None other than Leonarda da Vinci in the 16th Century made the first sketches of what we now recognise today as being contact lenses. It would take another three hundred years before functioning contact lenses would be produced for general use amongst the population.
By the close of the 19th Century, experiments with lenses made from hard glass were carried out with by physicians and opticians in Germany, Switzerland and France. The experiments were the brainchild of the German born, British astronomer, Sir William Herschel who believed that lenses could be fitted perfectly on to the surface of an eye once a mould of the patient's eye was created. These heavy glass lenses covered the entire eye and did not admit oxygen often making them uncomfortable for the wearer.
Strong, plastic lenses were introduced by American opticians during the thirties and forties. These consisted of a plastic edge encircling a sheet of glass only later did lenses come to be entirely made from hard plastic. Until the early fifties, the hard plastic lenses still covered the entire cornea. The diameter and thickness of lenses reduced over the next twenty years until finally designs resembling those in use today, became available in the seventies. Nonetheless, despite forty years of design the hard, plastic lenses were still regarded as being uncomfortable by wearers.
In 1961, the first soft lense was developed by Czechslovakian chemists applying a water-absorbent, plastic material they invented which was dubbed as HEMA. The invention ultimately led to the initial introduction of commercially popular, soft contact lenses by Bausch & Lomb, in 1971.
Thinner and more comfortable for the wearer, the softer lenses made the wearing of contact lenses a realistic alternative for a greater number of people. Currently, 90% of lenses sold in the US are of the softer variety. Contact lenses are continuing to undergo development and a number of new developments have emerged in recent years as lenses become more comfortable and user friendly.
Lenses today are more comfortable than ever incorporating; toric (soft lenses), (RGP) lenses i.e. Rigid Gas Permeable lenses, extended wear soft contacts, soft, bi-focal, daily lenses, tinted RGP lenses, extended wear RGP lenses, disposable, soft, contact lenses, soft colour changing contacts, as well as UV protective lenses among a comprehensive range of products, currently available on the market.