Polarized vs Non-Polarized Sunglasses – Which One Should You Go With?

If you are looking to buy a pair of sunglasses, your optician might ask if you are looking for polarized or non-polarized sunglasses. I can not tell you how many times I have asked someone that question and I just get a confused look. “What’s the difference?” is what most people say next.

Polarized vs Non-Polarized Sunglasses

There is generally a lot more to picking out a pair of sunglasses than just the color. There are other things such as the frame style, lens shape, mirror coats, and polarization. The question throws people off because most people that are purchasing sunglasses are more worried about if they are dark enough and have 100% UV protection.

Don’t let dark lenses trick you into thinking that you are getting more protection from UV rays. The darkness of the lens has nothing to do with how well that lens can protect your eyes from UV rays.

Keep in mind that dark lenses with no UV protection on them can cause more damage to your eyes by causing your pupil to open up, letting more UV in, and could cause even more damage.

I find it similar to the confused look people get when they are looking for a television and the employee asks if they want an LCD, LED or OLED TV. It is that employee’s job to explain the difference, and as an optician, it is my job to explain to you the difference between these sunglass lenses. So, let’ s dive right in and see what the difference is between polarized vs non-polarized sunglasses.

How Does a Polarized Sunglass Lens Work?

Whenever lightwaves get to the surface of our earth, the light could be either absorbed, scattered, or reflected.

Some light waves reflect in a vertical direction, and the other lightwaves are in a horizontal direction. The horizontal lightwaves are the ones that reflect off of horizontal surfaces such as the ocean, the ground, or the hood of your car. This horizontal light produces a strong glare that could obscure your vision and be dangerous.

Polarized work by adding a filter on your lenses that filter out all the horizontal light and therefore reducing the glare that you would normally get from the horizontal surfaces. This provides you with better visual clarity and reduces eye fatigue.

Lenses that are only tinted, gives you the protection from the suns UV rays and makes dealing with the bright light from the sun a bit more comfortable. These lenses, however, do not block out the glare that you are getting from horizontal light, so you still have to deal with the glare even though it is not quite as intense.

If you are still confused about how polarized lenses work, check out this video from FOX9’s Meteorologist explaining how polarized sunglasses work:

Benefits of Polarized Sunglass Lenses

So, these lenses filter out a certain direction of lightwaves, what can they actually do for you?

Opticians often recommend polarized lenses for individuals that spend a lot of time doing outdoor activities. Especially for individuals that spend a lot of time around large bodies of water, or snow. These places tend to send lightwaves scattering in every direction, but are particularly flat and reflective therefore causing a substantial amount of glare.

This glare can be dangerous by obscuring your vision, and the UV rays in the glare could potentially giving your eyes a sunburn commonly called “snow blindness”. It is important to remember that polarized lenses themselves do not protect your eyes from UV rays, but the majority of polarized sunglasses have UV protection.

So what can polarized lenses do for you? Let’s find out:

  • Reduce Glare – The main benefit of polarized sunglasses is the reduction in glare. Flat surfaces such as the road and large bodies of water could create blinding glare. Polarized sunglass lenses block out all horizontal glare letting in only vertical light creating a more comfortable vision with superior clarity. 
  • Great For Water – Anyone who is a boater, or enjoys of fish would greatly benefit from wearing a polarized sunglass lens. Polarized sunglasses allow individuals around water to be able to see through the water’s surface into the water. This is beneficial for boaters to be able to see where they are going so that they could avoid any dangers in the way. Polarized lenses would also protect your eye from the dangerous intense reflections off the surface of the water.
  • Reduced Eyestrain – Everyone is started to slowly understand that sitting in front of digital devices for extended periods of time could cause strain on your eyes from the glare. Did you know that you also could get eyestrain from the glare that you get from the sun? Polarized lenses reduce this clear and allow your eyes to be more comfortable even on the brightest day.
  • Better Clarity – Polarized lenses provide a clearer, sharper, colors and vision like you never had before (This is where those HD Vision As Seen on TV Glasses took advantage of the mark). The reduced glare from horizontal surfaces provides you with crisp more vivid vision, as well as provide you with a better, more accurate perception of colors.

Who Should Use Polarized Lenses

Polarized lenses are not unknown however, they have been popular among outdoor enthusiast for quite a while. Individuals that enjoy going fishing know that having a good pair of polarized sunglasses could help reduce the glare off of the surface of the water helping them see better.

Boaters and fishermen can use polarized lenses to see through the surface of the water. This provides safety for boaters who need to see where to navigate their boats. Fishermen benefit from the reduced water surface glare as well, with polarized lenses they would be able to see the fish they are trying to catch underneath the water surface.

Individuals that are playing sports such as baseball, or golf would benefit from having a good pair of polarized sunglasses. The better perception of colors would make it easier for you to track objects that are in the air.

People that are driving would also benefit from using a pair of polarized sunglasses. Drivers get glare off the surface of the hood as well as glare from the ground. It would be especially helpful on days where the ground is wet and the sun is shining. This would also be helpful for bicyclist and runners as they get glare from a lot of flat horizontal surfaces as well.

Polarized sunglasses are not for everyone though, pilots are not recommended to wear polarized sunglasses. The reason being is that polarized lenses could reduce a pilots ability to read the LCD instruments within the cockpit, which emit polarized light.

Polarized lenses also cause problems for pilots while looking outside of the windshield due to it being laminated and enhancing striations, Also glare could be helpful to pilots for seeing any other aircraft. Pilots wouldn’t be able to see the shimmer of glare coming off of other aircraft. This shimmer is used by pilots for visibility, as well as safety.

Skiiers should also not use polarized lenses as they rely on glare to distinguish the details of the snow ahead of them.

Conclusion

The best way to figure out if you should use polarized lenses is just examining what you do throughout the day and see if glare reduction would beneficial. Of course, anyone who does anything around water should definitely be wearing a pair of polarized sunglasses.

Make sure to always check to make sure that your sunglasses do indeed block out 100% of UV rays from the sun. Not all polarized glasses offer UV protection, so it doesn’t hurt to check to be sure.

If you wear a prescription, make sure you talk to your optician and see if a polarized lens would be beneficial for you.

Do you wear polarized sunglasses? How do you like them? Let me know below! As always thank you all for reading, and if you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to leave them below and I will get back to you.


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About Huy Le ABOC, NCLEC 117 Articles
Huy has been working in eye care for the last 10 years as an Optician, and Optical manager. He is coming to you as an expert in the field, as well as a long time eyewear user. He is bringing his expertise and unbias opinion on optical technology, frame styling, contact lenses, and eye health. He is on a mission to educate the world about the importance of eye health, as well as provide everyone with helpful tips to save money on all your eye care needs.Huy is certified by the American Board of Opticianry as well as the National Contact Lens Examiners and is a State Licensed Optician in the state of California. Huy is the founder of EyeHealthHQ.com and is currently an Optician in Los Angeles, CA.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for this very informative post, Huy.  I did wonder about the difference between polarized and non-polarized, tinted glasses.  

    I like your suggestion about checking what I do during the day that might require using them.  I don’t normally wear sunglasses since, mostly, I don’t have to deal with glare very often.  It could be that I am ignoring the times when glare becomes a problem.  

    • Hi Netta, thanks for stopping by! If you go outside at all it is definitely recommended to wear sunglasses, they don’t necessarily have to be polarized, but protrction from UV is important.

  2. Hallo there Huy, 

    Funny enough, I was looking some sunglasses for outdoor activities and someone just asked me which one I wanted, the polarized or non polarized, which is how I landed here. 

    I have to say that I (and a few other folks out there) are really short of knowledge. I also thought that darker the sunglasses the more protection from UV rays which could be reasonable though not true.

    I will be sure to get the polarized for my outdoors and I will also share the post with my friends to spread the useful knowledge.

    Thanks a lot for clearing up the mist on this for me. 

    • Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by! There is definitely a misconception that darker glasses give you better protection. As a matter of fact a dark tinted lens without proper UV protection can actually cause more harm, due to your pupils dialating allowing more UV to enter if the glasses do not have a UV protection coating.

  3. This article does give an idea about the concept of Polarization. I always thought that Polarised glasses were a fashion statement but this post gives the reason why polarized glasses are a need for people in the outdoors and showcases the benefits of using Polarized sun-glasses. 

    The video from a news channel adds credibility to this concept and makes it much easier for the readers to get the concept right and believe in it. The next time I walk into an optician store, I am going to look at the designs in the Polarised sunglasses section!

    • Hi Rudolph! Thanks for stopping by, polarized sunglasses are definitely not just for fashion and could help immensely  with glare. As long as you do not deal with anything that emits polarized light such as LCD screens you can benefit from a pair of polarized sunglasses.

  4. Thank you for the information on Polarized vs Non-Polarized Sunglasses and which to go with. I have been wearing contact lenses for close on 50 years and know the value of wearing Polarized sunglasses as they help me when driving or working in the garden.

    There is never a time when I am out of doors that I am not wearing my sunglasses as find the light too bright. By the end of the day need to put on my spectacles as find that my eyes become tired and strained.

    Have tried ordinary sunglasses but they don’t give my eyes enough protection from the harsh South African sunlight.

    • Hi Jill thanks for stopping by! Polarized glasses definitely help immensely when you are outside. I feel like the sunlight is harsh here in Southern California in the U.S. I can’t imagine how intense it is in South Africa. 😎

  5. This article does give an idea about the concept of Polarization. I always thought that Polarised glasses were a fashion statement but this post gives the reason why polarized glasses are a need for people in the outdoors and showcases the benefits of using Polarized sun-glasses.

    The video from a news channel adds credibility to this concept and makes it much easier for the readers to get the concept right and believe in it. The next time I walk into an optician store, I am going to look at the designs in the Polarised sunglasses section!

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