Prescription glasses and sunglasses: Problems with cheap quality
Have you considered purchasing cheap glasses online? Or maybe you've been tempted to buy cheap sunglasses at a mall kiosk ... or cheap reading glasses at a discount store?
After all, why should you pay hundreds of dollars for prescription eyeglasses when cheap glasses look every bit as good, right?
As much as we all want to avoid spending hard-earned money unwisely, deals that seem too good to be true when buying glasses are no different than deals that sound too good to be true when buying anything else — you may save money up front, but the product often doesn't live up to your expectations.
When it comes to eyewear, some cheap glasses can actually cause harm to your eyes that you're not even aware of.
Cheap glasses: Buyer beware
Being a wise eyewear consumer requires due diligence to understand factors that affect the quality and value of eyeglasses and sunglasses.
1. Beware of claims of "same top quality."
Sellers of cheap eyeglasses and cheap sunglasses are quick to claim they are providing glasses of the "same top quality" as eyewear you purchase from your local eye care professional.
But how do they determine that?
The fact is, there are significant differences in the scratch resistance of different lenses and lens coatings, different levels of optical performance among different lens materials and brands, and different levels of comfort and durability among different frames — even among frames with the same brand name.
2. Virtual and home try-ons can't ensure satisfaction.
If you're buying cheap glasses online, you often will have use to a "virtual try-on" feature — in which you upload a forward-facing, closeup photo of yourself and you can then superimpose images of different frames on your face to see how they look.
But while a virtual try-on can give you a rough idea of how you'll look wearing different frames, it can't tell you anything about how the frames will feel. It also can't demonstrate the detailing and workmanship of the frame.
Also, depending on the quality of the virtual try-on tool, the size of the eyewear might not be accurate — the frames might look larger or smaller than they actually are. And it's not unusual for the color of the actual frame to look noticeably different than the color shown online.
3. Inferior quality sunglasses can do more harm than good.
Cheap sunglasses sometimes look nearly identical to premium quality sunglasses. They can even seem to provide equal performance in bright sunlight. But they also can be doing more harm than good.
The level of protection sunglasses provide to shield your eyes from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays has nothing to do with the color or darkness of the lenses. And it's impossible for you to feel how well your eyes are being protected from these damaging rays while you're wearing the sunglasses.
It's possible for two different pairs of sunglasses to look (and even feel) the same, but one is providing a much better level of eye protection than the other.
Cheap sunglasses — even those labeled "polarised sunglasses" and "100% UV protection" — often allow harmful violet ("near-UV") and blue light to penetrate the eye and potentially cause damage over time.
4. Poor reading glasses can cause eyestrain — or worse.
Inexpensive reading glasses sold in discount stores can help you see more clearly up close if you're over age 40 and experiencing the normal age-related loss of focusing called presbyopia.
But it's easy to choose the wrong power, and the optical quality of cheap reading glasses typically is not as good as a customized pair of glasses for computer use and reading.
Also, cheap reading glasses often provide no protection from high-energy blue light emitted from computer screens and other digital devices.
5. Some eyeglass frame materials can cause skin irritation — or worse.
At first glance, some cheap eyeglass frames may look like more expensive frames. But often, they are made of low-grade materials that can cause skin irritation over time.
Cheap plastic frames can get bleached by UV rays and the finish can roughen after a few months of wear. Cheap metal frames often contain nickel alloys that can cause skin irritation; others can discolor your skin.
Also (and more disturbing), cheap eyeglasses frames and cheap sunglasses occasionally are recalled and removed from the market because they contain lead paint or other toxic substances.
Get the best glasses for your eyes and money
Though you may see acceptably well with cheap glasses, are you really seeing your best and doing everything you can to protect your eyesight?
Your eye doctor can educate you about the latest advances in eyeglass lens technology, including:
Impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses
Even if you choose only one or two of these premium products, it will help you come closer to seeing your absolute best and/or more fully protecting your eyes from injury and damaging radiation.
Budget-stretching tips when buying glasses
What can you do if you or your family members need glasses and you want the best value possible?
Here are a few tips to help you stretch your budget and get all the benefits of high-quality eyeglasses and prescription sunglasses:
Ask about bundles. Many optical stores provide a discount on premium eyewear products such as anti-reflective coating, photochromic lenses and progressive lenses if you purchase them as part of a bundled package. Ask your eye doctor for details.
Know the terms and conditions of warranties. Premium eyewear can be a better value than cheap glasses if it comes with a warranty against lens scratches and frame materials and workmanship. Warranties are particularly valuable if you work or live in a harsh environment. Ask your eye doctor or optician to explain the terms and conditions of warranties included with your eyeglasses and sunglasses.
Also, ask your eye doctor or optician about possible discounts for multiple purchases, special promotions on specific frames and lenses, and financing plans for eyewear purchases to make quality eyewear more affordable.
Page published in March 2019
Page updated in September 2020