How to Choose the Best Lenses for Your Sunglasses

Of course we want our shades to look cool. But the functionality and color of the lenses can also improve our ability to see outdoors. 

How to choose the best sunglass lenses

Sunglasses have a special power to make a fashion statement. You can go with a bolder frame shape or hue than you’d choose for your everyday eyeglasses. And the color of the lenses can do more than just complement your outfit. 

Some tints are better at enhancing contrasts in bright sunlight, whereas others work better in low light. But sunglass lens choices go well beyond color. Choose the right lenses for your lifestyle with this expert advice. 

The eye care specialists at America’s Best can help you find lenses that are just right for you!  Learn more here.  

What types of sunglass lenses are there? 

There are lenses that are better at blocking sunlight and reflective glare than others. And some color tints can also have an impact on how well you see when you’re outside. Before you buy a new pair, here’s what to know about them. 

Polarized sunglass lenses. These contain a special chemical that blocks reflected light — think of rays of sun bouncing off the surface of water — which allows you to see objects more clearly. 

Polarized lenses reduce glare, like from a windshield,” says Mike Ganaway, merchandising director of spectacle lenses and accessories for National Vision in Duluth, Georgia. “If you’re doing certain outdoor sports, like fishing, the glare [from the water] would go away. Or if you’re skiing, you won’t have that reflection off the snow.” 

This type of lens is among the priciest, but they may be worth it, particularly if you’re always on the road or spend a lot of time outdoors. “They’re more comfortable for the wearer,” Ganaway says. They also come in a wide variety of shades — everything from rose to yellow to gray. 

Polarization isn’t the same thing as ultraviolet (UV) protection though. You’ll still need to make sure your sunglasses provide 100% UV protection to safeguard your eyes from harmful sun exposure. Make sure the ones you buy provide 100% UV protection or are labeled “UV absorption up to 400 nm,” which is another way to say they’ve got you fully covered. 

One thing to consider with polarized lenses: The filter can make it harder to view the displays on car dashboards and smartphones.  

Photochromic lenses. These “transition lenses” automatically darken in sunlight and lighten up in darker environments. This allows you to go from being inside to outside without taking off your glasses or switching to a pair of prescription sunglasses.  

In the past, photochromic lenses were only available in gray, but today they’re available in nearly every shade. America’s Best offers Transitions™ lenses that also offer UV protection.  

Tinted lenses. Sun-tinted lenses tend to be fairly dark. They have an 80% tint to them, says Ganaway. They also have full UV protection and come in nearly every color. 

Fashion-tinted sunglasses are just that: a style statement. Despite having a cool color, they don’t block much of the sunlight, Ganaway says. “You won’t have a lens that’s dark enough to help you see when the sun is super bright,” he points out.  

Fashion-tinted sunglasses come in just about any color. They can also come as a gradient. For example, the lenses may be dark brown at the top, then fade to light brown at the bottom. Not all tinted lenses have UV protection in them, but you can add UV coverage. 

Recommended reading: Ask an Optometrist: Do I need to buy expensive sunglasses to protect my eyes?

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Which tint should I choose for my sunglasses? 

The tint of your sunglasses can enhance certain colors, making some shades a better fit for one activity over another. Here’s how different colors can impact your vision outdoors: 

Gray or black: The American Optometric Association recommends wearing gray-tinted lenses, in part because they don’t change the color of what you’re looking at. Gray sunglasses are a good choice for everyday wear — especially when you’re driving.  

If you like the look of darker lenses, keep in mind that a very dark or matte black tint doesn’t necessarily do a better job of protecting your eyes from the sun, Ganaway adds. Remember to check for the “100% UV protection” label. Also, super dark lenses can make it harder to see well, especially indoors or in a car. For that reason, Ganaway says a medium tint is most comfortable for everyday use.  

Brown: Another good all-purpose color, brown-tinted sunglasses provide contrast and remove glare, which make them a good option for sports such as skiing and fishing. 

Yellow: A yellow tint can filter out the blue light from the sun, says Ganaway, which improves depth perception and allows you to see objects outside more clearly. That makes yellow a good choice for hunters and target shooters. Yellow is also a good choice for seeing well at dusk, dawn, or in other low-light conditions. 
Green: Green-tinted sunglasses can also filter out some of the shorter wavelengths of blue light that you see outdoors, which can provide more clarity and contrast. Green is more popular with sunglass-wearers than yellow, and it makes a sound option for everyday wear and outdoor activities. 

Rose: There’s a good reason to look at the world through rose-colored glasses: They can help your eyes adjust to changing light conditions. They also allow you to see well in lower-light conditions. 

See our sources: 
Polarized lenses: American Academy of Ophthalmology  
Photochromic lenses: American Academy of Ophthalmology 

Recommended reading: Which Lens Coatings Are Right for You?