Are glasses and contact lenses taxable?

by Jennifer Dunn June 9, 2021


In a perfect world we’d all have 20/20 vision and glasses would just be a fun fashion statement. But, according to the Vision Council, in our bleary-eyed world more than 75% of American adults use or have used some form of vision correction. 

This post will explore whether or not those 182 million Americans will have to pay sales tax the next time they purchase new frames or contacts. 

The Taxability of Prescription Glasses and Contact Lenses

In the U.S., each state is allowed to make their own rules and laws when it comes to sales tax. And four states don’t even have a sales tax at all.

Fortunately, most states try to mitigate tax burden when it comes to life-or-death necessities like groceries or prescriptions. And, in many cases, that sales tax exemption extends to prescription eyewear and contact lenses. 

Thirty-eight U.S. states either consider prescription glasses or contact lenses to be non-taxable or taxed at a lower rate than other tangible personal property.  In many states’ code of laws, prescription eyeglasses are taxed the same as other medical equipment like oxygen or mobility aids. 

However, as with anything sales tax related, there is some trickiness. In California, for example, while an end customer who actually wears the corrective lenses doesn’t pay sales tax on glasses or contacts, sales tax is still due. In this case, the medical professional who sells the corrective lenses pays the sales tax to the wholesaler or distributor. While this is unusual, under California law, the medical provider/prescriber is considered the final user of the equipment. 

If you sell glasses or contacts, we always recommend checking out your state’s unique tax law or speaking with a vetted sales tax expert

Note: When searching a state’s law code, look for the term “corrective lenses” if you can’t find the terms “eyeglasses” or “contacts.”

The Taxability of Nonprescription Glasses and Contacts

Want to purchase glasses as a fashion statement to complete a look? Need some  sunglasses for that trip to the beach? Or maybe some funky red-and-black colored contacts for your anime cosplay? In most cases, you’ll pay (or, if you’re a retailer, charge) sales tax.

Though, in some cases, you may find a sales tax exemption. In Connecticut, nonprescription reading glasses are considered non-taxable.For example, in Wisconsin sunglasses designed to be worn over prescription glasses are also non-taxable. The state explains that this is because they are an accessory or designed to work with corrective lenses.

By no means is this a comprehensive list of whether or not nonprescription glasses and contacts are taxable, and we recommend checking with a vetted sales tax expert or your state if you are unsure of whether or not you should charge sales tax on the eyewear you sell. 

Sales Tax on Glasses and Contact Lens Supplies

For the most part, things like glasses cleaning cloths or neck cords designed to work with glasses are taxable, though Wisconsin, for one, makes an exception. 

Any contacts-wearer will know that contact lenses come with their own set of accessories — like rewetting drops and disinfecting solution. 

In most states, since these solutions are sold over the counter, they are considered taxable. However, if you’re a contacts wearer looking to save some money, you might want to see about uprooting to Minnesota, New York, or Vermont. Contact lens disinfecting solution, lubricating solution for contacts and lubricating solution for eyes are all non-taxable in those states. 

A handful of other states consider solution made specifically for contact lenses non-taxable, but for the most part you’ll pay sales tax when purchasing accessories to keep your contact lenses lubricated and disinfected. 

Do you sell glasses or contact lenses?

If this sounds like a lot of work, never fear. TaxJar has it covered. TaxJar keeps track of taxability — like whether prescription sunglasses are taxable in Arkansas (yes) or whether contact lens rewetting solution is tax exempt in Florida (also yes.)

With TaxJar’s extensive library of product tax codes, just tell us what products you sell and we’ll do the rest. We’ll charge the right amount of sales tax in every state, county, city and special taxing district and also apply any sales tax exemptions when it comes to the products you sell.

Ready to automate sales tax? To learn more about TaxJar and get started, visit TaxJar.com/how-it-works

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