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Types of glasses: The basics of materials and frame types

woman wearing eyeglasses looking up at lights

Glasses are more popular than ever, despite recent innovations in contact lenses and vision correction surgery.

Frame styles branded with high profile designer names like Calvin Klein, Prada and Tom Ford continue to be in demand. In recent years even youngsters who would ordinarily dread the "nerd" factor of specs are enjoying wearing them — thanks to the bespectacled young wizard, Harry Potter, and other real and fictional role models.

Spectacle frame materials

Spectacle frame materials have been revolutionised with the introduction of new plastics and various types of metals. Frames generally are fabricated from plastic or metal, but a wide variety of materials can be used, depending on the desired characteristics of the frame.

For example, for safety glasses, you may require a durable, lightweight frame material, such as polycarbonate. If you suffer from skin allergies, you probably should look for spectacle frames made of hypoallergenic materials, such as titanium or stainless steel, to avoid a skin condition known as contact dermatitis.

Certain types of spectacle frames are highly flexible, which reduces the possibility of breakage. Spring hinges also increase frame durability. These types of frames are ideal for kids' glasses and glasses for active wear.

Improved designs of nose pads contribute to comfort and the look of how spectacles are positioned in front of the face. Silicone nose pads, for example, can prevent "slippage" but are so lightweight and soft that they are hardly noticeable.

Spectacle frame styles

Spectacles have also become quite stylish as fashion accessories, especially among fans of high end designers. Many people choose frames the same way they choose shoes or handbags — selecting different colours and styles to match their wardrobes.

Multi-coloured inlays, composite materials, designer emblems, and enhancements such as insets of precious stones also can be found in popular frame styles.

Rimless styles offer an understated way to wear spectacles without obvious frames. In some rimless styles. plastic or metal temples attach directly to the lenses rather than onto a frame "body."

New spectacle frame styles are being continually introduced. Innovations include wood and bamboo frame materials and bold shapes, colours and designs in both plastic and metal frames.

Women's glasses are available in playful shapes like cat's-eye , as well as cutouts with elaborate design elements including swirls and angular patterns.

Men's glasses have extra flair, with new styles that include classy designer logos and patterns embedded in translucent backgrounds as well as high quality acetates in tortoise-shell.

Unisex glasses both men and women include plenty of rimless styles, which are popular as a good, generic fit for both sexes.

Kids' glasses may look similar in style to those worn by adults, but often are more colourful and are designed with emphasis on durability to save parents the expense of frequent replacements.

Advances in spectacle lenses

Other reasons spectacles are popular include technology advances that make modern lenses thinner, lighter and more attractive than ever before.

Some of the most popular spectacle lenses and lens treatments prescribed today include:

Aspheric lenses, forget the old "coke bottle" lenses, these provide a slimmer, more attractive profile and sharper peripheral vision than conventional lenses.

High-index plastic lenses are thinner and lighter than conventional lenses and provide built-in protection against the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Wavefront technology lenses are fabricated based on very precise measurements of the way light travels through your eye, which helps sharpen visual clarity.

Polycarbonate and Trivex lenses are thinner, lighter and up to 10 times more impact-resistant than regular plastic lenses, making them the perfect choice for safety glasses, sports eye-wear and spectacles for children and active adults.

Photochromic lenses provide 100 percent UV protection and darken automatically in sunlight.

Polarised lenses cut reflected glare from flat surfaces (like water), snow and wet roads they also reduce eye fatigue.

Anti-reflection coating dramatically improve the look and comfort of your glasses by reducing distracting lens reflections that interfere with eye contact and make your lenses look thicker. AR-coated lenses also reduce ghost images and allow more light into your eyes for better night vision.

Other lens coatings include scratch-resistant coating, anti-fog coating and UV-blocking lens treatments.

For a quick comparison of eyeglass lens materials, see our article on "How to Choose the Best Lenses for Your Glasses."

Spectacle Lenses for Presbyopia

Presbyopia is a normal age-related loss of focusing ability that affects virtually everyone sometime after age 40. Eventually, small print becomes impossible to read without multifocal lenses (if you already wear spectacles for short-sightedness, long-sightedness, or astigmatism) or reading glasses (if you don't need prescription lenses to see distant objects clearly).

Multifocal and single vision spectacle lenses available for presbyopia correction include:

  • Bifocals. Traditionally have a clearly defined zone in the top half of the lens for distance vision and a zone for near vision in the bottom half of the lens. The zones are separated by a noticeable line.

  • Trifocals. These lenses have three different zones for seeing at varying distances — near, intermediate, and far — and can be custom made for you to accommodate your lifestyle or occupation.

  • Progressive lenses. These lenses have many advantages over bifocals and trifocals because they allow the wearer to focus at any distance, not just two or three. As they have no lines, progressive lenses allow a smooth, comfortable transition from one distance to another. They are a much better option for today's active, multi-tasking people.

  • Reading glasses. These are single vision lenses that contain the power that allows a person with naturally good distance vision to see clearly up close after the onset of presbyopia. Reading vision is restored when wearing these lenses, but they're restrictive as distant objects will be blurry through them.

  • Ready-made reading glasses can be purchased without a prescription, and generally are available in powers ranging from +1.00 to +3.00 dioptres (D).


From a timeless aviator look to the sophistication of new designer styles, sunglasses are as common in outdoor settings as seashells on a beach.

These days, the debate among sunglass wearers focuses on protection versus style. As much as sunglasses make a fashion statement, they also serve as an important device to protect your eye's from damaging UV rays.

Eyewear for Sports Vision and Safety

People who are passionate about certain sports and recreational activities will benefit from specialised eye-wear with features that provide extra protection or vision correction beyond what is found in an ordinary pair of spectacles or sunglasses.

Sport sunglasses and performance sunglasses can give you just the right tint, protection and design for your outdoor activity.

Diving masks and swim goggles are available to accommodate your glasses prescription.

Ski goggles come in several different lens tints, to increase your ability to see bumps and ice on the trail, depending on what the lighting conditions are at your favorite slopes. Many ski goggles are sized so they can be worn over regular spectacles.

Shooting glasses need to be extra tough and scratch-resistant, as well as specially tinted to enhance contrast and clarity of vision in the outdoors.

Protective eye-wear is essential for sports such as cricket, where defending against a bouncer can permanently damage an unprotected eye.

Sports eye-wear for teens and young athletes is especially important because a large percentage of sports-related eye injuries occur among teens and young children.

Safety glasses and goggles in some work environments, such as construction sites, may be required by law. Even if safety glasses aren't mandated, it's still very prudent to wear them when you work or play in circumstances where your eyes are exposed to hazards such as dangerous airborne particles and debris. Many a weekend warrior has needed a trip to the emergency department simply because they didn't wear safety glasses.

Advice for buying spectacles

Your appearance, personal taste and lifestyle provide the best guide to finding just the right spectacles for you.

When selecting frames, make sure you analyse your face shape and colouring so that you find the most flattering look. While it's fine to admire what a favorite celebrity might be wearing, remember that the same style might not be the right look for you.

It's also important to keep in mind that some frames just aren't right for certain types of lenses. The larger the frame the thicker the lenses so strong prescriptions are best in smaller frames.

Also, it's important to choose a relatively small frame that centres on your eyes if you have a high prescription. Always consider your spectacle prescription and lens selection before choosing frames.

Finally, ask your optometrist about the best marriage of lenses and frames to suit all your visual needs You don't wear only one pair of shoes for all occasions, likewise different glasses can fill different roles for your vision.

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