You’d think so - but water and contact lenses don’t mix! Since lenses are largely made from water (and therefore absorb it), you might imagine they’d be friends and allies. Unfortunately they’re more like Tom and Jerry, or Holmes and Moriarty: sworn enemies.
Water can damage a lens just as dramatically as a torn fingernail or bit of dirt. So here we expand upon the tricky relationship that contact lenses have with water - in this case under the shower.
Ignorance is bliss
Alongside sleeping and swimming in them, wearing lenses in the shower is one of the most common mistakes made by contact lens lovers. It’s so tempting just to leave them in - and most people have no idea that this is a no-no. But why?
The key point to make is that the jet of water pounding down at you from the shower head comes from your mains supply, which is connected to water travelling through the national network of pipes and pumping stations. This is wonderfully clean and safe to drink, but not to put in your eyes, especially not when wearing contact lenses.
Water contains a range of detergent chemicals like chlorine, which are not designed to go in your eyes or lenses, plus bacteria and microbes looking for nice warm places in which to multiply.
Small risks, large consequences
Although the chances of picking up an infection from wearing lenses in the shower are lower than from doing so in a swimming pool, it makes sense to avoid both risks.
Your lenses are like sponges, so they love water. The problem is that bacteria love water too. Anyone who’s suffered from a case of conjunctivitis will understand why this is a problem. As with a range of similar eye infections, it’s both painful and upsetting.
Yes, the chances of this happening to you are small, but just as you wear a seat belt in the car to protect you in the unlikely event of a crash, it makes sense not to wear your contacts in the shower, keeping you safe in the equally unlikely event of a bug attack.
The other issue is that shower water can cause soft contact lenses to change shape, swell or get stuck on your eye. At best this is uncomfortable. At worst, it can scratch your cornea - with the scratch-marks acting like a welcoming doorway for infection-causing germs.
Shower first, contacts second
The easy way to avoid any risk of such nastiness is to take a shower before putting in your lenses. You may end up associating everything in the shower with a soft focus blur, but your eyes will thank you, as you protect both your eyesight and eye health.
If you then dry yourself using a standard towel, it’s a good idea to have a smaller or alternative lint-free microfibre towel kept to hand, for drying your fingers and face. This will ensure no stray fibrous strands or specks of dirt come between you and perfectly clean, dry fingertips, when putting in your lenses.
Or contacts, shower and bed
Equally, it makes sense to take out your lenses in the evening before you shower, if this is part of your night-time routine. This is particularly sensible for those who like to switch to glasses after a day of contact lens wear, immediately before retiring to read in bed, or to give their eyes an evening break. The key point is that if you shower either side of contact lens wear, you won't have to worry about any unpleasant consequences.
What happens if I wear lenses in the shower by mistake?
If you realise you’ve stepped into the shower with your lenses in, close your eyes and step out of the cubicle. Remove your lenses and either put them in fresh solution (if you’re a monthlies contact lens wearer) or prepare new dailies for when you’ve finished showering.
If you decide not to follow this advice and deliberately continue wearing lenses whilst showering, at the very least keep your eyes shut when under the shower head, especially when applying shampoo or soap. If you direct a power shower into your eyes, you shouldn’t be surprised if you wash a lens right out of your eye.
Also keep your eyes shut if you wear lenses in the bath or a hot tub. This is important whenever you splash water anywhere near your face or disappear beneath the waterline in search of your rubber duck.
Unsurprisingly, the same guidance applies to your daily facewash too. The tap water in your washbasin contains the same hidden armies of microbes as the shower.
So please - no splashing water from any source into your eyes when wearing lenses. The chances of an infection are small, but since it’s totally preventable, why take the risk?