693. What are gas permeable contact lenses made from and what do they use to pigment them? — TG, Tulsa, OK
A gas permeable contact lens is one that allows oxygen to diffuse through it to the cornea of the wear's eye. While conventional hard lenses were made almost entirely of a plastic known as poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, commonly known as Plexiglas or Lucite, gas permeable hard or semirigid lenses are copolymers containing both methacrylate and siloxane molecular units. The polymers used in soft lenses are made only of siloxane molecular units and are commonly known as silicon rubbers. The molecules in silicon rubbers are mobile at remarkably low temperatures, giving silicon rubber its flexibility. In fact, these molecules are so mobile that they must be linked together or "vulcanized" to keep them from flowing as a liquid at room temperature. Even when they have been linked together, portions of these molecules are very mobile, so that gas atoms and molecules can diffuse easily through them. I'm not sure what chemicals are used to color contact lenses, but I expect that the dye molecules are permanently linked to the polymer molecules to keep them in place.