The Benefits of Polarized Sunglasses

July 1, 2021
A man wearing sunglasses smiling.

What are polarized sunglasses?

Polarized lenses are a type of sunglasses lens that reduces light glare. Like all sunglasses lenses, they allow you to see more comfortably in bright or sunny situations. Unlike regular sunglasses, however, polarized sunglasses allow you to see despite the glare caused by light bouncing off of other surfaces, like the hood of your car.

What do polarized sunglasses do?

In most situations, polarized sunglasses increase visual comfort by filtering both ambient and reflected light. Viewing a bright scene through polarized lenses can also help you see colors more vibrantly and details more clearly than you would without polarization.

It’s important to note that, while polarized lenses can reduce or eliminate the blinding glare of upwardly reflected light, they don’t necessarily provide protection from harmful UV rays. When selecting any sunglasses, including polarized sunglasses, be sure they’re labeled with 100% UVA and UVB protection.

How do polarized sunglasses work?

Lenses become polarized with the application of a special chemical that blocks some — but not all — light from entering your eyes.

This anti-reflective coating only allows light rays to enter vertically, meaning you’re able to see whatever you’re looking directly at. However, they block light from entering at any other angle, such as from the glare of the sun bouncing off snow, a car or a body of water.

This means you’re often able to more clearly see what you’re looking at. It also counters the blinding effect that can be caused by bright light bouncing off surfaces, as these light waves tend to be horizontal rather than vertical.

Another effect of polarization is increased contrast, which contributes to visual clarity as well as enhances colors. So even if you’re looking at a bright, sunny scene, polarized shades can allow you to see vibrant colors rather than just the brightness of reflected light.

For certain activities, including daytime driving and water sports, there are advantages to wearing polarized sunglasses — especially if light is bouncing off surfaces and into your eyes. 

Benefits of polarized sunglasses

Polarized lenses filter both ambient and reflected light, so they can really ease the eye strain that comes from being in a bright environment. This not only improves your eye health and helps you avoid distractions and temporary blindness caused by glare, but it also helps you see bright scenes more clearly and colors more vibrantly.

Polarized sunglasses can be helpful in these situations:

  • Fishing: When you’re on or near a body of water, polarized lenses can help you see more clearly by cutting down on the glare from the water’s reflection. This also means you’re better able to see past the surface of the water, which provides a huge advantage for fishers.
  • Water sports: If you’re sailing, kayaking or canoeing — or doing any number of other water sports — polarized lenses can ease the strain on your eyes from the water’s glare. Plus, they’ll help you see more underwater wildlife.
  • Hiking: Polarized lenses are ideal for scenic views, as they help enhance colors so you can see vibrant landscapes more clearly.

Disadvantages of polarized sunglasses

While Polarized sunglasses are great in some situations, in low-light situations, polarized lenses may actually block too much light. This can make it difficult to see LCD screens, which could be problematic if you rely on a digital dashboard display or cell phone when routing in your car. If this is the case, you may want to opt for non-polarized lenses when you need to see a map while driving. 

Polarized sunglasses may also not be the best choice for:

  • Winter sports: While you may think polarized goggles or glasses would be helpful while skiing or snowboarding, not being able to see the glare from snow and ice during these activities can actually be detrimental. That’s because this reflection alerts you to dangerous icy patches, which allows you to avoid them.
  • Bicycling and running: Using polarized sunglasses comes down to personal preference. Some cyclists and runners wear polarized shades to filter both ambient and reflected light, while others feel safer maintaining the ability to see reflected light.
  • Looking at screens: When it comes to looking at screens — like your smartphone, laptop or an ATM — polarized sunglasses aren’t going to do you any favors. That’s because the anti-reflective coating on polarized lenses distorts digital screens, making them appear faded or completely dark depending on the angle from which you’re viewing the screen. 

Prescription polarized sunglasses

Prescription sunglasses are available with or without an anti-reflective coating. Choosing polarized lenses can be worth it if you’ll wear your sunglasses for daytime driving or boating activities, but you may want to opt for non-polarized sunglasses if these will be your only pair of shades

In general, everyone needs UV protection for their eyes, so the most important consideration when buying sunglasses is to make sure they offer 100% UVA and UVB protection. And while an anti-reflective coating can also help keep you safe in the sun by reducing harsh glare, you should talk to an eye doctor about whether polarized lenses are right for you.

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