More than 45 million people in the United States wear contacts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And it’s no wonder — they’re a convenient way to correct vision problems.
But it’s important to use contacts properly and keep them clean and maintained to avoid eye infections, according to the CDC. Enter contact solution, which can help you rub and store your lenses safely.
There are tons of solutions (and alternatives to contact solutions), so it can be difficult to choose one. According to the CDC, you should consider these factors when purchasing a solution:
- The type of glass you have (soft or hard)
- Convenience – multi-purpose solutions, for example, can clean, rinse, disinfect and store soft lenses at the same time
- Disinfectant properties
- Time (how long the lenses must soak in the solution before they are safe to use)
Many branded and generic contact solutions seem to tick many of these boxes. But is one better than the other? We spoke to ophthalmologists to find out.
According to Weill Cornell Medicine board-certified ophthalmologist Ashley Brissette, MD, the best contact solution for you doesn’t just come down to brand versus generic: it also depends on factors such as whether you have or no dry eyes or sensitive skin. . Your best bet is to talk to your eye doctor about the solution they recommend for your specific problems.
What is the best contact solution: brand name or generic?
There are all kinds of contact lens solution brands on the market, so it can be difficult to decide which one to buy. But usually branding is the way to go.
Here’s why: “Branded eye solutions go through a rigorous testing period to make sure you can use them safely,” says Usiwoma Abugo, MD, Virginia Consultants board-certified ophthalmologist. “This rigorous process ensures they are up to date with the current technology that would be needed to ensure the contacts are optimal for your eye.”
According to Dr. Abugo, generic contact solutions may use older technology and don’t go through the same extensive testing processes as branded solutions.
Additionally, generic solutions may not always use consistent ingredients. And it’s important to note this, because ultimately the best brand of contact solution depends on its composition.
“It’s not the brand name you should be looking at, but rather the ingredients,” says Dr. Brissette. “If you use it frequently, you want to use a preservative-free solution.”
In general, here are some preservatives that may be best avoided, according to research from September 2021 in Clinical optometry:
- Polyquaternium-1 (PQ-1)
- Biguanides (PHMB)
Indeed, “generics are safe to use as long as you do your research to ensure that the same quality, up-to-date materials are in the generic form of the solution,” says Dr. Abugo. “Always compare the ingredients!”
As for which ingredients are best for your eyes, there’s no simple answer – what’s best for you depends in part on your underlying eye issues. For example, if you have dry eyes, you might want to look for different ingredients than someone without the condition. Therefore, it is always best to seek the advice of your doctor.
Disinfectants to consider
Certain ingredients appear to be particularly effective in protecting against a common eye infection called microbial keratitis.
A July 2016 study in Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy found that multi-purpose products containing the following disinfectants helped destroy the two pathogens that most often lead to keratitis:
- Polyaminopropyl biguanide (PAPB)
- Antibacterial preservative ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDPA)
Potential Disadvantages of Using the Generic Contact Solution
Generic brands are often the best bet when it comes to affordability – they are usually more cost effective than branded options. While it may be an advantage if the generic solution contains the same ingredients as its brand name counterpart, a lack of quality ingredients does not justify a lower price.
With that in mind, here are some other downsides to consider if you’re looking for a generic solution:
1. They may contain more preservatives
Generic solutions typically contain more preservatives than branded options – this is what allows stores to sell a greater amount of product at a lower price.
However, more preservatives mean there is a greater risk that the solution will irritate your eyes or affect the quality of your contact lenses. For example, a solution high in preservatives can cause your lens to ripple or tear, says Dr. Abugo.
“I will usually only recommend a generic solution if it’s proven to work, which means several of my patients have tried it with no reactions,” says Dr. Abugo. “If the patient has sensitive eyes, I recommend a brand name first.”
2. There is a lack of consistency
It’s impossible to know if a given generic brand reliably contains the same ingredients until you try it.
Due to a lack of rigorous testing, generic brands are often more inconsistent than branded alternatives, says Dr. Abugo. Therefore, you may have to try different generic solutions until you find what you are looking for.
How to choose the best contact solution for you
There are more factors to consider than brand name versus generic when it comes to choosing the best solution for your eyes. For one thing, your chosen solution should address any underlying eye issues you have.
For example: “Preservative-free solutions contain additives, so they are generally recommended for people with moderate to severe dry eye conditions, especially if you use them more frequently during the day,” says Dr. Brissette. “If you find that you also have very sensitive skin and are sensitive to preservatives, these solutions might be better for you.”
The best contact solution may also vary depending on the type of contact lenses you wear.
“I usually recommend whichever is recommended by the contact lens manufacturer,” says Dr. Abugo. “The main and most important benefit of doing this is to ensure that the contact lens will perform in the most optimal way for the patient in terms of clarity of vision, comfort and safety of the eye and contact lens longevity.