How Do Polarized Sunglasses Work?: Everything You Need to Know

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Quality sunglasses can be an expensive investment. When shopping for a pair of new sunglasses, you might ask questions like, "How do polarized sunglasses work?" Or, "Which sunglasses have the best UV-protection?" Knowing the answers to these questions can help you make an informed purchase.

Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important job is to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Not only with this protection save your vision from damage, but it can also prevent signs of aging like wrinkles around the eyes. However, not all sunglasses are created equal. And this is especially true when it comes to the different types of lenses.

How Do Polarized Sunglasses Work?

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If you're shopping for a pair of high-quality sunglasses, you might be wondering, "How do polarized sunglasses work?" Polarized sunglasses are a popular type of sunglasses, especially for sports and driving. The primary function of polarized sunglasses is to block the glare from reflective surfaces like a body of water, car, and more.

In order to answer the question of how do polarized sunglasses work, we must first look at the polarization of light. In general, light scatters in all directions. But when light reflects off of a bright, flat surface, the wavelengths can line up and travel in one direction. This uniform line of wavelengths is extremely intense and is known as polarized light.

Polarized sunglasses include a special filter that, typically, only allows vertically polarized light waves to pass through the lens. Since most reflective surfaces are horizontal to the wearer, this lens blocks the blinding glares from ice, water, and more.

What’s the Difference Between Polarized Lenses and Tinted Lenses?

To the naked eye, polarized and tinted lenses can look identical. But as we mentioned above when answering, "How do polarized sunglasses work?", polarized sunglasses feature a special filter that blocks horizontal glare. This filter comes in the form of practically invisible, horizontal slats in the polarized lenses. Plain tinted lenses do not have these filters.

However, things can get tricky when shopping for sunglasses. While tinted lenses aren't necessarily polarized, many polarized lenses have a tint. Make sure to double-check the sunglasses you plan to purchase for polarization, UV-protection, and other important features.

When shopping for a pair of new sunglasses, remember that tint intensity and color don't have any effect on a pair of lenses' UV-blocking capabilities. Polarized sunglasses also aren't guaranteed to have adequate UV-protection. Your sunglasses' ability to block UV light is completely independent of whether they have polarized, tinted, or another type of lens.

What Thickness of Polarized Lens is Right for You?

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Generally, polarized sunglasses come in two different thicknesses. But when asking, "How do polarized sunglasses work?" lens thickness has nothing to do with how much light or UV rays pass through the lens. The only difference is how resistant the lenses are against falls or impacts.

The most common thicknesses of polarized lenses are 1.1-millimeter and 0.75-millimeter. This measurement refers to the thickness of each individual lens. Whether you opt for 1.1-millimeter or 0.75-millimeter lenses, the level of polarization will be the same.

For most sunglass wearers, 0.75-millimeter lenses are more than sufficient. But if you're shopping for a pair of polarized sunglasses to wear during sports or other vigorous activities, then you might want to invest in a pair of 1.1-millimeter lenses. While there is no guarantee that these thicker lenses won't break from a fall, the chances are much lower than with a pair of 0.75-millimeter glasses.

The Best Uses for Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized lenses are useful for any sunglasses wearer who struggles with an unwanted glare. However, polarized sunglasses are also one of the most popular options for sportsmen and other active people. If you're in an environment with an intense glare, such as on open water, these lenses can drastically increase visibility. And if your ability to see and react is important, even a slight reduction in glare could improve your performance.

Many sunglasses marketed for sports or outdoor activities feature polarized lenses. However, don't assume that a new pair of sunglasses is polarized just because it says "for sports." Always check product specifications or use our simple trick in the section below to discover whether or not your sunglasses are polarized.


Fishing

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Fishing might be one of the most popular uses for polarized sunglasses. If you've spent any amount of time on a lake, river, or even fishing out of a creek, you know how reflective the water can be. On a sunny day, the glare from the water's surface can hurt your eyes and prevent you from seeing your line.

Since the glare from water is almost always horizontal to the wearer, polarized sunglasses are a great solution to this problem. Fishing is one of the most popular sports on the water. But these lenses are also an excellent option for boating, jet skiing, and any other water activities.

Running

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If you're an off-road or trail runner, then polarized sunglasses might not make much of a difference. Many trail runners spend much of their time under the cover of trees. When they're out in the open, their surroundings present little risk for glare. But for the average road runner, polarized sunglasses can make a huge difference.

One of the biggest risks for road runners is their proximity to moving cars. The more you can see while you're running, the better you can identify and avoid potential dangers. Since roads, buildings, sidewalks, and the cars themselves can produce blinding glare, choosing a polarized pair of running glasses is an excellent investment.

Sports

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Whether you play tennis, baseball, golf, or any other outdoor sport, polarized lenses are a great tool. Certain types of turf can give off intense glare. And when you're trying to maneuver around teammates or track a ball, visibility is crucial.

When shopping for a pair of polarized sports sunglasses, durability is important. The last thing you want to deal with is a piece of broken glass around your eyes after a bad collision or fall. Some fashion sunglasses include polarized lenses, but we always recommend investing in a pair of sports-specific glasses instead.

How to Know if Your Lenses Are Polarized

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When shopping for sunglasses, you can normally tell whether or not a pair is polarized by looking at the label. But there are also countless situations where this information might be unavailable or inaccurate. If you're looking at budget sunglasses, there's always a chance that they don't actually use polarized lenses. If you find an old pair of sunglasses that you want to wear again, you might not remember if they were polarized or not. And if you enjoy shopping for vintage accessories, you probably won't be able to find accurate specs for your new purchase.

Fortunately, there are several easy ways to check for polarization in a pair of sunglasses. As we mentioned when answering the question of how do polarized sunglasses work, these lenses feature invisible, parallel lines throughout each pair of sunglasses. While some light can pass through the spaces between these lines, they otherwise block it. Simply lining up your sunglasses with another polarized object allows you to see if the lenses are, in fact, polarized.

1

Method one

The first method requires that you have access to a second pair of sunglasses that you know are polarized. Simply hold the two pairs of sunglasses at a 90-degree angle to each other. If the lenses turn black, then both pairs of sunglasses feature polarization. If not, then the unknown pair is, unfortunately, not polarized.

That's a quick and easy method you can use in a boutique or thrift store where you have access to several pairs of glasses. You can also use this method at home, but you must own a second pair of glasses that you can confirm are polarized. If you don't have an extra pair of polarized sunglasses around, then you can try our second method below.

2

Method two

Most modern computer screens use their own version of polarization to prevent unwanted glare. You can use this polarized screen the exact same way you would use a second pair of sunglasses. Simply rotate the sunglasses in question 90-degrees to the computer screen and watch for a darkened lens.

Sunglass Warehouse offers a video demonstration of this technique. If you own an LCD television, the same technique also applies. It can be a quick and convenient way to learn if a pair of sunglasses features polarization.

The Pros and Cons of Polarized Sunglasses

When looking at the pros of polarized sunglasses, the most obvious is the reduction in glare. This feature can make spending time outdoors more comfortable and improve visibility for sports. If you enjoy spending time outside, then purchasing a quality pair of polarized sunglasses is probably a good investment.

Of course, polarized sunglasses also come with a few cons. Some sources claim that polarized sunglasses are more expensive than non-polarized ones. While this might be true on average, you shouldn't lose hope if you're on a budget. Plenty of affordable polarized sunglasses are available on the market.

While polarized sunglasses are great at blocking glare, this isn't always a benefit. In some situations, like skiing or driving in winter, the wearer actually needs to see ice and other dangerous obstacles. Polarized sunglasses can also present other issues with driving. If your vehicle uses LCD displays on the dashboard or elsewhere, they may be unreadable when wearing polarized glasses.

Another thing to remember is that polarized lenses don't always include UV-protection. If you're spending time outdoors, you will need additional sun protection to avoid damage to your skin and eyes. When shopping for a new pair of sunglasses, we recommend selecting a pair that includes both polarization and at least 99-percent UV-blocking.

Are Polarized Sunglasses Always the Best Option?

Polarized sunglasses can be an excellent option for reducing unwanted glare from water, cars, and other reflective surfaces. But should you always reach for a pair of polarized lenses? The answer is no.

Your top priority when shopping for a pair of sunglasses is the level of UV-protection they provide. When most people think of sun exposure, they think of the formation of age spots and wrinkles. But the damage caused by UV rays can be much more severe. The World Health Organization claims that around 20-percent of cataracts are a direct result of excess UV exposure. Connections have also been made between sun exposure and conditions causing temporary vision loss.

Since polarization does nothing to block harmful UV rays, this type of sunglasses isn't always the best option. So before splurging on a new pair of polarized lenses, first ensure that they include at least 99 percent UV-protection. Fortunately, many sunglasses are available that feature both polarization and adequate protection from the sun.

How Do Polarized Sunglasses Work?: Choosing Function Over Fashion

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No matter what pair of sunglasses you choose, remember that they are not just a trendy fashion accessory. Quality sunglasses can protect your eyes and skin from irreversible aging and physical damage. Protection and style can certainly go hand-in-hand. But you also shouldn't sacrifice your personal safety for a trendy pair of sunglasses.

Learning the answer to how do polarized sunglasses work, as well as the difference between polarization and UV-protection, should help you make a more informed decision on your next sunglasses purchase. With this knowledge at hand, you can find a pair of sunglasses that is both comfortable to wear and resistant against UV rays.

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