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Are expensive sunglasses actually better than cheap ones?

weighing the cost vs value for eyeglasses

Expensive sunglasses may look great, but aside from the price tag, is there really that much of a difference between designer sunglasses and that $5 pair at the souvenir shop? 

As long as they both provide 100% UV protection, no. In many cases, that jacked-up price is for the name rather than any real functional improvements.

You face a tougher “more affordable vs. pricey” sunnies question if you’re wearing prescription glasses to correct your vision. You definitely need sunglasses. But, do you need prescription sunglasses, which will unquestionably cost more than those souvenir shop shades?

Before you splurge on a new designer style or grab some cheap sunglasses while you’re in line at the checkout counter, let’s take a look at the differences between cheap and expensive sunglasses so you can make an informed decision. 

EXPLORE YOUR SUNGLASSES OPTIONS: Shop for sunglasses at an optical store near you or at an online eyewear retailer. 

Do cheap sunglasses protect your eyes?

Whether you’re on a budget, you don’t require a prescription, or you’re worried about misplacing or breaking expensive sunglasses, a cheaper option usually feels like a good choice. 

But do cheap sunglasses actually block harmful ultraviolet rays

Actually, yes… and maybe not. The FDA tests sunglasses to make sure they block UVA (400–320nm) and UVB (320–290nm) light, and most shades do effectively block both UVA and UVB light. 

However... 

The FDA test results are only applicable to light entering through the front of the lenses. Sunlight still manages to hit the eyes from other angles, so more than just that promise of UV protection needs to be taken into consideration.

To effectively protect those baby blues (or browns, greens, etc.) and the sensitive skin surrounding them, the size of your new shades is important. 

Plus, the lenses will need an anti-reflective (AR) coating to further shield your eyes from those brutal reflections off the back and front of your lenses. The bad news: Most cheaper sunglasses don’t include this coating.

At the end of the day, some UV protection is better than none. So, if you’re looking for some backup sunglasses or an emergency pair, look for a label that says “100% protection against both UVA and UVB” or “100% protection against UV 400.” 

If you're not sure how much UV protection your existing lenses provide, take them to an eye doctor or optical store near you to be analyzed.

Are designer sunglasses better?

When you’re paying hundreds of dollars for fashionable designer sunglasses, you’re also getting high-quality frames and state-of-the-art lenses, right?

Not always.

It’s true that expensive sunglasses tend to have more durable frames, better design and a more comfortable fit. But they often offer the same shortcomings as cheaper sunwear.

The trouble is, the price of your fancy sunglasses isn’t always an indication of quality. And sometimes you’re simply paying for the designer name.

It’s up to you to ensure that those pricey sunnies are also keeping your eyes safe. A true indication of high-quality sunglasses is the lenses and whether or not they offer adequate shade and UV protection. 

To ensure your money is well spent, ask your sunwear provider to recommend sunglasses that feature impact-resistant frames and lenses with backside AR coating as well as adequate coverage. 

Ensuring your snazzy shades include this extra sun protection may raise the price tag, but it’s worth it to safeguard your vision.

Are polarized lenses worthwhile? 

Chances are, if you’ve spent time shopping around for quality sunglasses, you’re aware of polarized lenses. But maybe you’re wondering just how effective they really are or if they’re right for you.

Polarized lenses have a special coating that filters reflected sunshine that otherwise intensifies glare and haze. This reduces eye strain, improves clarity and makes outdoor activities safer and more comfortable for your eyes.

While these coated lenses may be a big advantage for driving and fishing, they’re not the best choice for all activities. 

For example, the American Academy of Ophthalmology advises against wearing polarized lenses when viewing LCD (liquid crystal display) screens, such as car dashboard controls, ATMs, smartphones and watches. They’re also not ideal for all outdoor activities. Talk to an eye care professional if you’re unsure whether they’re right for you.

Photochromic lenses are another convenient option for keeping your eyes comfortable and shielded from the sun, and there are even photochromic polarized lenses now. These lenses are clear (or nearly clear) indoors and darken (and polarize if that’s what you opt for) automatically when exposed to sunlight.

Also, keep in mind that UV protection, polarized and photochromic lenses are separate features, so make sure your sunwear includes both if you decide on polarized and/or photochromic sunwear. 

Should you get prescription sunglasses? 

If you’re dependent on corrective eyewear, opting for prescription sunglasses is unquestionably a great idea if you’re willing and able to spend the money. (And it doesn’t even have to be a lot of money. There are plenty of online options that won’t break the bank.)

Wearing prescription shades helps keep your vision both clear and protected, especially during everyday activities like driving which exposes your vision to harmful glare and UV rays.

Prescription sunglasses will almost always cost more than plano (non-corrective) shades since you’ll be paying not only for the frames but also the specialty lenses. That, and the cheaper/less durable the frames, the less likely they’ll adequately house your corrective lenses (nor would you want them to… why spend the extra dollars on prescription lenses if the frames aren’t going to last).

And as with cheap, designer, polarized, photochromic and all other sunwear, be sure your prescription sunglass lenses include UV protection, anti-reflective coating, shield both your eyes and the skin around them, etc. 

Prescription sunglasses don’t automatically mean better sunglasses. So do your research, ask questions and invest in your vision and eye health.

Bottom line: When it comes to sunglasses that offer the best protection from the sun, your eye safety is always worth the additional investment. 

WANT EXPERT ADVICE ABOUT PRESCRIPTION SUNWEAR: Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you.

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