfortable enough to wear for up to 16 hours and worked well, but there was still room for improvement.

The Introduction of Soft Contact Lenses

Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim were on a mission to discover a softer more eye-friendly solution to the harder lenses invented by Tuohy. Their dedication to the subject led them to the discovery of the first FDA-approved soft contact lenses, this was in 1971. These lenses were the first to be deemed worthy for 24-hour use and many still prefer a soft lens over its 1986 successor; the gas permeable contact; which provides sharper vision and excellent oxygen permeability.

The Introduction of Disposable Contact Lenses

As consumers, we always want a product to be better, more convenient, and of course, more affordable. To feed this need, daily disposable soft contact lenses became available for everyday use in 1987 and at the same time, a soft contact lens that could change one’s eye colour was also introduced. It was at this point that contacts became very popular. Not only were they soft and comfortable enough to wear, but they also became somewhat of a fashion trend.

Contacts as We Know Them Today

Modern contact lenses have been designed with the latest technology and essentially, they have been created to match our fast-paced lifestyles. Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed the invention and introduction of disposable lenses featuring ultra-violet absorbers, we have seen the debut of the first multifocal soft lenses, and we have also welcomed a new generation of extended wear soft lenses. Contacts are now softer, lighter, and more durable than ever before. They have also outdone themselves in potency and have helped to regain focus beyond measure.

Some of today’s better contact lenses, especially from an online retailer like Pure Optical are ultimately breathable, durable, and comfortable. But despite already hitting the nail on the head, optometrists and scientists are pushing forward with the quest for new lens improvements. From dangerous and heavy glass discs and scratchy hard plastics to softer disposable solutions, vision enhancements of the future will surely be a sight to see.