This review examines the hypothesis that oxidative stress is an initiating factor for the development of maturity onset cataract and describes the events leading to lens opacification. Data are reviewed that indicate that extensive oxidation of lens protein and lipid is associated with human cataract found in older individuals whereas little oxidation (and only in membrane components) is found in control subjects of similar age. A significant proportion of lenses and aqueous humor taken from cataract patients have elevated H2O2 levels. Because H2O2, at concentrations found in cataract, can cause lens opacification and produces a pattern of oxidation similar to that found in cataract, it is concluded that H2O2 is the major oxidant involved in cataract formation. This viewpoint is further supported by experiments showing that cataract formation in organ culture caused by photochemically generated superoxide radical, H2O2, and hydroxyl radical is completely prevented by the addition of a GSH peroxidase mimic. The damage caused by oxidative stress does not appear to be reversible and there is an inverse relationship between the stress period and the time required for loss of transparency and degeneration of biochemical parameters such as ATP, GPD, nonprotein thiol, and hydration. After exposure to oxidative stress, the redox set point of the single layer of the lens epithelial cells (but not the remainder of the lens) quickly changes, going from a strongly reducing to an oxidizing environment. Almost concurrent with this change is extensive damage to DNA and membrane pump systems, followed by loss of epithelial cell viability and death by necrotic and apoptotic mechanisms. The data suggest that the epithelial cell layer is the initial site of attack by oxidative stress and that involvement of the lens fibers follows, leading to cortical cataract.