I lost a pair of eyeglasses and contacted the store from which I bought them asking if they could sell me an identical replacement. A clerk there said that they can't because my "prescription expired," and it would be illegal for them to sell me a replacement unless I either presented an "unexpired" prescription or else had the optometrist who wrote the original prescription extend its expiration date.

The clerk claimed that the sale of prescription eyeglasses is regulated in the same way as the sale of prescription drugs. I can't find any law or regulation supporting this claim.

What, if any, legal or regulatory restrictions apply to the sale of eyeglasses to individuals without a "current prescription," or any third-party "prescription" at all?

E.g., if I want to buy a pair of eyeglasses with lenses ground to +1.25 | -1.00x180, does the seller face any adverse consequences for selling me those based only on my specification, and no evidence that any optometrist has "prescribed" that specification for my purchase?

  • In my experience, but outside the USA, a good optician will have some lenses in the store that are not perfect for you but adequate; if you come to the store with broken glasses they can measure even broken glasses and give you glasses that are close to what you need within an hour or two, and they will do that.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 23:44
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    I ordered a pair of glasses from the online glasses retailer Zenni not too long ago; they just asked for the numbers from the prescription, and as far as I can recall, they didn't ask anything about the provider who wrote the prescription or attempt to authenticate it in any way. Zenni is based in the US, and my address is in the US too. If there were such a law, it would seem unlikely that a well-known firm would blatantly violate it. Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 0:19
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    Fun fact. This very issue was the subject of a significant supreme court case in the 1950s that recognized states have broad power to regulate commercial activity. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williamson_v._Lee_Optical_Co.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 28 at 18:56

2 Answers 2


In Washington state, where you are not, you must have a current prescription, and that prescription must be valid for at least two years unless the patient's ocular health does not warrant 2 years. The regulations on dispensing opticians are here, but oddly there don't seem to be any regulations requiring a dispensing optician to only use unexpired prescriptions. The definition of "dispensing optician" could be read to mean that they can only follow the prescription.

A dispensing optician is a person who prepares duplications of, or prepares and dispenses lenses, spectacles, eyeglasses and/or appurtenances thereto to the intended wearers thereof on written prescriptions from physicians or optometrists, and in accordance with such prescriptions, measures, adapts, adjusts and fabricates such lenses, spectacles, eyeglasses and/or appurtenances thereto to the human face for the aid or correction of visual or ocular anomalies of the human eye

Pennsylvania regulations state "The expiration date of a spectacle prescription may not be greater than 2 years"; there again doesn't seem to be any explicit rule / statute prohibiting a dispensing optician from using an expired prescription.

  • So it appears that where regulated in the United States, this is regulated at the state level, not the federal level.
    – feetwet
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 0:49
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    There are some "unfair practices" regulations in 16 cfr part 456 and regulations on separation of examination and dispensing are encoded in state law, but federal regulations are minimal.
    – user6726
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 1:39

This is yet another form of Guild Protection, in this case for eye doctors. Almost every state has regulations or laws that make it unlawful to sell glasses to someone without a current (less than one year) prescription. It's not for any good reason other than keeping eye doctors employed.


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