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Cheap sunglasses: Benefits and drawbacks

a pair of cheap sunglasses on sale inside of a shopping cart

We need sunglasses for many reasons, most obviously to protect our eyes from the sun’s glare and increase our visibility on bright sunny days. Will cheap sunglasses meet those basic needs, or is it necessary to invest in expensive sunglasses?

Knowing more about the benefits and drawbacks of cheap vs. expensive sunglasses can help you find the perfect pair to fit both your personality and your budget. 

Benefits of cheap sunglasses

Are you the forgetful type — forever misplacing things? Cheap sunglasses to the rescue! You can easily justify stashing a pair of affordable eyewear in your car, purse, briefcase, desk and kitchen. 

There are multiple places where you can get sunglasses online in sets of three, four or five pairs. Some sites even offer cheap Oakley sunglasses, discounted designer brands such as Versace and cheap Ray-Ban sunglasses online — typically from a past season or a discontinued line.

Protect your eyes from the sun

If you’re shopping for new sunglasses — with or without prescription lenses — your first priority should be to protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. That’s because extended exposure to UV radiation can cause issues to develop later in life, including cataracts and macular degeneration

Ideally, sunglasses you choose should block between 99% and 100% of UV rays, and believe it or not, they don’t have to be expensive to provide this level of protection. 

Certain budget-friendly options can help you get the same look for less than you’d pay for higher-end sun protection — frequently offering identical UVA/UVB protection as the pricier shades. Some even let you customize with anti-reflective coating and other glare-reducing treatments for not too much of an added cost.

A good place to start might be zeroUV, a company that's made a name for itself over the past 20 years by offering a huge range of sunglasses designs with full UV protection at an affordable price, typically less than $15 a pair.

READ MORE: Do cheap sunglasses protect your eyes as well as the expensive brands?

Say goodbye to searching

The upside of not investing your hard-earned cash in expensive sunglasses is experiencing less distress when they break or get lost. How many times have you driven off and realized you’ve just left your favorite sunglasses at a checkout counter or a friend’s house? 

Losing a pair of cheap frames from the drugstore will cause a lot less heartache than misplacing designer or brand-name sunglasses for which you’ve paid big bucks.

The same argument holds for those with a history of breaking frames when they get thrown in the abyss of your purse or briefcase, only to emerge in multiple pieces. It’s times such as those you’ll be thankful you have numerous pairs in reserve. 

The more sunglasses you have, the better the chances that you’ll locate a pair when you need them.

Sunglasses as fashion accessories

If you’re a fashion-forward type, you can build a collection of cheap, chic shades available in a vast variety of styles from both department stores and boutiques. Go for the glam with faux rhinestones or look hipster with mirrored lenses. Have fun with it! 

Just about any style you can imagine can be found for less than $25, so no need to hide your shades in a glasses case when you’ve left the sunny outdoors. Use them to hold your hair back or hang them from your collar to step up your style. 

When (and usually it is just a matter of when) your discount sunglasses break, or the lenses become excessively scratched, there’s no need to stress about pouring several hundred dollars down the drain. 

While some might argue that it’s cheaper in the long run to invest in expensive sunglasses, owning just one pair makes it challenging to keep up with changing trends in fashion.

SEE RELATED: How many pairs of sunglasses do you need?

Drawbacks of cheap sunglasses

Discount sunglasses may offer benefits in terms of cost and convenience, but there are multiple drawbacks to consider, including concerns about poor fit and breakability. 

As for UV protection, even if you can find low-priced sunglasses online that provide maximum UV protection, your design options may be limited. In lower price brackets, you’ll often find that sunglasses either have good quality lenses or sufficiently durable frames, but it may be difficult to find both. 

Be mindful that cheaper fashion sunglasses may not offer maximum UV protection and can even create eye strain and fatigue if they don’t fit well (though there are, of course, exceptions, as noted above). 

Prescription sunglasses aren’t cheap

If you wear prescription glasses, getting a pair of prescription sunglasses may be a great option that lets you avoid having to wear separate contact lenses and shades. Prescription sunglasses protect your eyes from the damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun, while keeping your vision crystal clear — with one convenient device. 

But how much do prescription sunglasses cost? The answer: It depends. 

Just as with any corrective eyewear, pricing is generally determined by a variety of factors, including the frame design and materials that you prefer, lens quality and even the popularity of certain fashionable styles.

While you can find options as low as $20 and as high as $700 (or more!), the average cost of prescription sunglasses is between $150 and $500. Adding polarized lenses to the setup can also bump up the cost — though that may be worth it to you for the increased glare reduction.

Luckily, many vision insurance plans will offer a fixed annual allowance for the purchase of prescription sunglasses. If you’re fortunate enough to have vision insurance, check with your carrier to confirm any copay amounts, maximum out-of-pocket amounts or restrictions for sunglasses. 

Combining fashion and durability is expensive

Quality lenses with chic, durable frames can result in a hefty price tag — and all the more so when they sport a high-profile designer’s logo. However, if you’ve invested in a pair of name-brand shades such as Ray-Ban or Oakley, they may be more likely to include a manufacturer's warranty against breakage and lens damage.

Many companies will either repair or replace their sunglasses at little or no cost, provided you submit a valid receipt. Check with your manufacturer to see if there is an authorized dealer in your area or if you need to send your frames away to be repaired. Some opticians can also repair and service major brands that they carry in their stock. 

Unfortunately, repairing your inexpensive sunglasses is rarely an option when they break, bend or incur scratches on the lenses. Just remind yourself that you purchased these as a low-cost fashion accessory and don’t be tempted to wear them in poor condition. Ill-fitting or damaged frames or lenses can cause visual strain and possibly increase the risk of injury to your eyes. 

Bottom line, when low-cost sunglasses break, it’s best to just dispose of them and celebrate the fact that you have plenty of other pairs to choose from. 

Cheap sunglasses and sports don’t always mix 

If you lead an active lifestyle, those fun fashion frames purchased at a discount may not offer the durability or impact resistance needed to protect your eyes during contact sports.

Some specialty retailers and online stores offer sunglasses designed to withstand intense outdoor activities — and their associated projectiles — but be prepared to pay handsomely. Some command prices upwards of $300 (and that’s for non-prescription lenses). 

If you enjoy fishing, kayaking or other water sports, sunglasses with polarized lenses may be your best option. They block glare, making it easier to see when the sun’s rays intensify and reflect off the water and nearby surfaces. 

Sunglasses straps and lanyards are popular options among athletes who need help keeping their sunglasses positioned correctly. These are also helpful for runners, who sometimes experience irritation and chafing around their eyes and on their temples as a result of their sunglasses being jostled as they move. 

Unfortunately, many types of cheap sports sunglasses aren’t able to withstand the tension needed to keep those straps — and the attached sunglasses — securely in place. 

LEARN MORE: Wear sports sunglasses to control light and boost your performance

Options, options, options

After thoroughly researching the pros and cons of cheap sunglasses — and taking an honest look at your finances — arm yourself with the facts and decide what works best for you. 

Not ready to shell out the big bucks for expensive sunglasses? Consider the fun alternative of cheap sunglasses. While they may not offer all the benefits of high-end options, they come in a massive selection of designs and styles, so you’re sure to find a pair that suits you. Plus, there’s limited stress when they become damaged or break. 

Find a healthy balance between expressing your style and protecting your eyes and vision. Start building your collection of hip new sunglasses styles today. 

READY TO SHOP? Learn how to pick the best sunglasses for your face shape

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