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Are clip-on sunglasses right for you?

clip-on sunglasses

Clip-on sunglasses provide a simple, inexpensive alternative to carrying around two eyeglass cases.

Constantly switching from regular prescription eyeglasses to a separate pair of sunglasses can be a hassle. It also can put a physical strain on your prescription eyeglasses. Constantly removing your eyeglasses increases wear and tear, as well as the likelihood that you may drop them or they may be damaged by being pulled off of your face too hard. 

Wearing non-prescription sunglasses on top of your regular glasses is neither practical nor comfortable. And fit-over sunglasses still do not eliminate the problem of carrying around two pairs of glasses, which can be cumbersome — especially when repeatedly moving between inside and outside, as you might while shopping. 

Clip-on sunglasses slip easily into place, fit comfortably in a pocket or purse when not in use, and — if they are a proper fit — won’t scratch your prescription lenses. And the cost, whether purchased at the same time you buy your prescription glasses or later, is considerably less than the cost of prescription sunglasses. This is especially true if you wear bifocals, trifocals or progressives, which have more expensive lenses. 

Like conventional sunglasses, clip-on sunglasses come in a wide assortment of tints, sizes and shapes. The amount of protection they provide to your eyes and the skin around them depends on the coating. When shopping for clip-on sunglasses, it is important to ascertain that they provide an adequate amount of UV protection, as explained below. 

SEE RELATED: Clip-on sunglasses: What are they and where to buy them

Protect your eyes while outdoors

Eye protection while outdoors is important. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends sunglasses that block 99% of ultraviolet rays. Long-term exposure to sunlight’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can lead to cataracts, corneal sunburn and even cancers of the eye or eyelid. 

The Vision Council, a nonprofit trade association for the optical industry, echoed the AAO with its National Sunglasses Day event held annually in June. The day of recognition “reminds consumers that wearing sunglasses is not only fashionable but also a health necessity to protect the eyes from long- and short-term damage from the sun’s harsh UV rays.”

There are three types of UV radiation from which our eyes need to be protected. UVA rays have the lowest energy level but can cause the most eye damage, including macular degeneration. The higher-energy UVB rays are what cause sunburn and skin aging and can cause some eye problems as well. The highest-energy rays, UVC, are largely blocked by the ozone layer in the atmosphere. UVC rays can also come from some man-made sources, such as sanitizing bulbs used to kill germs, welding torches and mercury lamps. You should never look directly at these sources of light.

It is important that clip-on sunglasses fully cover the lens of your prescription eyeglasses. Otherwise, UV rays can still harm your eyes. You should look for clip-on lenses that provide complete protection against UV rays. 

That can prove a challenge if you already own a pair of prescription eyeglasses and now wish to find a clip-on of the same size and shape. But the following will provide some advice and options. 

SEE RELATED: UV and sunglasses: How to protect your eyes

Measure your lens width to determine the proper size

It is a good idea to measure your lens width before ordering clip-ons online. The frame size is printed on the inside of the frame of your prescription eyeglasses. The first two-digit number is the lens width, or “eye size.” Eye size usually ranges from 40 to 62 millimeters. (Frames are always measured in millimeters.) The next two-digit number is the distance between the lenses, or “bridge size.” Bridge size ranges from 14 to 24 millimeters.

If you have owned your glasses for some time, those numbers might have rubbed off of the frames, since they are often in contact with your face. If so, you can determine the lens size yourself. Measure the width of the lens at its widest point (eye size) and the distance between the lenses where they are closest together (bridge size). You will also need to know the height of the lens at the center. 

Use a metric ruler, if available. If not, measure in inches and convert to millimeters. The conversion factor is 25.4. So if the lens is 2 1/4 (2.25) inches wide, that converts to 57 millimeters. A good rule of thumb is to add 2 millimeters to both the width and height when ordering. When buying clip-on sunglasses for prescription eyeglasses, keep in mind that the fit might not be perfect. The most important goal is to ensure the lens is completely covered by the clip-on.

SEE RELATED: How do I measure my glasses?

What are some common types of clip-on sunglasses?

There are three basic types of clip-on sunglasses:

  • Standard 

  • Flip-up 

  • Magnetic 

Standard clip-on sunglasses are the most common

Standard clip-on sunglasses have been around at least 90 years. The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York boasts a pair of Ray-Ban clip-ons, with a red leather carrying case, from 1930. Ray-Ban still manufactures clip-ons if brand names are important to you. Styles include aviator, round, Clubmaster and Wayfarer.

Movie legend James Dean, who starred in “Giant,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and "East of Eden," helped make clip-ons popular in the 1950s, as he was photographed on numerous occasions wearing them. Clip-ons were also widely used in the military during the 1940s to protect soldiers’ eyes while out in the field.

Standard clip-on sunglasses are the most common — and least expensive — type of clip-ons. Usually, they attach to the frame along the outer edges of your eyeglasses with four metal retaining clips. The clips are coated with a vinyl protective sleeve that will protect your prescription lens from being scratched. Still, you should take care when attaching or removing the clip-ons to ensure your expensive lenses aren’t scratched. Use both hands to pull the clips outward and then off your glasses.

Standard clip-on sunglasses are the simplest solution if you already have prescription eyeglasses and want clip-ons. Start by checking with the store where you bought your glasses to see if the frame manufacturer offers a clip-on. Brick-and-mortar stores that carry or can order clip-on sunglasses include LensCrafters, Pearle Vision Centers and Vision Source, as well as such retailers such as Walmart and Walgreens.

If you prefer ordering online, there are a bevy of online eyeglass retailers that offer clip-ons that could fit your frame, whether it’s round, oval, rectangular, square or aviator-style. Examples are EyeBuyDirect and Frames Direct.

Flip clip-ons provide one-handed convenience

These are quite popular since the wearer can flip them up when not needed without having to take them off — this can be useful when entering a tunnel while driving, for instance. The clip attaches to the bridge of the glasses instead of the outer edges of the frame. This allows the wearer to flip them up or down with one hand. Flip clip-ons can last longer because you don’t have to take them on and off, and the hinges are designed to move smoothly. 

One of the challenges when ordering flip-up sunglasses online is that it can be difficult to obtain the proper sizing. Although you can measure your prescription eyeglasses as described above, there really isn't a good way to know if they will actually fit until you try them on your glasses. If feasible, it might be less risky to visit a brick-and-mortar store to find the right size for your prescription eyeglasses. 

Magnetic clip-ons actually have no clips

Magnetic clip-ons are usually pricier and generally come as part of a set with prescription glasses, but in general, they provide more style choices. For example, Frames Direct offers nearly 300 frames with magnetic clip-on sunglasses in a number of frame shapes: aviator, cat-eye, oval, rectangular, round, rounded edges and square. Manufacturers Easyclip and Easytwist N Clip offer many classic and contemporary styles.

Generally, magnetic clip-ons are made out of a lightweight metal that is resistant to corrosion and use magnetic bond technology to provide a snug, secure fit over your prescription eyeglasses. 

Magnetic clip-ons make a satisfying “click” as they attach to your prescription frames. However, it might be difficult to find magnetic clip-ons for your existing prescription eyeglasses unless they are available from the original manufacturer.

Some of the newer magnetic clip-on sunglasses, such as JINS, feature a newly designed hook feature that keeps the magnetic plates in place even while exercising.

Which type of clip-on is most popular?

According to a study developed by the Vision Council and released in 2013 (the most recent data available), standard clip-ons with clips that hook on the sides of your prescription glasses make up about 35% of the market, while magnetic clip-ons comprise about 20%. Clip-ons with metal frames are used by less than 25% of wearers, rimless clip-ons made up about 12% of users and customized clip-ons comprised 8% of wearers. In total, 10.3% of American adults wear clip-on sunglasses.

Some of the highest-rated clip-ons of 2024 

Productsbrowser.com, an Amazon Associate, recently listed its top 10 clip-on sunglasses for 2024. They are: 

  • Polarized Clip-On Sunglasses by Simida. (Listed for $14.99 on Amazon.)

  • Premium UV400 Anti-Glare Driving/Fishing Sunglasses by Elements Active. (Listed for $17.85 on Amazon.)

  • Semi-Round Polarized Clip-On Sunglasses by Sunglass Rage. (Listed for $16.99 on Amazon.)

  • Unisex Flip-Up Sunglasses by Wangly. (Listed for $9.99 on Amazon.)

  • Polarized Clip-On Sunglasses by Yodo. (Listed for $9.99 on Amazon.)

  • Unisex Polarized Frameless Rectangle Lens by Splaks. (Listed for $13.99 on Amazon.)

  • Slim Rectangle Non-Polarized Yellow Lens Clip-On Sunglasses by Sunglass Rage. (Listed for $26.49 on Amazon.)

  • Round Polarized Flip-Up Clip-On Sunglasses by Sunglass Rage. (Listed for $14.49 on Amazon.)

  • Sport Driving Polarized Clip-On Sunglasses by Besgoods. (Listed for $13.90 on Amazon.)

  • Slim Rectangle Non-Polarized Clip-On Sunglasses, by Sunglass Rage. (Listed for $16.49 on Amazon.)

Cleaning and maintaining your clip-on sunglasses

Most clip-on sunglasses will come with a microfiber cloth and a carrying case. Since the lenses are made of plastic with metal clips and/or hinges, they are durable and long-lasting for their price, especially when compared to the cost of purchasing a pair of prescription sunglasses. Clean the lenses just as you would your prescription eyeglasses: spray on a little lens cleaner and then gently dry them with the microfiber cloth.

SEE RELATED: How to take care of your sunglasses

If your child wears eyeglasses, clip-ons are available as well

Does your child wear prescription eyeglasses? Remember, protecting their eyes from UV radiation is just as important as protecting your own eyes. The good news is that clip-on sunglasses are available in children’s sizes from a number of retailers. Check first with wherever you purchased the prescription glasses to see if the manufacturer offers them. If not, again, measure the lens width and height and then search online.

SEE RELATED: 10 Tips for Buying Kids' Eyewear

So, are clip-on sunglasses right for you?

Clip-on sunglasses provide a convenient and inexpensive alternative to prescription sunglasses, which can cost several hundred dollars if you wear bifocals, trifocals or progressives. Getting a proper fit and fully blocking UV rays is essential but certainly possible, given the many manufacturers of the three types of clip-ons offered on the market — standard clip-ons, flip-ups and magnetic.

If you decide to go that route and already own a pair of prescription sunglasses, shop carefully to make sure your pair fits. If you are purchasing a new pair of prescription sunglasses, inquire if clip-ons are available from the same manufacturer. 

Whatever route you take — clip-on sunglasses or a separate pair of prescription sunglasses –– remember that the most important objective is to protect your eyes from the UV rays emanating from the sun while you're outside. It doesn’t hurt to be stylish as well, but not at the expense of your eye health.

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