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Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Sunglasses: The Difference and How to Choose

Polarized sunglasses work well to protect eyes from bright light and reduce glare, thereby making it easier to see. Polarized glasses are suitable for outdoor activities like fishing, diving, or skiing.

view through polarized glasses

Non-polarized glasses are standard sunglasses with a tint that improves visibility.

What Are Polarized Sunglasses?

Polarized sunglasses reduce glare and lessen reflections to your eyes. These glasses have a chemical filter that blocks some of the light that is reflected off water, snow, and glass. This helps to improve your vision and safety while outdoors.

How Do Polarized Glasses Work?

Polarized glasses have a special chemical filter on them that block some light as it passes through the lens. Essentially, the lenses scatter light so it all isn’t reflected directly into the eye.

When sunlight strikes a flat surface, it’s reflected at a horizontal angle to the eye, causing eye strain. The coating on polarized glasses filters out horizontal light while allowing vertical light to pass through the lenses. This helps to reduce glare, allowing you to see clearer images.

Polarized vs. Non-Polarized

Though both polarized and non-polarized sunglasses are used to protect eyes from the sun, they have distinct differences. 

  • Polarized lenses have a chemical coating that reduces glare that non-polarized sunglasses do not have. As a result, it might be more difficult to see in bright light with non-polarized sunglasses. 
  • Polarized glasses allow vertical waves to travel through the lens, but they filter horizontal light waves, reducing glare. In contrast, non-polarized sunglasses only filter ultraviolet (UV) rays but do not prevent glare. 
  • Polarized glasses are more expensive, while non-polarized glasses tend to be less expensive.
  • Polarized glasses do not protect against UV rays unless noted. Many polarized glasses also have UV protection, but you must look for this special labeling.
  • Polarized glasses are darker than non-polarized glasses. 
  • It can be difficult to see screens, like smartphones and tablets, while wearing polarized lenses. While newer polarized sunglasses have attempted to counteract, it’s common that screens will appear darker while wearing polarized sunglasses. 

Benefits of Polarized Glasses

Polarized glasses have unique benefits. They: 

  • Reduce glare, whether from the sun, water, snow, glass, or other reflective surfaces. 
  • May have a UV protective coating to protect against the sun’s harmful rays. 
  • Provide clear vision by reflecting light since you can see clearer without glare. 
  • Improve contrast and visual clarity in brighter situations.
  • Reduce eye strain when working outside.
  • Offer minimal color distortion, allowing for the actual perception of colors that regular sunglasses lenses don’t provide. 

Benefits of Non-Polarized Sunglasses

Non-polarized sunglasses offer their own set of benefits. They:

  • Usually have UV protection coating to protect the eyes from UV rays. 
  • Reduce the overall intensity of sunlight on your eyes.
  • Make it easier to read screens than polarized sunglasses generally do.

Who Are Polarized Lenses For?

Polarized lenses are suitable for anyone spending time outdoors, especially when there is bright light. These lenses are primarily beneficial for these activities:

  • Driving during the day: Sunlight hitting the windshield on a clear day scatters the light into a bright distracting glare. Polarized lenses block this glare, allowing you to focus on the road and drive safely.
  • Fishing: Polarized sunglasses help you see below the water surface when fishing. 
  • Boating: When boating, light’s reflection on the water can cause eye strain, and polarization can reduce this, helping you to see under the water. 
  • Golfing: Polarized glasses help reduce glare on fairways, often giving you a better golfing experience.
  • Athletic activities: Athletes may opt to wear polarized glasses to see clearly and avoid hazards.

How Can You Tell if Lenses Are Polarized?

Polarized glasses will have a sticker or label to show they are polarized, but if you aren’t buying the glasses new, you can confirm they are polarized by following these steps: 

  • Wear your sunglasses and look at a bright horizontal reflective surface like water. If the light intensity increases when you tilt your head, your lenses are polarized.
  • If you have two pairs of sunglasses, put one lens in front of the other and look into the light. You should be able to see through them. Tilt one of the glasses 60 degrees to the right. If it gets darker, both pairs are polarized. 
  • Look at a computer screen or any LCD or LED screen while wearing the glasses. If the screen appears dimmer, the sunglasses are likely polarized. 
  • If your glasses are new, look through the lens at the test tag and rotate the lens to a 60-degree angle. If the tag gets darker, you have polarized sunglasses.

When to Choose Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses are the best option for people who spend a lot of time outdoors. Wear these sunglasses when driving or fishing to block glare and enhance visibility. 

When to Choose Non-Polarized Glasses

Non-polarized sunglasses may be a better option if you will be:

  • Reading LCD screens frequently. 
  • Operating heavy machinery.
  • Skiing in an icy area since you’ll better see ice with non-polarized lenses.

Costs

Because of the distinct benefits of polarized sunglasses, they are more expensive than non-polarized options.

Like all sunglasses, factors such as material, frame, and brand will influence the final cost. Polarized sunglasses tend to cost between $25 and $450 or more. 

Where Can You Buy Polarized Sunglasses?

You can buy polarized sunglasses at a variety of retailers, such as Oakley, Ray-Ban, or dedicated sunglasses retailers. Your eye doctor may sell some polarized options as well. 

If you don’t want to invest in a pair of polarized sunglasses, you can simply add a clip-on polarized shade to your regular glasses. 

Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Sunglasses FAQs

Are polarized sunglasses worth it?

The benefits of polarized sunglasses for certain activities are undeniable. The glasses help to reduce glare and reflection, improving your vision. They also help improve clarity in brighter situations. 

Are polarized sunglasses better for your eyes?

Polarized sunglasses will not protect your eyes from UV damage. You’ll need to look for labeling that notes the sunglasses also offer UV protection. Polarized lenses can reduce eye strain and allow you to perceive things better.

Is it bad to wear non-polarized lenses?
Non-polarized glasses reduce the intensity of sunlight. They also protect your eyes from UV rays, but they won’t reduce reflection from snow, water, or glass. 

Can I wear polarized glasses while driving at night?

You need as much light as possible when driving at night. Polarized glasses have filters that prevent light from hitting your eyes. It creates a dimmer view, and this could make it more likely that you’ll get in an accident. 

Are polarized glasses good for everyday use?

They are ideal to use every day. They offer a better view while eliminating glare from the sun. However, don’t wear them when looking at LED screens or driving at night. 

References

  1. Eyestrain. (April 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  2. Recommended Types of Sunglasses. (December 2015). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  3. What Are Polarized Lenses For? (July 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  4. Do Polarized Sunglasses Protect Your Eyes? (May 2020). Consumer Reports.

Last Updated April 8, 2022

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