Polarized sunglasses: Are they right for you?
Polarized sunglasses block glare from light reflecting off flat surfaces better than any other type of sunglass lenses, making them very popular among people who spend a lot of time outdoors, on the road and particularly near water.
But sunglasses aren't just for people who love boating, fishing or going to the beach. Anyone who is bothered by glare outdoors can benefit from these advanced sunglass lenses.
Polarized sunglasses can be helpful for driving, too, because they reduce direct reflective glare from the hoods of vehicles and light-colored pavement.
What does polarized mean?
Sunlight scatters in all directions. But when it strikes flat surfaces, the light that is reflected by the surfaces tends to become polarized — meaning the reflected light beams travel in a more uniform (usually horizontal) direction. This creates an annoying and sometimes dangerous intensity of light that causes glare and reduces visibility.
Polarized lenses have a special filter that blocks this type of intense reflected light, reducing glare and discomfort.
Polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses
Polarized sunglasses provide advantages when it comes to decreasing eye strain and discomfort in bright sunlight. They offer those who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle or who spend time around bodies of water to enjoy a glare-free form of eye protection.
People who spend time driving, either for work or leisure, will see improved comfort and visibility by using polarized lenses. That, in turn, helps them to drive more safely and confidently.
However, it is important to keep in mind that boaters and pilots may experience problems when viewing liquid crystal displays (LCD) displays on instrument panels, which can be a crucial issue when it comes to making split-second decisions based strictly on information displayed on a screen.
Though polarized sunglass lenses improve comfort and visibility, you may encounter some instances when polarized lenses aren't advisable. One example is downhill skiing, wherein you actually want to see the bright patches of reflected light because they alert you to icy conditions.
As mentioned above, polarized lenses reduce the visibility of images produced by LCDs found on some digital screens, such as bank automatic teller machines (ATMs) and gas station pumps. With polarized lenses, you may also find it more difficult to see the screen on your phone (depending on the type of screen technology used).
Despite these exceptions, polarized sunglasses offer tremendous advantages when it comes to decreasing eye strain and discomfort in bright sunlight.
Polarized sunglasses: Other considerations
Polarized sunglasses with progressive lenses are a great choice for people over age 40 who spend significant time outdoors.
And polarized sunglasses with photochromic lenses are a great choice for anyone who is frequently in and out of the sun on any given day.
Plus, because polarized lenses reduce reflections off water, they significantly improve your ability to see objects below the surface of a lake, stream or the ocean (a great benefit for both fishing and boating).
For the best comfort and performance with any polarized sunglasses, ask your eye care professional about having an anti-reflective coating applied to the backside of the lenses. This will eliminate distracting reflections from the back surface of your sunglasses when the sun is behind you.
Also, not all polarized sunglasses provide protection from UV rays. So always be sure that whatever sunglasses you’re shopping for, polarized or otherwise, block 100% UV rays, including UVA and UVB.
Find the right polarized sunglasses for you
The first step to getting the best vision possible with polarized sunglasses is to schedule an eye exam.
If you have even a small amount of refractive error, correcting your outdoor vision with prescription polarized lenses will help you see as clearly and comfortably as possible in bright sunlight.
Page published in February 2019
Page updated in February 2021