Polarized vs non polarized sunglasses. Which is better?

Ah, sunglasses - our trusty sidekicks through bright days and those deceptively overcast ones where the sun still manages to ambush our eyes. But if you're looking for a new pair, you've likely been faced with the decision between polarized and non-polarized lenses.

In this blog post, you can settle this debate, lens by lens, so you can make an enlightened choice before your next optical investment. Whether you're a beach goer, skiing enthusiast, or someone who squints uncomfortably in daylight, this post sheds light on the polarized vs non-polarized sunglasses debate.

Let's dive in.

 

Visual comparison of water glare looking through polarised sunglasses and non polarised sunglasses

What are polarized sunglasses?

In addition to UV protection, polarized sunglasses also have the ability to drastically reduce eye strain by blocking blindingly harsh reflections known as glare. This prevents you having to squint to visually focus - all whilst improving color perception and visual acuity.

Polarized sunglasses aren't any more UV protective than non-polarized sunglasses. They simply improve visual comfort by blocking out harsh reflections of visible light.

The lenses can be made of Acrylic, TAC (acetate) CR39 (resin) or even mineral glass which are then darkened using hot liquid dyes.

Are all polarized sunglasses the same?

 

Illustration showing how polarised lenses block glare

How do polarized lenses work?

Polarized lenses contain a chemical filter (called a polarizer) which is either applied externally to each lenses' surface or sandwiched within two lens-layers. This very thin film hosts microscopic rows of molecules which are vertically aligned in relation to the sky and ground - similar to fence panels or prison bars.

When visible light waves bounce off something flat and and shiny like water, the light waves go from being randomly orientated to horizontally orientated making it strenuous to look towards. (This is known as glare.) But thanks to the vertically orientated polarizer filter, horizontally orientated light waves can't pass through.

This provides you with glare free vision, thus reducing the taxing effects on your eyes. For driving or water sports, polarized sunglasses are ideal for long durations of sun exposure.

 

 

What are non-polarized sunglasses?

Non-polarized sunglasses protect your eyes from invisible ultraviolet light consisting of UVA, UVB and UVC wavelengths. They're just as UV protective, but lack the same level of glare-blocking functionality of polarized lenses as they don't contain polarizer filters.

Non polarized sunglasses are typically cheaper and come in a wider variety of colors as the lenses are less intricate to manufacture.

 

A quick word on UV protection

Regardless of polarization, the primary purpose of any sunglasses frame is to protect your eyes from invisible UV light. To ensure your old or new sunglasses are UV protective, they should be at least CE marked.

CE marked sunglasses signify that the lenses block 99-100% of ultraviolet light ranging up to 380nm in compliance with European Standard EN 1836:2005.

UV400 marked sunglasses are also capable of blocking 99-100% of ultraviolet light, ranging slightly higher to 400nm. These are the most UV protective sunglasses lenses you can get.

 

Close side view of man wearing round polarized sunglasses frame

Are polarized sunglasses better for your eyes?

Polarized sunglasses are only better for reducing visible glare and subsequent eye-strain, but they're no better for your eyes than regular, non-polarized sunglasses. As long as your sunglasses provide 99-100% UV protection, the main advantage of polarized lenses is simply the improvement of your visual comfort.

However, polarized lenses do have more nuanced advantages and disadvantages which may affect your purchase decision. To get a full understand of these, check out the detailed lists written further below.

 

 

Advantages of polarized sunglasses

Protection from Harmful UV Rays: Like non-polarized sunglasses, polarized lenses offer protection against the harmful effects of UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. This is crucial for maintaining eye health, as prolonged exposure to these rays can lead to issues such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

Reduced Glare: The primary benefit of polarized sunglasses is their ability to significantly reduce glare from horizontal surfaces such as water, snow, and roads. This reduction in glare not only enhances visual comfort but also improves visual clarity and contrast, making outdoor activities more enjoyable and safer.

Improved Visual Comfort: Polarized lenses increase visual comfort by eliminating the need to squint in bright conditions. This can help reduce eye strain over long periods of sun exposure, making them ideal for driving, fishing, and participating in water sports.

Enhanced Clarity and Contrast: By filtering out horizontal light waves, polarized sunglasses enhance the clarity and contrast of your view. This allows for the natural beauty of your surroundings to appear more vivid and detailed, making them a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts and professional athletes alike.

Reduced Eye Strain: The reduction of glare and the enhancement of visual clarity can help minimize eye strain. People who wear polarized sunglasses often report fewer headaches and less eye fatigue, particularly after extended periods outdoors.

Better Perception of Depth and Color: Polarized sunglasses can enhance depth perception and the vibrancy of colors, providing a more immersive visual experience during activities like hiking, skiing, or sightseeing.

Overall, polarized sunglasses offer a compelling array of benefits for anyone spending time outdoors, particularly in environments where glare is a constant challenge. They combine essential eye protection with improved visual quality, making them a worthwhile investment for both casual wear and outdoor sports.

 

 

Disadvantages of polarized sunglasses

Difficulty Seeing LCD Screens: The polarization can interfere with the visibility of LCD screens on devices such as smartphones, GPS units, and some car dashboards, making it challenging to read them without tilting your head or removing the sunglasses.

Reduced Visibility in Low Light Conditions: In environments where light is already limited, such as driving through a tunnel or during dusk and dawn, polarized lenses can further reduce visibility, making it difficult to see.

Potential Misinterpretation of Snow and Ice Patterns: For skiers or those navigating icy conditions, polarized lenses can sometimes make it difficult to discern variations in snow and ice, leading to misjudgments in terrain.

Price: Polarized sunglasses typically come at a higher price point compared to non-polarized options, which may not be justifiable for everyone based on their specific needs and usage scenarios.

These aspects suggest that while polarized sunglasses offer significant benefits for outdoor activities, they may not be the best choice for everyone, depending on individual needs and the specific conditions in which they will be used.

 

 

Advantages of non-polarized sunglasses

Protection from Harmful UV Rays: Like polarized sunglasses, non-polarized lenses offer protection against the harmful effects of UVA, UVB, and UVC light.

More Affordable: Non-polarized sunglasses are generally less expensive than their polarized counterparts, making them a more budget-friendly option.

Wider Variety of Tints and Colors: They come in a broader range of tints and colors, offering more options for fashion and personal style.

Better Visibility in Low-Light Conditions: Non-polarized lenses can provide clearer visibility in low-light conditions, such as during dawn or dusk, compared to polarized lenses.

Unaltered Screen Visibility: These sunglasses do not interfere with the visibility of LCD and LED screens, making them suitable for use with smartphones, car dashboards, and ATMs.

Suitable for Flying: Pilots often prefer non-polarized sunglasses because they do not block the light from instrument panels, which can be crucial during flight operations.

Versatility for Various Activities: Non-polarized sunglasses are more versatile for a range of activities where polarized lenses might not be suitable, such as night driving or certain winter sports.

Non-polarized sunglasses provide advantages in affordability, variety, and specific use cases where polarization may not be beneficial or is even detrimental. Both types have their place, catering to different preferences and needs, ensuring everyone can find sunglasses that fit their lifestyle and activities.

 

 

Disadvantages of non-polarized sunglasses

Reduced Glare Reduction: Non-polarized lenses do not significantly reduce glare from reflective surfaces such as water, snow, or glass, which can cause eye strain and discomfort in bright conditions.

Less Effective for Water Sports and Activities: For activities involving water, such as fishing or boating, non-polarized sunglasses may not provide clear visibility beneath the surface due to their inability to filter out glare.

Potentially Higher Eye Strain: Because they allow more glare to reach the eyes, users might experience higher levels of eye strain, especially in very bright environments or when driving in sunny conditions.

Compromised Clarity: Without the glare reduction filtration, your clarity of vision may be compromised, making it harder to see subtle details and variations in your environment.

 

 

Is polarized worth the extra money?

On average, polarized sunglasses cost an additional 25% more than non-polarized equivalents. With exactly the same UV protection, their only benefit is improving your visual comfort. If you spend long durations in the sun for sports, water-based pastimes, hiking or driving, they can worth the extra money to reduce the onset of visual fatigue. Repeated glare exposure over several days or weeks put your eyes under tremendous strain, especially nearby water or snow.

Polarized sunglasses are definitely worth the extra money by eliminating glare, giving you sharper vision and better color perception. If you value superior vision, free from distracting reflections, they're certainly worth your investment.

 

Summary

  • Polarized sunglasses have an additional filter which blocks glare.
  • CE marked or UV400 polarized lenses also block UV light.
  • Non-polarized lenses don't block glare, but provide full UV protection.
  • Glare causes eye strain and compromised clarity in bright environments.
  • Polarized sunglasses generally cost about 25% more than non-polarized ones.
  • Polarized sunglasses are great for sports such as boating or hiking.
  • Polarized sunglasses are also great for driving, except on icy roads.
  • Polarized sunglasses darken LED and LCD screens.

 

Polarized sunglasses FAQ's

Man with long hair wearing blue jacket and round sunglasses frame outside on sunny day

Should I drive with polarized or non polarized sunglasses?

This depends on the weather conditions and season you're driving in. During winter, polarized sunglasses 'hide' icy patches on the road by blocking the glare being reflected off it. But for the very same reason, they can be fantastic for diminishing harsh reflections from surrounding snow or low level winter sun. During summer, this is less of an issue which generally makes polarized sunglasses a great choice for driving.

If road conditions are icy or patchy, then polarized sunglasses may not be a great idea. However, if the roads are devoid of ice and are perhaps just wet, then polarized sunglasses are definitely a great way to block glare, improve clarity and help color perception.

 

Why would anyone buy non polarized sunglasses?

Despite their benefits, non-polarized sunglasses may be preferable due to their lower average cost, wider range of tint color options and lack of digital screen interference. Regular UV protective lenses are simply more affordable and provide just the same level of UV protection. Furthermore, they don't darken or distort LED or LCD screens which some wearers' may prefer.

Furthermore, polarized sunglasses are known to cause nausea for certain people due to the way they filter visible light. You can read more about these side effects in this blog post.

 

 

Why do pilots wear non-polarized sunglasses?

Pilots wear non-polarized sunglasses because they need to be able to clearly see digital screens and instrument panels while flying. Polarized lenses often interfere with these screens, making them darker, distorted and more difficult for pilots to read critical information.

Furthermore, sunlight is less likely to become polarized whilst flying at altitude as there's no nearby surfaces to cause harsh reflections. For pilots, regular non-polarized lenses are the best option to preserve optimal vision for both inside and outside the flight deck.

Green tinted lenses are one of the most popular options for pilots, due their inherent glare-reducing properties. For more information about sunglasses lens color tints, check out this blog post.

 

Person cleaning tortoise sunglasses frame in white wash basin

What can ruin polarized sunglasses?

Like any sunglasses, polarized lenses should never be cleaned with abrasive materials or harsh chemicals. Either of these risk scratches, damaging the UV coatings or even delaminating the lenses where harsh cleaning solutions cause the lens layers to peel apart.

Furthermore, extremely hot temperatures can cause the frame and/or the lenses to warp. Hot car dashboards are a common culprit for this, where frames can become misshapen and polarized lenses can get so hot that they delaminate.

How to clean sunglasses properly.

 

Will toothpaste ruin polarized sunglasses?

Yes, toothpaste is not a recommended cleaning solution for polarized sunglasses. The abrasiveness of toothpaste will damage UV and anti scratch coatings making them cloudy and unsafe to wear. It's best to use lukewarm water with mild detergent such as dish soap and a microfiber cloth to gently clean your sunglasses and lenses.

If you experience stubborn marks on your sunglasses, immerse them in lukewarm water for extended periods to try and soften the dirt. Using the cloth, gently 'work' at the mark until it comes off the lens surface.

 

 

Does alcohol ruin polarized lenses?

Yes, harsh chemicals such as alcohol, acetate or domestic cleaners can damage the UV and anti-scratch coatings on polarized lenses. These chemicals will also strip off any other treatments or coatings applied to the lens, affecting the overall performance of your sunglasses.

It's best to stick with mild detergent and water when cleaning your polarized lenses, avoiding harsh chemicals at all costs.

 

Illustration of person holding sunglasses frame in front of iPhone screen to check if the lenses are polarised

How to tell if sunglasses are polarized

There are various methods to know if sunglasses are polarized, but the simplest way is to hold the sunglasses to a digital screen and rotate the frame whilst looking through the lenses. Depending on the angle, digital screens will turn completely black which indicates the lenses are blocking the polarized light emitted from the digital screen.

 

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please check out our other polarized sunglasses blog posts for more helpful advice.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

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