Readers' Forum

The State of Soft Contact Lenses And Solutions

readers' forum

The State of Soft Contact Lenses and Solutions

September 2001

Soft contact lenses have replaced corneal lenses as the dominant contact lens products. Frost & Sullivan report that the total contact lenses and lens care products market was $4.6 billion in 1999 and is expected to be $5,171 million in 2000.

1999 and is expected to expand to $7.1 billion in 2006, a compounded annual growth rate of 5.4 percent. There are currently 70 million people wearing contact lenses worldwide.

The total soft lens market generated $2.48 billion in revenues in 1999, a 10 percent growth rate. However, the compound annual growth rate forecasted for the period between 2000 and 2006 is only 8.5 percent.

The North American and European soft lens markets are close to saturation. International expansion is unavoidable. The latter is directly affected by environmental conditions that are related to economy, government regulations and cultural habits. Furthermore, the intense competition among top companies for contracts with large retail chains drives down prices and revenues.

The disposable soft lens market is the fastest growing segment and drives market growth. Marketing forecasters predict that the demand for disposable soft lenses will increase as the demand for conventional daily wear soft lenses decreases. In North America, 6.7 million people wear frequent replacement soft lenses, and nine million wear disposable soft lenses. The demand for disposable soft lenses and an increase in patient awareness are contributing to market expansion. Practitioner attitude also influences a product's growth rate. Soft lens manufacturers must also contend with laser surgery.

The major soft lens manufacturers are CIBA Vision, Vistakon and Bausch & Lomb. Vistakon is the market leader in Europe and the disposable lens market, but it's a matter of time before CIBA and B&L compete with Vistakon for the disposable market.

The mass production of soft lenses at lower costs drives down consumer prices. Lower cost and more specialty lens choices like toric and multifocal have contributed to the reduction of the RGP markets. In 1999, revenues from RGP lenses represented just 10 percent of total revenues from contact lenses and solutions. This is expected to decrease to seven percent by 2006. Toric soft lenses have 17 percent of the market, and multifocal soft lenses have three percent of the market.

The contact lens solutions market generated $1.92 billion in revenues in 1999 with a five percent growth rate. The compound annual growth rate forecasted between 2000 and 2006 is two percent and is influenced by:

  • An increase in the contact lens-wearing population.
  • Relaxed regulations to bring new products to the market.
  • Improved technology.

North America is the largest market in the world for contact lenses and care solutions, with 45 percent of overall revenues in 1999, followed by Asia (24 percent) and Europe (22 percent). However, recent market analysis indicates that North American dominance of the contact lens and solutions market is expected to decline in favor of the Asian markets.

Dr. Goldberg wishes to acknowledge Nick Mariottini, Senior Media Relations Executive at Frost & Sullivan Healthcare, as the source of his technical information.

Dr. Goldberg is an Emeritus Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and is a Diplomate in the Section of the Cornea and Contact Lenses.