What are Rx sunglasses?
Prescription eyeglass-wearers might not be able to grab a pair of sunglasses off the supermarket shelf, but that doesn’t mean they’re short on options or affordability. Luckily, there’s an entire world of Rx sunglasses — another way of saying “prescription sunglasses” — to choose from.
Rx sunglasses combine the sharp vision of prescription eyeglasses with the total protection of sunglasses.
Before you can order prescription sunglasses, you’ll need an up-to-date vision prescription. An eye doctor can provide you with one as part of a comprehensive eye exam. Once your prescription is in hand, you’ll be able to order Rx sunglasses from any online or brick-and-mortar optical retailer.
Different types of Rx sunglass lenses
The lenses in Rx sunglasses can feature a combination of different materials and coatings. Each has its own purpose, suiting certain lifestyles, personal habits and work environments.
Materials and add-ons might seem overwhelming at first, but making informed choices can lead to safer, more comfortable lenses in the long run.
Popular lens options include:
Aside from standard plastic or glass materials, three of the most popular lens materials are polycarbonate, Trivex and high-index plastic.
Polycarbonate lenses use a material that’s strong and resistant to impact, making them a good fit for sports and other physical activities. The lightweight lenses are also up to 30% thinner than regular lenses.
Trivex, initially developed for military helicopter windshields, are also durable yet lightweight. However, Trivex lenses have a little less virtual distortion than polycarbonate, resulting in a slightly sharper field of view.
A downside of polycarbonate and Trivex lenses is that they tend to scratch easily. Depending on your lens and intended use, you may want to consider adding a scratch-resistant coating.
High-index lenses offer a thinner, lightweight alternative for people with a high degree of nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. These lenses bend light in a different way and require less lens material to correct your vision.
Choosing a lens material is far from the only way you can make a pair of Rx sunglasses your own. Polarized, photochromic and gradient coatings help you further customize the function of your frames.
Polarized lenses are excellent at reducing glare, making them a solid option for those who spend a considerable amount of time near water, snow or other reflective surfaces.
People who fish, participate in summer or winter sports, or simply want to drive more comfortably on a sunny day may all be able to benefit from polarized Rx sunglasses.
As valuable as polarization can be, it’s important to keep their effect on digital screens in mind. Any type of polarized sunglasses can make it hard to see the backlit displays on devices like:
Digital car dashboard controls
Photochromic lenses (also known as transition lenses) automatically get darker when they’re exposed to sunlight. In addition to offering the convenience of a single pair of sunglasses instead of two separate frames, their Rx lenses ensure your eyes are never exposed to too much of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
When possible, it can be a good idea to test photochromic lenses before you buy them, since some lens brands take longer to darken than others. Many lenses also have difficulty darkening inside vehicles (or will not darken at all).
Gradient lens finishes usually have a darker shading at the top of the lens, compared to the bottom. This can also be called a “single gradient.”
Gradient lens coating can be useful for cutting the glare from a bright sky, with a clearer view lower in your field of vision. For this reason, gradient lenses are popular for driving, since the unshaded bottom half allows a clear view of the dashboard.
Double-gradient lenses, on the other hand, utilize a darker tint on the top and bottom of the lens, but a lighter one in the middle.
Unlike polarized lenses, gradient Rx lenses will not reduce the glare from water or snow.
Rx sunglasses can also have a reflective mirrored finish — thin layers of metallic coating on regular lenses. These lenses reflect and reduce visible light, but still require full UV protection to safeguard your eyes from the sun.
How Rx sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays
When you hear “sunglasses” and “UV,” you probably think of summer. But ultraviolet protection can be just as useful during other seasons, too. Under the right conditions, snow can reflect as much as 80% of sunlight, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
UV protection is an important part of any pair of sunglasses — prescription or not. Overexposure to the sun’s UV radiation can increase your risk of developing certain eye conditions, including:
These risks can be even more pronounced for children, since their eyes are more sensitive to UV and are exposed to about three times more radiation as the adult eye, according to the Vision Impact Institute.
Other people at risk for sun-related problems include those who spend long hours in the sun, have certain retinal disorders, have had cataract surgery, or take medications that increase sensitivity to light.
Double check your UV protection
Rx sunglasses with 100% UV protection, along with other measures like brimmed hats, can help protect your eyes from potentially harmful rays. In many cases, 100% UV protection is a standard feature; but it never hurts to double check.
In terms of UV protection, the best Rx sunglasses should block 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. This can also be advertised as “100% protection against UV 400,” “UV absorption up to 400 nm,” or a similar phrase.
While UVB rays are usually seen as the more harmful form of UV, both UVA and UVB rays can increase your risk of developing the eye conditions listed earlier.
Cheap Rx sunglasses can be just as effective in blocking UV as their more expensive counterparts — as long as they offer genuine 100% UV protection. In fact, a 2019 study published in Optometry and Vision Science found that the effectiveness of UV filtering in sunglasses did not correlate with the price of the lenses.
If you’re concerned about the amount of UV protection in your sunglasses, an optical shop may be able to use a device called a UV light meter to test the effectiveness of the lenses.
Affordable Rx sunglasses are available online
While countless brick-and-mortar stores offer high-quality Rx sunglasses with complete UV protection, you can get just as much browsing done from the comfort of your couch. These days, online retailers offer an astronomical number of styles, brand names, and lens options to fit anyone’s taste.
Some of these online retailers include:
EyeBuyDirect offers exclusive sunglass designs with affordable price tags.
Zenni Optical is a similar alternative, also featuring exclusive frame designs with discount prices.
Frames Direct focuses more on name brands like Oakley, Ray-Ban and Coach.
Wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club sell Rx sunglasses online and in-store. While customers don’t typically need a membership to get an eye exam, they will need one to buy sunglasses.
Major optical retailers like LensCrafters and VisionWorks also sell a wide selection of frame designs both online and in-store.
While optional features like anti-reflective coating or a designer brand name can bring up the overall price, you won’t have to look too hard to find Rx sunglasses for under $100.
The total price of your sunglasses will depend on factors like:
And remember, you will need a valid vision prescription from an eye doctor to complete any orders.
Using vision insurance for sunglasses
If you have vision insurance, some or all of the cost of prescription sunglasses could be covered. Many plans will cover either glasses or contact lenses every calendar year, but have a dollar limit to how much they’ll reimburse you.
When available, those who have already used this year’s benefits can purchase their sunglasses with funds from their Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA). These accounts allow people to set aside money for certain medical expenses without being taxed.
Some plans may not include Rx sunglasses as part of their coverage. For more information about coverage and eligibility, check with your insurance provider.
SEE RELATED: Using an HSA or FSA for vision expenses
Clear, safe vision with sunglasses made just for you
If you wear prescription eyeglasses, putting on a pair of sunglasses doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice clear eyesight. With a little research and careful browsing, made-to-order Rx sunglasses will be fully correcting your vision while they keep harmful UV rays at bay.
READ MORE: Our guide to prescription sunglasses
Page updated January 2021