Many people wait for the first bright, sunny day of the year to pick up a new pair of sunglasses. Leaving this decision to the last second can often result in buying sunglasses in a hurry instead of taking the time to choose a pair that protects your eyes and fits all your needs.
There is a wide variety of sunglasses available and the choices can seem confusing and overwhelming, particularly when it comes to getting polarized lenses. Read on to learn more about this lens technology and the differences between polarized sunglasses and non-polarized sunglasses.
What are the benefits of polarized lenses?
While all sunglasses shade your eyes from bright light, polarized lenses have the extra benefit of reducing glare. Glare happens when the sun hits a flat surface like water, the road, or snow and the light is then reflected into your eyes. Harsh glare can make it hard for you to see because it decreases your depth and color perception and can even cause temporary blindness.
How do polarized lenses reduce glare?
Polarized lenses contain a filter that absorbs horizontal light waves (reflections) while allowing vertical waves (direct light) to pass through. By blocking the horizontally reflected light, the polarized filter eliminates glare while preserving color, depth, and clarity. This results in clearer vision with less eye strain.
How to choose the right pair of polarized sunglasses
It can take time to choose the right polarized sunglasses. Here are four things to consider when you’re making your purchase:
- UV-blocking lenses – Protecting your eyes from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most important reason to wear sunglasses. Harmful UV rays are around all year long, not just on the warmest and sunniest days. Too much sun exposure can lead to cataracts, sunburned eyes, growths on or near your eyes, and even eye cancer. Not all UV-blocking lenses are polarized so be sure to check first.
- Frame shape – Love a good outdoor adventure? You’ll want to have sunglasses that are both functional and offer maximum protection. Wraparound frames are a good option because they hug your face and prevent the sun’s rays from coming in through the sides of your shades.
- Prescription sunglasses – You can get polarized prescription lenses in your sunglasses so you can see your best all the time.
- Lens color or tint – Polarized sunglass lenses come in a variety of colors, and some colors are better for certain activities. For example, yellow lenses are good for snow sports because they increase contrast in hazy, foggy, or low-light conditions. For outdoor precision sports such as golf, brown, amber and rose tints sharpen color and contrast on the fairway, making it easier to track golf balls.
When should I wear polarized sunglasses?
You can wear polarized lenses at any time, but they’re particularly useful during activities when you want to avoid glare:
- At the beach or on the water – Oceans, rivers and lakes all reflect the sun’s light. Polarized lenses block the glare from the sun’s light reflecting off the water. They can also help you to see more clearly into the water to help you reel in a big catch!
- In the snow – Whether you’re skiing, sledding, or snowboarding, if you plan to spend the day on snow-covered mountains, polarized lenses will absorb the light reflected off the snow and enhance your visual clarity.
- For other outdoor sports – Polarized eyewear is also well-loved among outdoor sports enthusiasts, allowing athletes like cyclists, runners, rowers, golfers, and more to see their path with added clarity and protection.
- Daytime driving – Roads reflect light and can cause a dangerous glare while driving. Polarized lenses cut down on glare and increase your depth perception.
When should I not wear polarized lenses?
Sometimes, wearing polarized lenses can interfere with your visual clarity. For example, they often black out or greatly reduce the visibility of liquid crystal display screens. This includes your smartphone, tablet, laptop, ATMs, and many other types of digital screens.
Sometimes you need to see reflected light or glare for safety or increased clarity. That’s why you may not want to wear polarized lenses when:
- Driving on icy roads
- Driving at night
- Operating heavy machinery
- Skiing in icy conditions
How To Tell If Sunglasses Are Polarized or Non-Polarized
You can’t always tell the difference between a polarized lens and a non-polarized lens just by looking at it. Here are some ways to check:
- Put on your sunglasses and look at a computer screen or any LCD or LED screen. If the screen appears dimmer with your glasses on, your lenses are polarized.
- Wear your sunglasses while looking at a horizontal reflective surface like water. Tilt your head and notice if the light intensity increases. If so, that means your lenses are polarized.
- Polarized sunglasses may have a label on one lens that says they’re polarized. Hold the sunglasses away from your face and look through the lens at the label. Rotate the lens to a 60-degree angle. If the label gets darker, the sunglasses are polarized.
- If you have two pairs of sunglasses, hold a lens from one pair in front of a lens from the other pair. You should be able to see through both lenses when you look into the light. Tilt one pair of the glasses 60 degrees to the right. If the light appears darker, both pairs are polarized.
Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Sunglasses: Which Is Better?
The main difference between polarized lenses and non-polarized sunglasses is that polarized lenses reduce glare from sunlight and reflective surfaces and non-polarized lenses don’t. So which is better?
The answer depends on your preferences and where you’ll use your sunglasses. If you’re thinking about getting polarized shades, here are a few more reasons why they could be better for you:
- Clearer vision
- Better color perception
- Less eye fatigue
Ready to find some new shades? Your next pair of sunglasses is just a click away!
- Downloadable infographics: Sun smart UV safety. American Academy of Ophthalmology. June 2022.
- Wraparound sunglasses: When are they the best fit? All About Vision. January 2020.
- Sights for sore eyes: 4 sunglass lenses that can improve your golf game. GOLF. November 2018.
- What do polarized lenses do? Optometrists Network. December 2020.
- Polarized vs non-polarized sunglasses. Vision Center. February 2023.
- Polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses: The difference and how to choose. MyVision.org. April 2022.