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Are polarized sunglasses right for you?

The glare-reducing perks of polarized lenses

Polarized sunglasses are known for their ability to block the glare that reflects off of certain surfaces. This makes them very popular among people who spend a lot of time outdoors, on the road and around bodies of water.

But polarized sunglasses aren't just for people who love boating, fishing or lounging on the beach. Anyone who is bothered by outdoor glare can benefit from this type of sunglass lens.

Polarized sunglasses can be helpful for driving too, since they reduce the glare that reflects off of cars and light-colored pavement.

Some light-sensitive people, including those who have recently had cataract surgery, can also benefit from polarized lenses.

What does "polarized" mean?

When a lens is polarized, it has a built-in filter that blocks bright, reflected light. This intense light is known as glare.

When glare is reduced, your eyes feel more comfortable and you can see your surroundings more clearly.

Sunlight scatters in all directions. But when it strikes flat surfaces, the reflected light tends to become polarized, meaning the reflected rays travel in a more uniform (usually horizontal) direction.

This creates an annoying, sometimes dangerous intensity of light that can reduce visibility.

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Polarized sunglasses provide superior glare protection — especially on the water.

Comparing polarized to non-polarized lenses

Polarized sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses offer a few advantages when it comes to combating bright sunlight:

  • Excellent glare reduction around bodies of water

  • Better visibility while you're driving

  • More vibrant colors and contrast among outdoor scenery

People who spend a lot of time driving during the day should experience better comfort and visibility with polarized glasses. That, in turn, can help them drive more safely and confidently.

However, keep in mind that drivers, boaters and pilots may experience problems seeing certain digital displays on instrument panels while they're wearing polarized sunglasses. This can be a problem if a split-second decision depends on the information displayed on a screen.

Non-polarized sunglasses

Polarized lenses may improve comfort and visibility, but you can come across situations when polarized lenses aren't the best idea.

During downhill skiing, for example, you want to be able to see the bright glare reflecting off of icy patches, so you can steer clear of them.

As mentioned, polarized lenses can also reduce the visibility of images on certain digital screens.

In addition to in-vehicle displays, other devices include:

  • Cell phones and tablets

  • Computers and laptops

  • Gas station pumps

  • ATMs

Polarized sunglasses don't have too many downsides, but it's still important to weigh the pros and cons. If polarization will make operating devices or vehicles difficult — or dangerous — switch to a non-polarized alternative.

SEE RELATED: Polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses

Other things to consider

Progressive lenses can include polarization too. These can be handy accessories for people over 40 who spend a lot of time outdoors.

Polarized sunglasses with photochromic lenses can also be convenient for eyeglass-wearers who are in and out of the sun on any given day.

To bump up comfort and performance, ask your eye care professional about adding anti-reflective coating to each lens. This coating reduces distracting reflections from the back surface of your lenses.

And remember, not all polarized sunglasses offer complete protection from UV rays. Always double-check that your sunglasses — whether polarized or otherwise — block 100% of UV rays, including both UVA and UVB.

Finding the right polarized sunglasses for you

The first step toward the best possible vision with polarized lenses is to schedule an eye exam.

If you have even a small amount of refractive error, correcting your outdoor vision with prescription polarized sunglasses will help you see as clearly and comfortably as possible during the day.

READ MORE: A complete guide to sunglasses


Adam Debrowski also contributed to this article.

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