Controversial Artificial Iris Implant Surgery to Permanently Change Eye Color

People unhappy with the way they look have been using plastic surgery to change their appearance for years, but now they can take their obsession to a whole new level by changing the color of their eyes through a controversial procedure known as artificial iris implant.

Pioneered by Dr. Kenneth Rosenthal, as a way to correct various eye defects (heterochromia, ocular albinism, etc.), the artificial iris implant procedure is now also being advertised as cosmetic surgery for people who want to permanently change the color of their eyes. The artificial iris is a thin, non-toxic prosthesis made of the same ophthalmic grade silicone used in intraocular lenses. Since the fake iris is very flexible, it can be folded and inserted into the eye through a peripheral corneal surgical incision about 2.8 mm long, and unfolded over the natural iris. According to the website of BrightOcular, the company behind the increasingly popular cosmetic eye surgery, the procedure is “short, safe, and painless”, taking about 15 minutes for each eye. The surgery has a purely cosmetic purpose, it does not fix vision defects, so patients will still need to wear refractive instruments to correct their vision. Unlike other laser-based procedures that remove a layer of melanin from the iris in order to permanently change its color, BrightOcular claims their iris implant can easily be removed in case of complications or if the patient so desires.


Photo: BrightOcular

46-year-old Angel S., an unemployed freight worker in Chicago, got artificial iris implant surgery in 2012, changing his dark brown eyes to light grey, a color he had always been crazy about. Angel says the natural color of his eyes depressed him so much that he would often refrain from looking in the mirror in the morning, because seeing the dark eyes made him think it was going to be a dark day for him. After seeing someone’s grey eyes in a candy store one day, he knew that was the color he wanted for himself, so he started researching his option and eventually flew to Rio de Janeiro to get an artificial iris implanted. Why didn’t he just have it done in the US, you ask? It wasn’t cost related, if that’s what you’re thinking, it’s just that the procedure has yet to get FDA approval. According to Dr. Gregory J. Pamel, a corneal and refractive surgeon in Manhattan,  there are no approved devices to cosmetically change the color of the eyes in the US. BrightOcular implants are currently performed in India, Turkey, Mexico and Lebanon.


Although video-sharing sites like YouTube or Vimeo are full of glowing testimonials from satisfied patients, there are some ophthalmologist out there who advise against people getting artificial implants for cosmetic purposes. Dr. James Tsai, an ophthalmologist and a glaucoma specialist at Yale University, says safety claims made in online discussions are “misleading as well as inaccurate”. He cautions that artificial implant surgery can cause elevated pressure inside the eye that can lead to glaucoma, cataracts and corneal injury, as well as reduced vision or blindness.


You can watch a video of how the implant is performed here.

Sources: BrightOcular, New York Times, India TV News