Cosplayer Sacrifices a Little Too Much for His Art: A Piece of His Eye [UPDATED]

The best cosplayers sacrifice a lot of time, money and comfort to pursue what is regarded as an intense art form. “Johnny Hybrid,” the stage name of one half of the cosplay duo known as Hybrid Cosplay, damaged one eye this weekend while desperately trying to remove his special contact lenses. He was preparing to go to Space City Con this past weekend and not only missed it, but will likely have to miss some other scheduled conventions. A doctor at an urgent care center told him he may lose his eye.

Hybrid, whose real name is Johnny Santos, is best known for his outstanding cosplays of Gambit from the X-Men. In fact, his leather- and metalwork is so good he’s been a speaker on costume-making panels and a regular fixture at many pop-culture conventions.

What happened to Hybrid could have happened to any contact lens wearer and the moral of the story is, “Don’t leave your bottle of saline solution out on a counter. Keep it put away in a cabinet when it’s not in use.”

Hybrid’s girlfriend and cosplay partner, Yami Hybrid, had been styling a wig with hairspray and spray adhesive a few days earlier, and some got on the exterior of the bottle. When Hybrid went to put in the $300 special contact lenses he uses for his Gambit cosplay, he first carefully washed his hands, picked up the bottle of saline, rinsed the lenses and put them into his eyes. 
The problem is that his wet hands picked up the residue from the bottle. He says he didn’t feel the residue — at least, not until it was in his eyes.

“So I pretty much put in lenses full of hairspray, which burned the crap out of my eye, like, holy hell did it hurt. So out of sheer desperation, I pinched out the contact lens, taking a chunk out my eye with it,” he said.

Worse, since the accident happened on a Saturday morning, the couple had a hard time finding a place open that had the right equipment to evaluate and treat an eye injury. They finally ended up at a MedSpring urgent care location.

Hybrid says that the injury wasn’t due to a problem with the contact lenses. That said, contact lens safety is an issue of special concern for cosplayers. Anyone who buys special-effects lenses needs to exercise special caution. and only obtain them by prescription.  The Food and Drug Administration does regulate even nonprescription lenses, reader Mike Murray of Exotic Lenses pointed out to us this morning. 

Update, 6/1/2016, 10:23 a.m.: Despite what Murray said, the Texas Optometry Board web site states that, in Texas, "A person must have a contact lens prescription from an eye doctor (an optometrist or an ophthalmologist) to buy contact lenses. This is true for all kinds of contacts."  Furthermore, “Contact lenses may be sold on the Internet and mailed or delivered to customers in Texas only if the seller holds a permit from the Texas Department of State Health Services and obtains from the buyer a valid unexpired contact lens prescription written by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist, or verifies a valid prescription with an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.”

Texas Optometry Board executive director Chris Kloeris additionally pointed us to the FDA web site, which has a page specifically about the risks associated with nonprescription decorative contact lenses. Among other points, it states, “You can buy contact lenses, including decorative contact lenses, from your eye doctor, on the Internet or from a mail-order company. It's very important that you only buy contact lenses from a company that sells FDA-cleared or approved contact lenses and requires you to provide a prescription.”

Nonprescription contact lenses from other countries are not regulated, and there are many horror stories of cosplayers who bought lenses online and suffered permanent eye damage as a result. One cosplayer wrote that she is now legally blind in one eye after removing nonprescription lenses also removed 90 percent of the surface of her cornea.

That is a fate this writer probably barely escaped. A few years ago, I wore nonprescription “white out” contacts (really, a fine white mesh pattern) to a convention, and ended up spending a lot of time outside on that bright, sunny day as well. My vision was clouded, and the white lenses seemed to intensify the sunlight. Sometimes, I needed a handler just to get around. At the end of the day, I removed them and attended a stage show that evening.

Before long, I was in tremendous pain. My eyes burned and I could hardly keep my eyelids open. It just hurt too much. I had to leave the show early and even by the following morning, my eyes were still sensitive, especially to light. Achieving the right "look" wasn't worth the risk I took or the pain I endured. 

The good news is that there’s a surprisingly wide variety of looks available in prescription-only lenses. Even if someone can’t find the exact look he or she wants for a costume in prescription lenses, compromising on this is a much better idea than putting your eyes at risk.

As far as Hybrid’s situation goes, he is hoping for a better prognosis when he sees an optometrist later this week. He still has a sense of humor about the situation. His current cosplay project is making a leather eye patch.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook