You Can Now Change Your Eye Color, but Is It Safe?
"Underneath every brown eye is a blue eye" says Greg Homer creator of the world's first low-energy laser that can be used to turn brown eyes into blue eyes. The stroma is a layer of interlaced tissue in the iris of our eyes, but it's also the name of an exciting new procedure.
While we've been able to change eye color for some time with contact lenses or more invasive surgeries, the Stroma procedure promises to permanently make the switch in less than a minute for both eyes. Today we'll look at the procedure in more detail and the story behind it before delving into the potential risks and ethical concerns.
Change Your Eyes From Brown to Blue in Less Than a Minute
The Stroma Medical Corporation was founded in 2009 in Laguna Beach, California. Gregg Homer, an inventor and scientist patented a non-invasive procedure that would change a person's eye color from brown to blue using a low-power laser similar to the well-known LASIK procedure, but for a different purpose in this case.
The procedure itself takes less than a minute, and results are seen within the next two to four weeks. Anyone qualifies for the procedure, regardless of race or nationality. It is currently still in clinical trials and not currently done commercially anywhere in the world.
For physicians and customers who are interested, there is an email newsletter you can sign up for on the company's website for updates on the procedure's commercial release.
So, how does this all work? Well, according to the Stroma website, "we all have blue eyes." For people with brown eyes, this layer is covered by pigment over the front of the iris.
The Stroma laser disturbs this layer, which triggers a process in your body that naturally removes the layer of tissue over the iris. The brown pigment is broken up into small particles much in the same way that lasers are used to remove tattoos through a process known as "selective photothermolysis."
With this layer gone, your natural blue eyes are revealed to the world. Being non-invasive, the procedure doesn't use any injections or incisions. In fact, the Q-switched neodynmium YAG laser, as described by Dr. Irv Arons in a blog post on his website, uses targeted pulses across the iris to disrupt the stromal melanocytes. The laser's photo-absorption properties allow it to pass through the cornea and the posterior iris stroma without disturbing either of them in the slightest.
The pigment is broken into microscopic particles that are then naturally disposed of by the eye's liquid outflow channels. Beyond the low-power laser, the only other elements are a device to keep your eyelids open, and a topical medication used to keep your eyes from getting irritated.
The entire procedure is not only fast, but it's also painless and patients are able to drive and go back to work immediately after. Currently, the company's website states that the procedure has undergone testing on a small number of people. The next step is to test the procedure on roughly 100 patients in a variety of countries and then follow them for a year to monitor any changes.
Once they've achieved the proper approval from governing organizations, they will begin offering the procedure on a larger basis. The cost of releasing such a device in the United States is very high, which is why they will be releasing it in other countries when it is ready for public use.
In terms of pricing, Dr. Homer predicts that the procedure will cost roughly $5,000 U.S. dollars, but mentions that physicians would set the price, so it will vary based on location and demand.
The Story Behind The Eye Color Changing Stroma laser
Dr. Homer first became interested in the concept of eye color changing in the late 1990s when he came across a paper by RC Eagle Jr. on iris pigmentation. Dr. Homer saw the progress that had been made on low-power lasers, and reasoned that this type of technology could also be used to safely remove the pigmentation over the iris of the eye, thus revealing the natural blue beneath.
This, of course, would reveal the natural blue underneath. In 2001 he funded a study at Cedars-Sinai Eye Institute in Los Angeles, California. He used brown-eyed rabbits to prove that the concept was sound. While the rabbits don't have natural blue eyes beneath, he did show that it was possible to remove the pigment on the iris.
In 2009, Dr. Homer and his fellow colleagues were able to raise $2 million to form the Stroma Medical Corporation and construct a prototype of their patented laser. Work began immediately on clinical trials and the first patients were 17 people in Mexico who underwent the procedure without any negative results.
While the initial purpose of the procedure is to change brown eyes to blue, the company plans on testing other colors such as light brown, hazel, or even green to blue. These procedures will require additional research and a different laser to accomplish.
Potential Risks & Ethical Concerns
In an article by Medill Reports Chicago, Dr. Kamran Riaz, Director of refractive surgery in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the University of Chicago, brought up some potential issues:
"I have strong concerns that the risks of this procedure will significantly outweigh any real or imagined benefits. I am extremely concerned about the advertising on the company's website that seems to suggest that not having blues is simply a matter of ‘extra pigment' that can be easily removed."
His concerns primarily revolved around a variety of things that could be affected by the removal of naturally occurring pigment, such as:
Elevated pigmentary glaucoma
Excessive light sensitivity.
In the case of pigmentary glaucoma, this occurs when large pieces of pigments are dislodged by abrasion and increase eye pressure as a result. Dr. Homer has said that such an issues have not been seen thus far in their trials.
Other doctors raise ethical questions about the purpose of cosmetic surgeries. For example, Mark Sheldon who is an ethicist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago said he believes surgery should only be performed if there is no other choice.
He pointed out the difference between plastic surgery, which is commonly used for reconstruction after burns or other major wounds, and cosmetic surgery which isn't inherently necessary. He goes on to present what Dr. Homer describes as an "extreme position."
"They speak to women's insecurities. They promise a younger, more attractive, self. These cosmetic surgeons advertise directly to the public. They are selling' things, not responding to circumstances of human beings who are dealing with illness, disease and suffering. They lie outside regular medicine. I would say that these cosmetic surgeons don't actually have patients. They have clients," Sheldon said.
Dr. Homer argues that changing eye color procedures are voluntary and therefore represent a personal decision instead of an ethical issue. He countered the ethicist's point of view by saying that his logic would dictate that procedures like hair transplants, liposuction, breast implants, or LASIK treatment would also be unethical because there are artificial options such as clothing and prescription eye glasses to counterbalance the surgical options.
Ultimately, Dr. Homer believes his procedure doesn't have an artificial option, citing the fact that natural blue eyes are translucent, and a contact lens can never simulate this natural look. Ultimately, the long-term effects of the procedure, including the concerns raised over glaucoma, will decide if it finds success.
There's no denying the appeal of natural blue eyes, but any kind of physical augmentation or cosmetic surgery will always raise questions of safety and ethics. While Dr. Homer and Dr. Sheldon both have vastly different concepts of the procedures implications, both present valid points.
Alternative Methods For Changing Your Eye Color
Beyond laser surgery, there are other methods that allow you to temporarily change your eye color, or permanently alter it. The most common method, of course, is colored contact lenses. This thin, clear disks of plastic can float on the surface of your eye and provide you with a different color for the duration that you have them on.
Contact lenses are also used in place of glasses to correct vision issues. It's important that you only wear contact lenses that are prescribed by a professional. There are non-medical costume contact lenses that you can purchase to alter your eyes in other ways, but these are not regulated and extend past the iris into the white of the eye.
Since they are not subjected to safety regulations, costume contacts also lack instructions on how to properly clean them, which can lead to eye injuries or infections. While selling cosmetic contact lenses has been illegal since 2005, they are still sold in certain shops or online.
While they can provide some exciting cosmetic changes, they come with a lot of risks due to their unregulated and non-medical nature. If you'd like to have color contacts, talk to your doctor about a safe and regulated option.
Let's explore a few other methods:
1. Can Your Diet Change Your Eye Color?
An alternative form of medicine known as iridology seeks to determine a person's health through their eye color. The practitioners of the medicine believe that certain patterns or colors in the eye can indicate various diseases.
Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram, owner and writer of the FullyRaw food blog, claimed that she was able to change her eye color simply by changing how she ate. She made this change after consulting an iridologist. She said that her diet growing up was poor and she switched to a raw, vegan diet instead.
When she spoke with the iridologist she said, "we have toxicity in our bodies, when we're constipated and things are not moving through our systems, we become 'stuffed up' and we can see that toxicity in our eyes. The cleaner you become, the cleaner your eyes become. I ate fully raw and I allowed my body to cleanse itself naturally."
She claims that through years of eating raw, she was able to see her eyes change color. As of today, there hasn't been scientific evidence to prove that a raw diet can change your eye color. While an actual change of color hasn't been proven, it is worth noting that a proper diet can make your eyes clearer and more vivid, but it has not been proven that it changes your overall color.
2. Iris Implant Surgery
There is a new type of surgery that involves implanting an artificial iris, and while it has had some success, there is a lot of backlash from ophthalmologists who caution against the procedure. The procedure involves making an incision into the cornea through which a silicone iris is inserted and unfolded over the natural iris.
This type of surgery has been used to treat people with medical conditions that prevent them from developing an iris naturally. Even in this kind of situation, the procedure comes with a lot of risks, an amount that many believe outweigh the benefits.
The studies that speak out against this type of surgery have shown that the procedure can lead to reduced vision, blindness, glaucoma, cataracts, injuries to the cornea, and more. In these cases, the implant must be removed. In one study, nine of fourteen patients had to have the implant removed for medical reasons.
The surgery is not approved in the U.S which means that it must be performed in other parts of the world. The leading provider of iris implant surgery right now is a company called Bright Ocular. They are a separate company from many of the others who offer the surgery, but the procedure, like the others is not approved by the FDA.
Should You Change Your Eye Color?
Your eye color is a wonderful thing, it's a part of you. While you can try some of these methods to change it, consider the pros and cons, and always consult your eye doctor before undergoing a procedure of any kind.
Keep this page bookmarked as more news becomes available on the Stroma Medical Corporation's procedure and when the general public will be able to change their eye color from brown to blue, or to other colors as well!
Would you change your eye color if this procedure becomes available?