Popping the Hubble Bubble
If you’re a contact lens wearer, you may have seen the colorful and inviting ads for the infamous Hubble Contacts. As optometrists, we get asked a lot by patients and even family and friends whether we recommend these lenses. We’ll go into more detail below, but if you want the tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) version, it’s a hard pass for us and should be for you too.
What really makes Hubble contact lenses so different from the lenses prescribed to you by your optometrist? It might sound obvious, but not all plastics are created the same. Soft disposable contact lenses have been around since the 1980s, and over these past forty years, contact lens tech has continued to evolve to produce healthier, more comfortable lenses by using improved materials. Let’s just say, Hubble Contacts doesn’t play a part in this evolution.
Although the online retailer is less than five years old, Hubble Contacts proudly touts using methafilcon A, which is an outdated plastic that has been around since 1986. They took one of the oldest types of contact lenses in existence and repackaged and rebranded it into a very convincing and appealing product. Imagine being sold a fashionably packaged floppy disc and being told it’s the same quality as a flash drive purchased in 2020.
Remember When We Said Your Eyes Need to Breathe?
Methafilcon A is a material that’s no longer used by any of the major contact lens makers. In fact, all lenses that were made with it have since been discontinued. This is because the material offers only a quarter of the oxygen permeability of the most current contact lenses. Wearing a poorly breathing contact lens over your cornea is like putting a plastic bag over your head. Just like any other organ in your body, your eyes need oxygen, but interestingly, they don’t get it from your blood vessels. Instead, they get their O2 directly from the atmosphere. A poorly breathing plastic lens suffocates your eyes and you better believe that will have long term consequences.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Beyond the cute and playful marketing behind Hubble, the main draw for many people is their $1 promo for the first box of lenses. To claim the promo, you input your credit card information and at the two week mark, Hubble will charge your card a monthly fee of $36 + $4 shipping to continue your subscription. If you do the math, you’d be paying around $400 for a year’s worth of lenses, almost $50 on shipping, and additional sales tax. Compared to other better quality lenses on the market, the initial $1 for your first month’s Hubble lenses don’t add up to be the better value.
Loopholes in the Law
It’s probably been drilled into every contact lens wearer that the FDA considers regular-wear contact lenses to be medical devices (Class II, if you're curious). This is because if handled improperly or without the oversight of a physician, contact lenses can lead to serious problems and permanent vision loss. In order to purchase contact lenses, California requires you to have a valid contact lens prescription. At the federal level, contact lens sellers, like Hubble, are required to verify your prescription with the prescribing office. Quartz reporter Alison Griswold recounts her experience receiving contact lenses after providing “a fake prescription from a made up doctor.” I tested this out myself and can confirm that I was able to receive lenses after providing a doctor’s office I have no record with. Unsurprisingly, there’s also no consideration for base curve or diameter, two fitting parameters used to ensure a healthy fit. When it comes to contacts, one size does not fit all.
While the burgeoning e-commerce market in recent years has increased our accessibility to products, it should be no surprise that many companies have found loopholes to bypass proper and ethical regulation for their bottom line. One year out from the formation of Hubble Contacts, the company was already valued at a whopping $200 million. A quick google search will reveal the two founders have no background in healthcare, but rather finance. They have capitalized in a major way by selling inferior products targeted at our younger generations under the guise the company cares about recycling and “saving” their customers money. As healthcare professionals, we have an obligation to shed light on this so that our patients can make well-informed decisions when it comes to the safety of their eyes.