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Antireflective or anti-scratch? Photochromic or polarized? Here’s what it all means — and how to choose the right lens coatings for you
Frames are fun. But the heart and soul of your eyeglasses are the lenses.
Think about it: All of those lens coatings your eye doctor talked about in the exam room aren’t there for the “wow” factor. They’re there to protect your vision—and your investment.
“Glasses are a medical device, and the most important part of your purchase is the lens,” says Stephanie Zielenkievicz, a senior manager for America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses. “The lens you select will be unique to your eye, so it shouldn’t be an afterthought. It’s what you’ll be looking through every day.”
The newest generation of lens coatings can enhance visual acuity, reduce eyestrain, filter blue light, and increase lens durability. Which is why setting aside a portion of your total eyewear budget for lens extras makes good sense.
When weighing your options to decide the right lens coatings for you, Zielenkievicz suggests keeping three things in mind: the visual tasks that make up the bulk of your day, your lifestyle, and your expectations.
Your eye doctor and the pros at America’s Best can help you land on the ideal lens treatments for you. Here’s a guide to all of the options.
Another essential part of eye care? Regular eye exams. Find an appointment that fits your schedule!
1. Antireflective (AR) Coating
Role: Eliminates reflections on the front and back side of lenses.
Pros: Reduces glare and allows more light to pass through, enhancing vision (especially at night) and reducing eyestrain.
There is a cosmetic benefit as well. AR coatings make lenses look nearly invisible, which means no funky flashes of glare in photos, as well as better eye contact in general.
Cons: Lenses with AR coatings scratch more easily and may not be the best choice for construction workers or others who spend a lot of time in dusty or debris-heavy environments.
Bottom line: AR coatings are a good option for people whose day involves a lot of face-to-face time with others. Teachers, fitness trainers, doctors—you know who you are! They’re also worth considering if you struggle to see well at night or when using a computer.
The America’s Best NeverGlare Advantage anti-reflective lens coating costs less than $100 for two pairs.
2. Scratch-Resistant Coating
Role: Hardens the front and back surface of lenses and puts an extra barrier between your glasses and the elements.
Pros: Provides a buffer against nicks and dings. Did you know, for example, that every time you drag a paper towel across the surface of your lens to clean it or set your glasses lens-side down on a table, you are risking a scratch?
Today, many lenses already feature a built-in coating, including the high-index Verithin lenses offered at America’s Best. But for ones that don’t, such as our best-value plastic (CR-39) lens, it’s an option worth looking into. Check with your optician to make sure you are covered.
Cons: Scratch-resistant coatings won’t protect your lenses from major impacts, so you’ll still need to treat your glasses with care.
Bottom line: Eyeglasses are an investment, so consider a scratch-resistant coating as an insurance policy. Bonus: It’s part of our popular lens coating bundle that includes UV protection, tinting (optional), plus a one-year Product Protection Plan for less than $100 on two pairs.
3. Ultraviolet Protection
Role: Acts as sunblock for the eyes.
Pros: Adding a UV coating to a clear or tinted lens (yes, some “sunglasses” don’t offer UV protection!) stops the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays from entering the eye.
It’s an easy and relatively inexpensive step that can help prevent serious eye problems, including age-related cataracts and macular degeneration—two of the leading causes of vision loss—and retinal damage.
Because of increased awareness of sun damage, UV protection is built into the majority of lenses offered at America’s Best. That includes the lightweight and durable polycarbonate lenses we put in all of our children’s eyeglasses.
Cons: None. But keep in mind that the lens only protects your eyes from the front. You’ll still need to be sun smart and wear a brimmed hat and sunscreen. And on days when you’ll be spending a lot of time outside, consider wearing large, wrap-around sunglasses for extra protection.
Bottom line: Sun damage is no joke. This one is worth it. If the lenses you’re choosing don’t have built-in protection, consider adding the America’s Best lens coating bundle, described above, to your purchase.
4. Photochromic Coating
Role: Darkens in the sun and lightens indoors.
Pros: Convenience is the No. 1 benefit here. It eliminates the need to trade your everyday eyeglasses for a pair of shades every time you step outdoors.
Lenses with a built-in photochromic coating, such as the popular Transitions brand that’s available at America’s Best, also offer continuous, 100 percent UV protection.
Cons: Photochromic lenses are treated with a dye that undergoes a chemical change when exposed to UV light. They take a few seconds to change color, and they don’t get as dark as other sunglass lenses, particularly when driving. The UV filters in a car’s windshield can inhibit or prevent the changeover.
Bottom line: If you’re all in for sun protection and would rather not tote around separate sunglasses, this is the way to go.
5. Polarized Sunglass Lenses
Role: A type of sunglass lens that enhances clarity in bright, sunny conditions.
Pros: Polarized lenses increase visual comfort, reduce eyestrain, and diminish reflections and glare.
They enhance clarity of vision and contrast for ground-level objects and for looking out across bodies of water. That makes them the lens of choice for many athletes and professional drivers.
Polarized lenses are also recommended for people who are very sensitive to light, or those dealing with cataracts or recovering from eye surgery.
Cons: Polarized lenses can be more expensive than other sunglass lenses, and they aren’t good for reading LCD screens (like those found on ATM machines, your car’s dashboard and head-up display, cell phones, and some watches).
Bottom line: If outdoor time to you means napping on your deck, you can probably skip this upgrade. But they can be game-changers for active outdoor enthusiasts.
6. Blue Light-Blocking Lenses
Role: A type of lens that filters the blue light given off by digital screens, the sun, and fluorescent lights.
Pros: Your eyes can’t filter blue light on their own. That means a lot of it reaches the retina. Studies show that blue light can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm (your internal clock that tells you when it’s time to sleep or be awake) and get in the way of a good night’s rest.
There’s also some evidence that overexposure to blue light contributes to digital eye strain and headaches.
The NeverBlue lenses at America’s Best blocks blue light and offers 100% UV protection and a scratch-resistant coating.
Cons: The primary cause of digital eye strain — and the discomfort that comes with it — is looking at our devices for too long without taking breaks. So while wearing blue light-blocking lenses can help, they won’t prevent eye strain.
Bottom line: If you regularly use digital devices in the evening, blue light-blocking lenses may help you sleep better. They may also be a good choice if you are particularly sensitive to bright light.