Are all contact lens solutions created equal?
August 22, 2008 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Is there any evidence (scientific, anecdotal or otherwise) to suggest that cheap store-brand contact lens solution is inferior to name brands like Opti-Free or Renu? I'm specifically referring to multi-purpose solution for disposable soft contact lenses. What are your solution experiences?

Now that I'm wearing contacts again, I'm reminded of the fact that solution can get expensive and store brands are usually around half the price of the name brands. So I'm wondering -- is there really any difference?

I did find this somewhat related question in the archives, where someone mentions the Target brand is (was?) made by the same company as Opti-Free and someone else mentions differences among the name brands, but I'm wondering more about store brands in general. The particular brand I bought last night came from a grocery store and lists no manufacturer aside from the fact that it was made in the UK (and I'm in the US).

I tried comparing ingredients from a trial bottle of Opti-Free I had on hand, but it's quite difficult because the Opti-Free lists "proprietary" ingredients with trademarked names like TETRONIC and POLYQUAD, which perhaps is done by design.

Is it possible that the ingredients could be vastly different and the name brands actually worth the extra price? Is this a case where you would not risk buying a generic brand to save a few dollars?
posted by iamisaid to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Purely anecdotal: I use the store brands. I've used Target, Sam's Club/Wal-Mart, Walgreens and, I think, Rite Aid. I have noticed no difference with any of them.
posted by Airhen at 7:28 PM on August 22, 2008

I use Target brand and have had no known problems associated with it. There was a recall on Renu brand a couple of years ago.
posted by ShadePlant at 7:35 PM on August 22, 2008

I've used nothing but store brands for at least the last 10 years. I've never had a problem.
posted by COD at 7:38 PM on August 22, 2008

I had an Human Resources teacher that took a tour of a Bausch & Lomb manufacturing plant as part of one her classes in her master's degree. She said that in the plant, the same solution is pumped into the all the same bottles; half were the ReNu solution and the other half were Wal-Mart brand bottles. I'm sure this is an industry standard.
posted by bobber at 7:39 PM on August 22, 2008

I wear hard contact lenses and tried the Target brand conditioning solution once (I normally use Boston). Overall, not much of a difference except for the fact that the solution from Target was a lot less viscous and about half the price. However, my optometrist always asks and makes sure that I'm using Boston, so maybe there is an advantage to the more expensive brands?
posted by extramundane at 7:40 PM on August 22, 2008

I have heard the same information as bobber. I have also notice that if the manufacture does not practice this they advertise such on the packaging. (eg Listerine)
posted by bkeene12 at 7:42 PM on August 22, 2008

My optometrist told me once when I asked her the same question that there are more preservatives in the store brand, and some people can be more sensitive (or become more sensitive) to it. She also told me that if I tried the store brand and didn't experience any problems, there was no reason not to use it instead.

I have no idea if that's true or not, but I used to buy Opti-Free, and have been using the Target version for years. No problems here.
posted by adiabat at 7:42 PM on August 22, 2008

I use CVS brand. No problems at all. The funny thing is, a lot of generic or store brand products are the same as name brand products. Companies use a technique called "white labeling" or "private labeling" where one manufacturer will label their product with custom branding. The Kirkland label, available at Costco, is a good example of this. Saves businesses from having to develop their own products.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 7:56 PM on August 22, 2008

I had an Human Resources teacher that took a tour of a Bausch & Lomb manufacturing plant as part of one her classes in her master's degree. She said that in the plant, the same solution is pumped into the all the same bottles; half were the ReNu solution and the other half were Wal-Mart brand bottles. I'm sure this is an industry standard.

Yes, this is true, the store brand is the very same thing as the name brand. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: is Target/Costco/Walmart really going to devote R&D dollars to developing their own multi-purpose solution, when they can just buy the Renu stuff and slap their label on it?
posted by jayder at 8:18 PM on August 22, 2008

I once owned a company that printed labels for companies that produced packaging for private label brands. I've toured all kinds of labeling lines. Often times the store brand is the same formulation as the name brand, but not always. I use use Opti-Free because the private label Target brand does miserable funky stuff to my poor eyeballs. Could be detection bias, could be the placebo effect, could be that the formula does miserable funky stuff to my poor eyeballs. I dunno.
I report, you decide.
posted by Floydd at 8:51 PM on August 22, 2008

I use the CVS brand. They have a blue label one and a green label one, and they're exactly the same. Why? I asked CVS employees at different stores every time I went in until a woman in North Carolina realized it was because one competed with Renu and the other competed with--um, I forget, maybe Bausch & Lomb. Same stuff, different bottles. I've used lots of different kinds from many different drugstores in a couple different countries and never noticed a difference.

That said, I recently got a set with a totally different type of liquid, some sort of peroxide solution, and a complicated lens-holding device you need to snap the lenses into before soaking them. I did notice a difference! My lenses seemed new, like they were much cleaner than the normal stuff. I think it's expensive, though, and you need to use a lot of the liquid, so I still use the generic regular stuff most of the time and the fizzy one once a week or so. (If there is a generic version of the fizzy stuff, I'll switch to that full time when my current bottles run out.)
posted by bink at 9:11 PM on August 22, 2008

I have hard contact lenses, and the morning after my first wash with and soak in Target solution, my eyes stung so badly I had to wear my glasses. And then I went right back out and bought the Boston solution. I felt pretty pound foolish that day.
posted by tyrantkitty at 9:45 PM on August 22, 2008

I also wear hard (actually RGP) lenses, and had a bad experience with the Target brand solution. It took me about two weeks to figure out why my eyes had become more "gummy" and why I had intense sensitivity to light, especially in the morning just after putting in my contacts—duh! I finally read the list of possible side effects, and found that I was having many of them. I always use Boston now, even though it is expensive.
posted by rintj at 10:03 PM on August 22, 2008

I use Target, the cheapest, and do fine. Oddly enough, I ran into problems and thought I needed a new prescription when I used CVS-label solution. I had to keep squinting so much that I went back to my optometrist, who showed me that I had protein deposits on the contacts, and asked if I had changed the solution brand -- I had. But if the CVS and Target bottles are filled at the same factory . . . ? I still don't understand.

He gave me a free sample of a chemical catalyst cleansing solution, which was clearly the best thing I'd ever used, but I wasn't about to pay $8 a pop for each bottle.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:11 PM on August 22, 2008

When I wore rigid gas perms, I couldn't use generic solution for the same reasons others have discussed above--stinging, lenses getting "gummier" more quickly, etc. Now I wear soft toric lenses, and the Target brand feels exactly the same as Renu or Opti-Free.
posted by paleography at 10:42 PM on August 22, 2008

I used the Sam's brand for a while (probably the same as Wal-Mart) and I noticed a difference in how long it took for my eyes to start to dry out. My contacts would start feeling dry and like they weren't in good contact with my eyes, leading to stinging and watering and blinking. No fun. I switched back to Opti-Free and the problems stopped.
posted by MadamM at 11:29 PM on August 22, 2008

For the 1 or 2 bottles a year it's worth the extra $5.
Get the real stuff, just in case there really is a benefit. After all, you only get one set of eyes.

That said, I have discovered that the cases that come with the solution take SO MUCH solution to fill up the case and cover the contacts. This kind of case holds 1/2 to a 1/4 of the solution that you'd use in a regular case. This cuts your cost obviously in half or quarter, and therefore you can buy the expensive solution! ta da!

smart contact wearer of 12 years
posted by Andrea2880 at 12:18 AM on August 23, 2008

I think part of it depends on which name brand you're talking about. I'm sensitive/allergic to certain contact lens preservatives, so I use either Clear Care or AOSEPT (the bubbly ones with the case that snaps in) since they're preservative-free. I've never actually seen a generic solution that's preservative free, sadly.
posted by soleiluna at 12:23 AM on August 23, 2008

I wear non-disposable soft contacts and after years of using Renu/Bausch&Lomb, I tried the Walmart brand and found it to work the exact same. I don't know if all the extras hyped in the name brands make a real difference (or if they're even exclusive to those brands), but if they do, I can't tell.

Might as well spend a few bucks and try the generic types to see how they go, and you could probably get a refund if your eyes don't like them. I'd say it couldn't hurt to give it a shot, but apparently... it could.

You can also save money with packs of generic lens cases (I have no idea how the name brands can charge so much for plastic containers).
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:02 AM on August 23, 2008

Personally, I have excessively sensitive eyes, so I have to pick and choose my lens cleaners carefully - there are some brands I just can't use (of the expensive variety). Same goes for lubricating solutions - I usually go preservative-free when I can. So, I guess, as long as you don't have problems - awesome. But I certainly have to be a bit picky.
posted by ysabet at 2:49 AM on August 23, 2008

I tried using cheap Long's Drugs solution once, and my eyes didn't like it. My understanding is that while the bottles, etc., for generics may be filled a the same factory, the quality control tolerances are looser for generics than they are for the 'brand'. This isn't so important for things like Costco brand underwear or socks or something, but for something I put in my eyes ....
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:15 AM on August 23, 2008

This is my thinking on the matter of any "generic brand" being manufactured in the same plant, indeed on the same line, as the name brand items (and I can't really back it up except to say it Makes Sense TM). If quality control was to decide that a line could produce 10,000 bottles from one batch of solution, and the first 6,000 would be of optimal quality, where the last 4,000 would be fine for use but not considered on par with the first 6,000. It then seems to me that it would make sense to switch labeling at that point and sell the last 4,000 bottles at a lower price to a store brand. Perhaps on some brands this makes no difference whether the batch is at the end of the vat or the beginning, on others some might notice a distinct difference. And of course I'm sure some generic brands are simply a different product (perhaps a factory that makes generic brands across multiple stores, ie. FMV, Great Value, Target, etc).

With this thinking I've always held that I'll try any generic brand once before I decide which I prefer. In the end if your eyes aren't bothering you with generic solution (as mine don't) then by all means use it.
posted by genial at 5:52 AM on August 23, 2008

What Floydd said. Look at this way. Sometimes I cook fancy meals for myself on friends in my kitchen, on my stove. Sometimes I make ungodly stinky pet treats that no human should ever eat. Same line, different product.

Sometimes you're paying for a label. Sometimes you're paying for a possibly meaningful difference in ingredients - nothing significant, just the equivalent of a product that has X, Y, and Z vs. one that "may contain one of more of the following."

But if your eyes are fine, whatever. Not like you're using spit or Visine.

Right now, my stupid eyes will only tolerate those crazy-expensive tear tubes and preservative-free saline. Enjoy those generics while you can!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:22 PM on August 23, 2008

Anectodal, since you said that was okay: when I asked my eye doctor about switching to a store brand, he told me to stick with the brand name I was using because it worked for me and it wasn't worth the problems if another brand didn't work (I'm allergic to nickel, and it can show up in some brands of contact solutions). I wasn't buying it from him, so he didn't have a financial interest in which brand I chose.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:57 PM on August 23, 2008

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