What to Know About Polarized Sunglasses

While beneficial, some cannot tolerate them

Sunglasses on beach
Getty Images/Hoxton/Tom Merton

Polarized sunglasses are specialized eyewear designed to reduce glare from surfaces such as water, snow, and glass. Glare distorts the true color of objects and makes them harder to distinguish. Polarized sunglasses can be useful for certain sports and driving, helping participants to see more clearly and avoid potential hazards.

How Polarized Lenses Work

Polarized lenses are available in a variety of colors, depending on the material from which the lenses are made. Darker colors provide higher levels of polarization.

Sunlight can be absorbed or reflected in several different directions. Sunlight that is bouncing off horizontal surfaces such as water, land or the hood of a car is usually reflected back in a similar horizontal direction.

This reflection produces an agitating source of glare that cannot only create visual discomfort but can also cause a potentially blinding glare. Glare has the potential to create a very dangerous situation, especially while driving.

Polarized lenses contain a laminated filter that allows only vertically oriented light to pass through. This blocks the horizontally oriented light so that glare is almost eliminated.

The most common colors of polarized lenses are gray and brown. However, depending on the manufacturer, many other colors may be available. Green, yellow, or melanin color are also very popular colors.

Advantages

A high-quality pair of sunglasses will usually include polarized lenses. A polarized lens offers the following advantages over non-polarized lenses:

  • Improves visual comfort
  • Improves contrast and visual clarity
  • Reduces eye strain
  • Allows for true perception of colors
  • Reduces reflections and eliminates glare

Disadvantages

By and large, polarization is the best choice for people concerned about debilitating sunlight and glare. However, there are some who cannot wear them.

Whether the reason is psychological or neurological, there are those who say that the lenses make them feel dizzy or disoriented, while others insist that they create an artificial 3-D effect.

For this subset of individuals, it is possible that the photoreceptor cells at the back of their eyes pick up the vertical light signals differently than the rest of us. Under these circumstances, tinted lenses may be the best option.

There are also occupations that require a worker to be able to read certain digital numbers on a liquid crystal display. Polarized lens sometimes can interfere with the visibility of the numbers and should be avoided.

How to Tell If Your Lenses Are Polarized

If you're unsure whether your lenses are polarized:

  1. Take your sunglasses to the drugstore and grab a pair of polarized sunglasses from the shelf.
  2. Place the lens of your sunglasses at a 90-degree angle to the lens of the drugstore sunglasses.
  3. If the combined lenses turn dark or nearly black, your sunglasses are polarized.
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