contact lens care

What's in a Solution Name?

contact lens care
What's in a Solution Name?

Almost half of all lens care solutions are purchased from one of the "Big Three:" Wal-Mart, Target or K-Mart. We have all heard the familiar answer to our routine question: "Mrs. Jones, what lens care system are you currently using to clean your contact lenses?"

"The all-in-one store brand from Wal-Mart. It is much cheaper than that blue or green bottle sample you gave me last year."

Generics: How Big Are They?

It would only make sense that patients who are enticed by the low prices of these discount stores would gravitate toward the lower-priced generic lens care solutions. In fact, 20 percent of the volume (or one in 5 bottles) of lens care sold is under a generic or private label. The question is, should we be concerned? It depends on whether or not we care what is in the bottle and whether or not patients use it according to the manufacturer's recommended guidelines.


Ending the Solution Confusion


When it comes to lens care, I like to follow a few important rules:

  • Recommend and dispense an approved, brand-name lens care regimen in which the exact ingredients are known

  • Instruct the patient on the proper use of the products as described in the package insert

  • Instruct the patient to report adverse symptoms (itching, redness, dryness). They can be solution-related, and knowing what the patient has been using makes problem-solving easier. 

Private Label Ingredients

I have heard practitioners admit that they give their patients a starter kit of a specific brand-name multi-purpose solution and then suggest that it is OK for them to buy a generic version because it is the same thing.

There are several problems with this plan. First of all, it assumes that all generic solutions are the same.

Secondly, generic solutions generate a fraction of the profit made from a name-brand product. In other words, a manufacturer may receive $6.50 on every bottle of a name brand product it sells to a mass retailer and, at the same time, receive only $1 per bottle of its generic solution. So it is understandable that a manufacturer's most current, premium product is most likely not in the private-labeled bottles. They often contain the older or less contemporary formulation of a lens care product, which may or not have "no-rub" approval and may require pre-and post-soak rinsing or be more toxic.

We might think that if every patient is a savvy label reader, this could still be a feasible approach to save money. However, a solution manufacturer typically has only a one-year contract to manufacture and sell a private-label product to a specific retailer. This means that if the contract changes to a different company, more than one formulation of a generic solution may be on a given store shelf at the same time, under the same private label name. Patients would need to read the label of every bottle on the shelf. To confound the issue, manufacturers are not required to label the generic ingredients by the same name listed on their brand label. In other words, they can rename specific components, making direct comparisons from one bottle to another even more confusing.

Dr. Smythe is an associate professor of optometry at Pacific University and in private group practice in Beaverton, Oregon.