, Page 001044 The New York Times Archives

SOME people are content with the color of their eyes. Some are not. Once upon a time, that was that. Then along came tinted contact lenses. The first ones, a generation ago, had a brightly colored iris painted on them. They did not catch on, except with movie actors, because the colors looked unnatural and people had trouble adjusting to hard plastic lenses.

Clear soft contact lenses, which came out later, were more comfortable but trickier to handle. This gave manufacturers the idea of tinting the lenses to make them easier to find if dropped. When it was found that the tint affected the color of light eyes, tinted lenses were promoted as a cosmetic device. These lenses, which come in blue, green, aqua and amber, have been available for about three years. But again, they were not for everyone. Known as color enhancers, they could made gray eyes blue or green eyes greener but had little or no effect on brown eyes.

Now comes Wesley-Jessen, a division of the Schering-Plough Corporation, saying its new contact lenses can change brown eyes to blue or green. I have brown eyes, and tinted lenses had no effect on their color, so I decided to try Wesley-Jessen's DuraSoft 3 Colors. They indeed changed my eye color, but not without some disadvantages.

Douglas Brown, product manager of DuraSoft 3 Colors, said thousands of tiny dots of opaque color are applied to the lens in a ring pattern, leaving the middle that covers the pupil clear.

The natural color of the wearer's iris comes through between the dots, so the same color lens produces a different effect on each person. The earlier color-enhancing lenses also look different on everyone, but the difference is not as great.

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Mr. Brown said his company was a small manufacturer that made clear lenses for many years. ''We made the decision,'' he said, ''that, rather than introduce me-too tinted lenses, we'd try to solve the problem with brown eyes.'' His company received Federal approval last November; since then, he said, ''sales are way beyond expectations.''

The DuraSofts that alter eye color come in blue, green and aqua. There is also a blue tint to enhance blue eyes. ''Hazel should be out soon,'' Mr. Brown said. ''We're also working on violet eyes. Pictures of Elizabeth Taylor are pasted all over our R&D lab.''

Large eyewear chains report great acceptance from customers. ''Demand for the product is growing by leaps and bounds,'' said Rick Feldman, president of Eye World, which has stores in the Boston area and upstate New York. ''A lot of people who don't need correction are buying them. Some people want a wardrobe of colors.''

It is the same story at Cohen's Optical, which has stores in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida, and at American Vision Centers, which are all over the country.

''The demand has been phenomenal,'' said Dr. Brian Lewy, an optometrist and director of professional services for Cohen's. ''A good number of men as well as women are buying them. But they're not perfect.''

Now we come to the disadvantages. Dr. Lewy said the clear center of the lens was the size of an average pupil. ''But when you go out in the dark, the pupil dilates and you get a halo of color,'' he said. ''It's a common complaint. Most people adjust after a week or so, but night driving can be a problem.''

Dr. Spencer Sherman, an ophthalmologist and attending eye surgeon at the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, dispenses both tinted and opaque lenses in his private practice. ''The tinted do not interfere with vision even if they move off center because the tint is pale,'' he said. ''The opaque with clear centers have to be centered perfectly. In people with a high degree of astigmatism, the curvature of the eye may not allow that.''

Dr. Sherman and Dr. Lewy both stressed that even people who do not need a prescription should have their eyes examined to be sure no medical problem exists. They also must be fitted, trained in lens care and monitored for problems.

Most tinted, as opposed to opaque, lenses are made by Ciba, CTL and Permaflex. Barnes-Hind recently brought out Soft Mate Custom Eyes in blue, green and aqua.

Steve Klein, senior product manager for Custom Eyes, said his company chose to make tinted rather than opaque lenses because ''40 percent of the American population has brown eyes, while 60 percent has blue, green, gray or hazel eyes.'' The opaque cost about $100 more than the tinted, he said, ''and not everyone needs them.''

''We believe that by and large the whole tint market will be larger,'' he said, ''and we'll sell many more lenses in the long run because of Wesley-Jessen.''

He did say his company was working on opaque lenses.

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