If you’re considering contact lenses, you might be wondering whether permanent contact lenses would be a suitable option. Permanent contact lenses, also called implantable contact lenses (ICL), are a type of lens that sits inside the eye — in front of the eye’s lens, as opposed to disposable lenses that sit over the surface of the eye. While the benefits of permanent lenses are certainly appealing, they are not necessarily suitable or recommended for everyone.

What are permanent contact lenses?

Permanent contact lenses are a type of implantable lenses called phakic intraocular lenses (PIOLs), and are made of clear, flexible plastic. The most common type of PIOL implanted in the UK is the Visian intraocular collamer lens (ICL),1 which is a soft and flexible implant that is designed to sit behind the pupil and in front of the eye’s lens.  PIOLs are different from the artificial lenses used in cataract surgery, where the implanted lens replaces the eye’s natural lens. 

Permanent contact lenses may be a good option for people who don’t want to rely on glasses but aren’t suitable for laser eye surgery. PIOLs are also used for treating high prescriptions or astigmatism (where the cornea, the eye’s transparent outer layer, is shaped irregularly). Note that although these lenses are known as permanent lenses, they are actually removable.

Implantable contact lens treatment explained

The only way to have permanent lenses implanted is through surgery. You will need to pay for the procedure, as the NHS and private healthcare schemes won’t cover it. The cost varies per clinic.

There are different types of PIOL lenses and your surgeon will advise on which type is best for you. The procedure itself is straightforward and painless. Depending on what kind of lens you have, it will be inserted either just behind the pupil or so that it clips onto the iris in front of the pupil. 

You’ll be given a local anaesthetic to ensure you don’t feel anything and have your eyelids held apart during the surgery with a special clip so that you can blink safely. You can also be sedated if necessary. 

To have permanent contact lenses implanted, you must be over 18 years old and have either a short-sighted prescription of up to -17 or a long-sighted prescription of less than +6, which has been stable for a year or more. If you have astigmatism, this can be treated if you have a prescription up to ±4.50.1 If you have eye health problems, such as cataracts, glaucoma, or eye inflammation, you might not be suitable for surgery.

More than 95% of patients are satisfied with their PIOL surgery, and many describe it as life-changing.1

Are permanent contact lenses safe?

All eye surgery carries risk, both during the procedure and recovery period. That said, severe vision loss is very uncommon.1

Different types of lenses have various risks, but your surgeon will talk you through those that are relevant to you. You may need to have an annual check-up with your surgeon after having the procedure; otherwise, you’ll be referred back to your optometrist for regular eye health checks.

What are the benefits of permanent contact lenses?

The main advantage of implantable contact lenses is that they can give you freedom from glasses and contact lenses over a long period. This means that you can go about your daily activities and lead an active lifestyle more easily and comfortably.

Before going down the surgery route, however, it’s essential to understand all the options that are available to you so that you can weigh up the pros and cons of each one. Alternative options may include regular contact lenses, carrying on with your current glasses, or laser eye surgery.

View our contact lens section to learn more about different types of daily, monthly, multifocal, and toric contact lenses available at Specsavers.


1. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists. (2015). Phakic Intraocular Lens Implantation: Patient Information. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists. Available at: https://www.rcophth.ac.uk/wp-c... [Accessed 22 Nov 2019].