What to Know About Polarized Sunglasses

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Polarized sunglasses reduce glare from surfaces such as water, snow, and glass. Glare distorts the true color of objects and makes them harder to see. Polarized sunglasses can be helpful in any situation where you need to see clearly and avoid hazards.

Glare can be dangerous, especially when you're driving. Sun glare has been linked to pedestrian deaths and other traffic accidents.

This article explains how polarized lenses work. It also outlines some of the benefits and drawbacks of this kind of eyewear.

What Do Polarized Sunglasses Do?

Polarized sunglasses aren't any better at protecting your eyes from UV light than regular UV lenses, but they can make it easier for you to see.

They do this by blocking horizontal light waves—the type that most surfaces reflect when causing a glare. Only vertical waves make it through the filter in these lenses.

Polarized lenses:

  • Increase your visual comfort
  • Sharpen the contrast between light and dark
  • Allow you to see true colors
  • Help prevent eye strain and fatigue

Polarized lenses are available in a variety of colors. Their shade depends on the material used to make the lenses. The most common colors are gray and brown, but green, yellow, and melanin color are also popular.

Darker colors tend to have a stronger effect.

Advantages of polarized sunglasses
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

When Should You Wear Polarized Sunglasses?

Polarized sunglasses can be helpful in certain situations. These include:

  • Driving: More motor vehicle accidents happen when there is glare. Glare can make it harder to spot hazards and react to them. Polarized sunglasses block glare and make it easier to avoid danger when driving.
  • Playing outdoor sports: Similarly, polarized sunglasses help athletes see with greater clarity so they can safely maneuver while competing or practicing.
  • Extended outdoor activities: You may also want to wear polarized sunglasses if you are going to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Disadvantages of Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized lenses aren't right for everyone. Some people feel dizzy or disoriented when they look through polarized lenses. Others say these lenses make everything looks 3-D. Tinted lenses might be a better choice in those cases.

In some professions, people need to read digital numbers on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Pilots are a prime example. Polarized lens can make information on an LCD display hard to read, so they're not a good option for people in those situations.

Some polarized lenses are marketed to help reduce glare while driving. Because they block some light, though, they should not be used at night. Polarized lenses can also make it harder to see icy patches on the road.

How to Tell If Your Lenses Are Polarized

A high-quality pair of sunglasses will usually have polarized lenses. If you're not sure:

  1. Take your sunglasses to a drugstore or optical store. 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.


Polarized sunglasses are coated with a chemical filter that cuts glare. They work by blocking the light waves bouncing off horizontal surfaces.

Polarized lenses are helpful when you're driving or participating in sports. They aren't right for every situation, though. If you're driving at night, navigating icy patches, or using LCD devices, these lenses make it harder to see clearly.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are polarized sunglasses good for sports?

    Yes. They can be especially helpful on sunny days and for activities that take place on or near water, such as boating or fishing. Polarized sunglasses also can reduce glare on snow, so they're great for winter sports.

  • Do polarized sunglasses make driving safer?

    Usually, yes. However, they might make LCD dashboard displays harder to see clearly. And using them at night can limit visibility.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Shaw JA, Vollmer M. Blue sun glints on water viewed through a polarizer. Appl Opt. 2017;56(19):G36-G41. doi:10.1364/AO.56.000G36

  2. Ma HP, Chen PL, Chen SK, Chen LH, Linkov V, Pai CW. Population-based case-control study of the effect of sun glare on pedestrian fatalities in Taiwan. BMJ Open. 2019;9(8):e028350. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-028350

  3. Federal Aviation Administration. Sunglasses for pilots: Beyond the image.

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What are polarized lenses for?

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.