T.I.'s daughter on her risky eye-color change surgery: 'The experience wasn't the best'

Did you know that some people change eye color like others change the hue of their hair? Sure, there are colored contact lenses. But there are also more permanent, if risky, solutions, from laser procedures to silicone implants, which can turn your peepers from brown to blue in less than an hour.

That’s exactly what Tameka “Tiny” Harris, of VH1’s T.I. & Tiny: Friends & Family Hustle, opted for in 2014, when she had silicone iris implants done in Tunisia (the procedure is illegal in the U.S.), changing her brown eyes to ice gray.

Zonnique Pullins with surgically altered eye color, left, and natural brown, right. (Photos: Getty Images)

“They told me the procedure would be quick, like five or 10 minutes in my eye,” she told ABC News at the time. “They woke me up and it was very blurry, and then it kind of just fades in. I looked in the mirror and I was like, ‘They’re amazing.’ I just wanted to do something different,” she added. “And I have the right to do that. It’s my body.”

Soon after, her daughter Zonnique Pullins followed suit — though she appears to have regretted her decision and had it reversed, as recent Instagram photos showed her first with one blue and one gray eye, and then back to two brown. When a fan reached out to her on Instagram and asked whether or not it’s worth it to travel for the procedure, Pullins replied, “I’ve never liked to recommend anyone to do it. I can say that the experience wasn’t the best in the long term, but everyone is different. My mom’s are fine.”

There are several procedures that bring about permanent eye-color change — silicone implants (as used by the mother-daughter duo), a laser procedure called Stroma, prostaglandin products such as Latisse, and, though no longer favored, metallic iris implants.

“Metallic iris implants were used for a time outside the U.S., but there were many associated problems: glaucoma, cataracts, and chronic inflammation inside the eye that often necessitated removal of the implant,” Melissa Toyos, MD, a Tennessee-based facial cosmetic surgeon, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Though she does not surgically change iris colors for patients who want a purely cosmetic fix, she has used implants in cases of trauma repair. Toyos has also seen her share of patients who are having problems after having undergone eye-color change procedures in other countries.

Stroma, meanwhile, a soon-to-be option that’s still in development, is a laser device that can help turn brown eyes blue or green. It was developed by Gregg Homer, PhD, of Stroma Medical on the premise that all brown-eyed people have blue pigment in their irises and that a 30-second session under the special laser can destroy that melanin. The change would then reveal itself gradually over two weeks. Stroma is not FDA-approved in the U.S. and will likely be rolled out first in Europe.

Then there are the silicone implants, as chosen by Tiny and her daughter, which get placed inside the eye over the natural color. “This surgery is done under local or general anesthesia with three incisions, one is 2 millimeters and the other two are 0.8 millimeters in the eye’s peripheral,” Tiny’s Tunisian surgeon, Menif Montasser, told Jezebel. “The implant is folded into an injector, then it’s injected in the eye after filling the eye with viscoelastic [a liquid-like property].” The procedure takes just five to 10 minutes per eye, with surgical bandages OK to be removed just three hours later. Still, the implants are not without risk.

“These implants can create similar problems [to that of the metallic iris implants], but seem to be better tolerated than the metallic ones,” explains Toyos.

Prostaglandin products — lipids derived from fatty acids, used to treat glaucoma and also to encourage eyelash growth (as with Latisse) — come with a possible side effect of turning light brown eyes a darker hue.

No matter what the technique, though, the U.S. does not allow cosmetic eye-color modification, as none is FDA-approved for that reason — only for the treatment of congenital or traumatic iris damage.

If you want to follow in Tiny’s path and seek out implants overseas, be aware of the risks: glaucoma (the leading cause of irreversible blindness in African-Americans), scarring, bleeding inside the eye, cataract, damage requiring corneal transplantation, and irreversible loss of vision. Side effects can show up immediately or years after.

BrightOcular, a L.A.–based manufacturer of the silicone implants, uses them only for medical reasons, though it does assist patients in finding doctors who will perform cosmetic eye-color surgeries in other countries, including Tunisia, India, Mexico, Costa Rica, and China.

But instead of leaving the country for a risky procedure, Toyos suggests anyone seeking an eye-color change start with simple drops. “Everyone wants bright, clear, healthy-looking eyes, no matter what his or her eye color,” she says. “Since there are no approved surgical methods of changing eye color in the U.S., I recommend Lumify redness-relieving eye drops from Bausch and Lomb to reduce redness and make eyes look whiter, brighter, and more naturally radiant. Most people don’t realize that their eyes are red, which can take away from the beauty of their eye color.”

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