Why are contact lens solutions so expensive?

I feel like I’m being ripped off whenever I buy contact lens solutions. What’s the profit margin on this stuff? What are the actual manufacturing costs involved, and wholesale costs, for a bottle of saline solution and/or disinfecting solution? Isn’t saline solution basically salt water? Can consumers buy it in bulk somewhere?

Can you say, captive esoteric market segment?

Been a while since I’ve worn them, but for most prescriptions I suspect the profit margins are rather high. I recall a number of years back when several major manufacturers were called on the carpet for charging much more for disposable and non disposable lenses, when in fact they were both the exact same lenses. Don’t think it ever got into the lawsuit stage, but if they could sell the same lens for two disparate prices one can only assume that somewhere a bean counter is smiling.

As to the saline solution, check the specific percentage on the product you are comfortable with then head to your local surgical supply store. I had been able to buy a seemingly identical product in 2 liter containers much cheaper than the niche marketed solutions.

You might as well ask why eye glasses are so expensive if they are really just two round pieces of glass. But of course there is more to lense solution than just mixing salt into water. It probably has to be distilled & de-ionized water, then it has to be medically sterile. Whatever process is involved in all of that must be responsible for a large part of the cost.

I don’t wear contact lenses so I have nothing really to add, except that competition between manufacturers should be getting us the cheapest product possible, unless there a patent on it or something.

Yeah, tell that to the big oil companies.

      • The profit margins might be pretty high, but then again, the liability insurance might be pretty high too. - MC

The fact sterile solutions are used would not account for the high cost. The fact liability is high does not likely cost an extra $2 per vial either… Liability is high on medicines but many cost pennies a month.

“The fact liability is high does not likely cost an extra $2 per vial either… Liability is high on medicines but many cost pennies a month.”

      • Yea, but think of it this way: you eat all kinds of stuff, if you eat and take medicine there’s lots of things your illness can be at least partially blamed on. With contact lenses, there’s the lens (which is difficult to prove unsafe, since the lens maker spends just as much on research and lawyers as the solution manufacturer) and there’s the solution; you probably never put anything else in your eye. The lenses are always washed in the solution; if there’s any problem, the maker of the solution is likely to get blamed.
  • As for “not likely costing an extra $2 per vial”, um, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I read some years back that between 1982 and 1986, one US light aircraft manufacturer got sued 202 times for liability and won every case, but at an average cost of $450,000 per case. This cost was estimated to add over 300% to the price of a new aircraft, and liability is generally agreed to have destroyed the US light aircraft industry. I understand the situation for US firearm manufacturers is similar.
    -Yes, many corporate CEOs are greedy bastards, but it’s only rampant profiteering if you get to keep the money, and often many companies don’t. If all (US) liability lawsuits were halted completely, a lot of things would become a lot less expensive.
    (-not that I would necessarily advocate going that far, but you see the point…) - MC

Maybe. But how often do you read in the paper about loss of consumer confidence in a certain solution? If it even occurred to the wearer to check it, it could be blamed on not putting the top back on… pretty hard to prove a used soution wasn’t originally sterile. Lens do cause problems and many users don’t wash them properly, or at least according to the package directions. Maybe corporations have a right to be greedy, human nature and all, but spades are spades.

I’d like to know as well. Currently living in UK from Australia - there I can buy in my local chemist, 2 x 360ml Complete Brand bottles of solution for AUD12.99 - this is noton special, this is all the time. It is not made in Australia. Todays rate makes that equal to UKP6.49. My husband bought 1 x 240ml bottle today for 8.00 pounds - that is more than double the price, thought economics of scale would come into play here :frowning:

If economies of scale haven’t fixed the problem in the last fourteen years, I wouldn’t hold out much hope now.

:rolleyes: Oil company profit margins are lower than a lot of other companies and industries, including soft drink makers, railroads and, yes, most pharmaceutical companies.

As for the OP question, I suspect that the profit margin is quite high on contact lens solution. If you want to try a cheaper bulk substitute, hey, it’s only your eyes you are talking about.

I worked at a research lab for several years in the 1980’s. One of the directors wanted to buy his own reagent-grade salt to mix up his own contact lens solution. The purveyors of such products wouldn’t sell the stuff to an individual end-user customer. They claimed some BS like, concern it might be used in making illegal drugs or something.

Oh, I’m sure the economies of scale are huge, but there’s no pressure to lower prices- the people who use contact solution HAVE to use it, and they have to use it every day, or they have to wear glasses, and there aren’t many competitors to drive the price down.

So prices tend to be pretty high, because there’s no newcomers to the market undercutting the existing players, and you have steady demand from contact lens wearers.

I’ve worn soft contacts for 35 years. I’ve never really thought of the solutions as being particularly expensive. A twin pack of multi-purpose solution is currently like $7 -$8, and it will last for months. Of course, **always **buy the generic, supermarket brand. The name brands like Bausch & Lomb are literally more than twice the price for the same chemicals…

I bought the generic brand once…within hours of using it my eyes started to cloud up, and it took until the next day for it to go away completely. Now I stick with a large name brand pack from Costco for about 20 bucks.

Hardly expensive: http://www.walmart.com/ip/10324537?wmlspartner=wlpa&adid=22222222227009309807&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=c&wl3=53878071872&wl4=&wl5=pla&wl6=112955749952&veh=sem

Here’s a 2-pack of Equate brand (24 oz.) for $5.48. I’ve been wearing soft contact lenses for 15-16 hours a day for 35 years. This stuff works fine.

Contact solutions are definitely one of those “Your mileage may vary” type products. I’ve tried the Sam’s Club and Costco house brand solutions (which are identical, BTW- look at the packaging- same lot numbers, ingredients, etc…), and I’ve found that after about a week, I start getting excessive eye-boogers and crud buildup on my contacts. I don’t get that with the Alcon optifree solutions, but I do with the Biotrue or Puremoist extra moisture type solutions.

And, the chemicals aren’t the same; in general, the name-brands have better/newer/proprietary disinfectants and conditioners. But if they work for you, go for it!

I always wonder if Warby Parker’s story was true or not

I should probably add that for the last 20 years I’ve worn disposable lenses, so long term things are never an issue. I also don’t seem to have ‘sensitive’ eyes. I worn lenses back in the infamous thimerosal days and never had a problem with that either.