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What Are Polarized Lenses? [Meaning, Benefits & How They Work]

From the gas station to designer sunglasses, you’ve likely seen polarized sunglasses and lenses advertised. But what are polarized lenses, and what does it really mean when sunglasses are polarized? And are polarized sunglasses even worth it?

Keep reading as we answer the top questions about polarized lenses, plus whether they’re right for you!

What are Polarized Lenses?

Polarized lenses are specifically designed to prevent glare and limit light into your lenses, thanks to a special chemical application.

But there’s a lot more to these lenses than meets the eye. To understand how polarized lenses work, it’s first important to know how glare works.

What is Glare and How Does it Affect Your Vision?

Glare is the uncomfortably bright sunlight that bounces off snow, water, or any other reflective surface. And when light bounces off of a surface, it is turned into horizontal rays that often irritate your eyes more than normal. This is glare.

Glare makes you squint, makes your eyes water and get tired, and even makes your vision blurry and distorts color.

For most people, you’ll commonly encounter glare while driving as water easily reflects off the road. And this is where Polarized lenses come in.

How Do Polarized Lenses Actually Work?

The chemical coatings on polarized lenses absorb the incoming horizontal light waves from glare while still allowing normal vertical light.

While all sunglasses will use tint to prevent some vertical light and reduce the amount of light you see, only polarized lenses prevent harmful horizontal light. This allows you to still see through your lenses while blocking harsh glare that causes eye fatigue.

Check out the helpful video below that explains all of the science behind these lenses. Plus, check out our comparison of Polarized vs. Non-Polarized lenses.

Do Polarized Lenses Offer UV Protection?

Polarized lenses do not offer UV (or Ultraviolet light) protection by default, but they can. On the market today, most high-end polarized lenses and sunglasses will also include a UV protection coating.

This UV coating is similar to polarization, blocking specific light waves. In this case, the UV coating prevents harmful UVA, UVB, and UVC rays that damage your eyes over time.

What to Look For In Polarized Lenses?

Now that you’ve learned why polarized lenses are important, it’s useful to understand exactly what to look for when you’re buying polarized sunglasses.

1. Polarized Film Coating

This is the actual coating that will make your lenses considered Polarized. And, like many things, you often get what you pay for.

An inexpensive pair of polarized sunglasses will likely have a thin polarized film coating that may wear off over time. And a thin type of film is prone to scratching and wear, eventually reducing the effectiveness of the polarization.

Using liquid injection techniques, higher-end brands like Oakley, Ray-Ban, and others embed the polarized chemical filter within their lens layers. Because of these techniques, this type of polarization will last much longer than cheaper lenses.

Plazma Matte Black with Prizm Sapphire Polarized
Polarized P Sticker on a pair of Oakley Plazma Sunglasses denoting they are Polarized – Photo: eBay

2. Light Transmission and Tint

Just because your lenses are polarized doesn’t mean they’re dark. As we mentioned before, tint or light transmission controls how many vertical waves of light or “good light” enter your sunglasses.

Light transmission is separate from polarization and controls how light or dark your lenses are.

Generally, light transmission between 10%-30% (blocking 70%-90% of rays) will provide adequate coverage. But this will be a matter of personal preference. For example, if you have more light-sensitive eyes, you’ll want lenses with a light transmission between 10-20%.

3. UV Protection

As we covered above, you’ll want to make sure your polarized lenses also offer protection from harmful UV rays.

While polarized lenses offer additional protection, it’s important to your eye health that your sunglasses provide full, 100% protection from UVA, UVB, and UVC rays.

You can often find this by reading the stickers on the lenses when you buy your sunglasses or by checking the manufacturer’s website.

4. Lens Color

Depending on how you plan to use your polarized sunglasses, finding the right tint is also important. Depending on the sport or activity, lens color can be a major factor.

For example, golfers will want a red base tint or lens color to make it easier to spot the white ball against the green grass.

A little research will help you find the right tint for how you plan to use your sunglasses. Check out our complete guide to Oakley lens tints and colors for more information.

5. Prizm Lenses

If you’re looking at Oakley’s, you’ll definitely want to check out Prizm lenses.

Oakley’s Prizm technology offers superior contrast-enhancing in various lens colors for every condition. Additionally, Oakley offers Prizm Polarized lenses, providing polarization with the enhanced visibility of Prizm technology.

For some people, especially athletes, who find that polarized lenses may affect depth perception, Prizm lenses are a great option. Others, like fishermen, will find that polarization increases the effectiveness of Prizm technology.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Oakley Prizm Lenses for more information, including how they work!

Oakley Prizm Sapphire Lenses Radar Sunglasses
Oakley Prizm Sapphire Lenses offer contrast-enhancing high-clarity optics

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Polarized Lenses Worth the Cost?

Yes, Polarized lenses offer greater protection against glare to protect your eyes. And when combined with UV protection, these lenses can help prevent harmful damage to your eyes over time.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Polarized lenses also help to reduce eye strain and fatigue during all day-wear. This fatigue leads to decreased vision clarity and headaches, making it difficult to continue your activities.

Are Polarized Lenses Right for Everyone?

No, while polarized lenses have a lot of benefits in general, there are some conditions where they aren’t suitable.

Polarized lenses often make it challenging to use LCD screens, either causing them to appear with lines or making them hard to see. You may have experienced this if you’ve worn a pair of sunglasses and your laptop or other electronic device appeared darker.

Because of these reasons, pilots are advised against polarized lenses for these reasons. While you might think it’s one job that almost requires the best eyewear protection. The truth is they need to be able to see the LCD instruments used to control the plane and can’t risk any distortion of the view through the windshield. If you’re dealing with a lot of electronics, non-polarized sunglasses are the better option.

Fighter Pilot with Visor
Pilots are actually advised against wearing Polarized lenses due to distortion.

Can You Get Polarized Prescription Sunglasses?

Yes, you can typically add a polarized lens coating when purchasing prescription lenses. This coating will offer the same protection as non-prescription polarized sunglasses.

You’ll want to speak to your eye doctor about your specific Rx, but there are plenty of prescription lenses and sunglasses available with polarized options.

And be sure to learn more in our guide on How to Read Your Prescription.

Polarized Prescription Sunglasses
Polarized Prescription Sunglasses Gascan frame through the Oakley website – Photo: Oakley

More useful resources for finding the right pair of sunglasses:

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