Schoolchildren oblivious to the risk of wearing cosmetic contact lenses without prescription are buying it from sidewalk shops, night markets as well as online sources.
A check with several secondary schools revealed that some students were wearing cosmetic contact lenses despite being reprimanded by teachers.
In one school, a student was also found selling coloured lenses to her schoolmates.
The number of students wearing coloured lenses to school has increased over the past two years, said one teacher from a Klang school. She believes it is because the lenses are cheap, easily available from various unauthorised sources and students view it as a fashion accessory.
"It is a new fad among students, especially girls. These days cosmetic lenses can be easily bought from just about anywhere -- sidewalk shops, night markets, convenience stores and beauty centres.
"Then there are the online dealers.
"Teenagers spend a lot of time online and seem to trust these sources.
"For teens, it is another fashion accessory like hair clips, earrings, sun glasses and temporary tattoos," said the teacher.
She said the school knows where the students are buying the lenses from and have repeatedly warned them about their dangers.
The teacher also said the school has increased spot checks on students wearing lenses.
"We want to do all we can to stop students from wearing such lenses and damage their sight.
"Usually, we will ask the students to remove the lenses immediately.
"The usual excuse is that the lenses were needed to correct their vision.
"But often times, we have found this to be untrue after checking with their parents."
What's more alarming, she added, was that some parents encouraged their children to wear such lenses and argued with school authorities over them.
"However, our stand on the matter is firm. The school, in fact, discourages students from wearing any type of lenses, even if it is to correct their vision.
"It is not a directive from the Education Ministry, but the school feels that students should not wear lenses as they are involved in many field and lab activities.
"They might get their hands dirty, touch the lenses and infect their eyes. We feel spectacles are the best for students with vision problems."
The New Sunday Times checked out one of the sidewalk shops selling the cosmetic lenses in Port Klang and was told by the shop assistant that students are its largest clientele, besides factory workers.
The attractive coloured non-corrective lenses, she said, are sold at RM30 a pair and a bottle of solution is priced between RM6 and RM12, depending on the distribution company.
The shop assistant also claimed that some parents bought the coloured lenses for their children.
"Many students stop by the shop on their way to school to buy the lenses and solution.
"I assume that they have had no problems wearing these lenses, since they come back to buy different colours.
"Some come with their parents to buy. We have been selling coloured lenses for two years now and this is a fast-moving item for us."
Malaysian Association of Standards Users senior manager Mohana Priya said contact lenses were medical devices and should only be bought from licensed vendors and worn after proper eye examination by a trained professional.
"You don't buy medicine from a night market vendor, do you?
"Only the doctor can prescribe medicine for your ailment. The same applies for lenses.
"As long as consumers view it as a fashion accessory and unauthorised vendors continue to sell it, we will have this problem."
Mohana said students might not understand the risk of using such lenses and it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to educate them.
"Consumer attitude and behaviour of buying cheap contact lenses from unauthorised people must be changed.
"They must be made to realise that there is no assurance that the product was manufactured based on good manufacturing practice, hygiene guidelines and safety standards.
"Hence, they are faced with the risk of eye infection or even losing their eyesight."
Mohana also highlighted that currently the sale of contact lenses and solution is not regulated by the Medical Device Control Division of the Health Ministry.
She said although the Medical Device Act 2012 (Act 737) was gazetted early this year, it will only come into effect later this year.
The Act specifies requirements for medical device product registration, establishment licensing, and conformity assessment body registration.
"Currently, manufacturers are asked to voluntarily register. Once the Act is fully enforced, proper market surveillance and enforcement measures must be undertaken to stop the sale of lenses by unauthorised vendors."
As for online sources, Mohana said, it is difficult to regulate as it can come from sources outside the country