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Are My Sunglasses Polarized? How to Tell and Why it’s Important

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a family hikes through the foothills while wearing polarized sunglasses

The Benefits of Polarized Sunglasses

Sunglasses can be as crucial to eye care as glasses or eye exams. Why? Because like comprehensive eye exams, sun safety is part of preventative care. Sunglasses can also make your visual experience easier, from driving without glare to shielding your eyes from the wind.

Yet, every pair of sunglasses can have unique features, changing how your eyewear serves your vision and eye health. For example, polarized lenses are one type of treatment you may want for your shades. But how can you tell if your sunglasses are polarized? What are the benefits?

What Are Polarized Lenses?

Polarized lenses filter reflected light or glare. A chemical is applied to the lens to create vertical openings and block horizontal light.

Light sources, like the sun, scatter in all directions. However, when light strikes reflective surfaces, the light becomes polarizedand travels in a uniform (horizontal) orientation. Horizontal light bounces off reflective surfaces, such as water or metal, focusing light intensity and affecting visibility. 

Polarized sunglasses (anti-glare sunglasses) reduce how much light reaches your eye by blocking reflected light. As a result, images can seem darker, but details are generally clearer. 

The main benefits of polarized sunglasses are:

  • Clearer vision in bright environments
  • Decreased eye strain
  • Increased contrast with minimal colour distortion
  • Reduced glare and reflection

Polarized sunglasses work best when worn in environments with high light intensity. People who enjoy outdoor activities use polarized lenses to improve visibility, which can be a crucial safety feature. 

However, there are some situations where polarized lenses may decrease visibility. The chemicals reduce light and are ill-suited for low-lighting conditions. Therefore, you should not wear polarized sunglasses for night driving. While yellow-tinted night driving glasses exist, the evidence does not support any potential benefits for visibility or performance.

UV Protection vs Anti-Glare

Of course, there’s a difference between UV-blocking and anti-glare lenses. Many polarized lenses are available with UV protection, but not all filter UV light. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: not all UV-blocking sunglasses are polarized. So before you buy, look at the label or ask the seller.

Ultraviolet light or UV radiation can affect health in multiple ways depending on the type and the intensity. Prolonged or intense exposure to UV radiation cause harm your eye health and vision. Avoiding direct sunlight and using UV protection can help reduce your risk for:

Sunglasses with UV protection should block out 99–100% UV-A and UV-B radiation. Also, look for sunglasses that screen out 75–90% of visible light. The lenses should be free of any flaws or distortions. Lenses labelled with UV 400 protection block nearly 100% of UV light.

The colour or tint of your sunglasses is not relevant to UV protection. Any shade can be an option for polarized, UV-blocking sunglasses.

All Season Protection

Polarized lenses are available in various tints. Yellow or orange coloured sunglasses are popular for sports-related activities as they can increase contrast in hazy or foggy conditions. But the yellow-orange tiny can distort colours. Some tints, such as amber, rose, or green, can also effectively block blue light. Grey tints offer the most natural colour vision.

When choosing your outdoor eyewear, the type of filter and colour can significantly impact performance and safety. Sports or hobbies in high-reflective environments benefit the most from polarized sunglasses, including water or snow sports—such as fishing, boating, skiing, and snowboarding.

While you’re likely familiar with the need for anti-glare lenses in the summer, the colder season can be equally blinding. UV light can reflect off snow and ice, potentially doubling your risk for UV exposure and increasing glare. 

Sports eyewear, from impact-resistant sunglasses to ski goggles, is available with polarized lenses. The sturdier materials, wider surface area, and anti-glare coating can give your performance and safety advantages.

a man looks over a mountain range while hold up a pair of polarized sunglasses

How to Tell if Your Sunglasses Are Polarized

The good news is it’s easy to tell if your sunglasses are polarized. Compare looking at a reflective surface without and with your sunglasses. You should notice a difference in glare and contrast.

Polarized lenses also make looking at LCD screens more challenging, usually appearing dark or black. To test visibility, you can look at an LCD screen, such as a TV or digital watch.

Another trick you can try before you buy is to compare sunglasses you know are polarized with the pair in question:

  1. Hold one lens over the polarized lens about 1–2 inches (2.5–5.1 cm) apart. Rotate the pair in question to a 90-degree angle. 
  2. Where the lenses overlap, the contrast should be significantly darker than when the lenses do not overlap. If there’s no difference, the lenses are not polarized.

Discover More Eyewear Tips

Your optometrist is more than an eyecare expert; we can also offer advice about eyewear. When you need lenses for a task, we can help you find what you’re looking for. Computer glasses, sports goggles, or polarized sunglasses—we’re available to discuss all your vision needs.

Protecting your eyes is crucial for preventing eye diseases and conditions, but it can also support your comfort. Visit River Heights Eye Care today!

Written by Anthony Iuliano

Dr. Iuliano graduated with an honours degree in Biological Science from the University of Calgary with plans to work in the healthcare industry. In 2008, he attended the University of Waterloo Optometry program and graduated with honours in 2012.
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