Polarized sunglasses have been popular for years with boaters and fishermen who need to reduce reflected glare from the water surrounding them. But now that many others who spend time outdoors have discovered the benefits of polarized lenses, interest in these types of sunglasses has soared.
Besides boaters, outdoor enthusiasts who benefit the most from polarized sunglasses include skiers, bikers, golfers and joggers since all of these activities require the elimination of glare for optimum safety and performance.
Polarized sunglasses can be helpful for driving, too, because they reduce glare-causing reflections from flat surfaces, such as the hood of the car or the road's surface.
How Do Polarized Lenses Work?
Light usually scatters in all directions; but when it's reflected from flat surfaces, it tends to become polarized — meaning it travels in a more uniform (usually horizontal) direction. This creates an annoying and sometimes dangerous intensity of reflected light that causes glare and reduces visibility.
Polarized sunglasses provide superior glare protection — especially on the water.
Polarized lenses contain a special filter that blocks this type of intense reflected light, reducing glare.
Though polarized sunglasses improve comfort and visibility, you will encounter some instances when these lenses may not be advisable. One example is downhill skiing, where you don't want to block light reflecting off icy patches because this alerts skiers to hazards they are approaching.
In addition, polarized lenses may reduce the visibility of images produced by liquid crystal displays (LCDs) or light-emitting diode displays (LEDs) found on the dashboards of some cars or in other places such as the digital screens on automatic teller machines and self-service gas pumps.
With polarized lenses, you also may be unable to see your cell phone or GPS device.
Boaters and pilots also have reported similar problems when viewing LCD displays on instrument panels, which can be a crucial issue when it comes to making split-second decisions based strictly on information displayed on a panel. (Some manufacturers of these devices have changed their products to solve the problem, but many have not yet done so.)
However, for most other sports and activities, polarized sunglasses offer great advantages. And today, many polarized lenses are available in combination with other features that can enhance outdoor experiences.
Polarized Sunglasses: Other Considerations
Polarized sunglasses with progressive lenses are a good choice for presbyopes who spend significant time outdoors.
And polarized sunglasses with photochromic lenses are a great choice for anyone who is frequently in and out of the sun on any given day.
For the best comfort and performance with any polarized sunglasses, ask your eye care professional about having anti-reflective coating applied to the backside of the lenses. This will eliminate distracting reflections when the sun is behind you (and can potentially reflect off the back surface of the lenses and into your eyes).
Whether you spend your time waterskiing or boating, in-line skating or mountain biking, driving or jogging, polarized sunglasses may be the right choice to help you enjoy your life outdoors.
Burt Dubow, OD, also contributed to this article.
Page updated February 2018