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What Are the Benefits of Polarized Sunglasses?

Life in the sun sure can be fun, until the sun hinders you from seeing. Sunlight can produce unwanted sun glare and cause you to squint. The sunglasses you wear protect your vision, but it is also used to reflect your personality. Beyond just darkening the bright light, sunglasses can be beneficial when you use polarized lenses.

 

woman in a white tank top smiling wearing blue polarized sunglasses
Sunglasses reflect your personality, but if you use polarized lenses it can improve your overall vision by blocking glare.

What is Polarization?

Imagine you are standing on a giant rock in the middle of the ocean while a giant storm is passing through. Waves come at you from every direction. This is kind of how unpolarized light works. Light travels in waves, but these waves are in multiple planes. The light waves are coming at you from every direction — kind of like the waves in the storm.

When you polarize light, you are only letting some of the light waves through. Now imagine you are back in that storm building a wall around yourself and the rock, except for a small opening in the front. Most of the waves are blocked off.

In the analogy above, the storm waves are the unpolarized light. You standing on the rock represents your eye, which you want to protect from the waves. That is why you build a wall around you. This wall is your polarized sunglasses.

Polarized lenses use a special chemical to filter out all the unwanted light waves. The lenses only let the vertical light waves through and absorb all the rest. Polarized lenses do not block out all light waves because then you would not be able to see through them.

 

Graphic of polarized lens showing how horizontal light waves are filtered out and vertical light waves are let through
A polarized lens filters out horizontal light waves, which causes glare, and only lets the vertical light wave to pass through.

The Benefits of Polarized Lenses

1. Blocks Glare

One of the benefits is that polarized lenses help reduce unwanted glare. Light tends to reflect off of objects like a car, the road, a watch, a cell phone, or even calm waters. Stopping these blinding light reflections can make your outdoor activity much more enjoyable and safe.

2. Increases Color Contrast

Objects will appear crisper and clearer through polarized lenses. It increases the visibility of details because of the increased color contrast. It’s like high definition for your glasses.

3. Reduces Eye Strain

There is no need to squint anymore with polarized lenses. The reduction of the sun’s brightness and the blockage of glare helps keep your eyes more relaxed. This makes a long day of sun exposure easier on your eyes. 

4. See Into the Water

Polarized lenses are useful for everyday sun wear, but it is particularly beneficial for activities like fishing. Since polarized lenses block glare and haze that reflects off the water, it helps with seeing wildlife and other objects below the water’s surface.

When To Use Polarized Lenses

Sportsmen who are avid fishers and boaters benefit greatly from polarized lenses. This is because the surrounding water produces a lot of glare which polarized sunglasses help reduce. This enables them to distinguish fish in the clutter. The tint and mirror of lenses may vary for offshore and inshore fishing because of the difference in depth and color of the water. The article about what polarized lenses to use for inshore and offshore fishing gets into specifics.

However, you don’t have to be out in the open water to benefit from polarized lenses. Reduction of glare also helps with activities like running, biking, skiing, hiking, and driving. For example, polarized lenses can actually help you see in the rain, as long as the tint on the glasses is not too dark. With skiing, it reduces the amount of light that is reflected in the snow, which makes the overall skiing experience much more enjoyable. You do have to be cautious about this fact when skiing downhill because it might be harder to notice the icy patches in the snow due to the lack of reflection.

 

Multicolor mirrored polarized sunglasses with the beach in the backgroundPolarized sunglasses can be used when doing various activities like fishing, biking, running, skiing, hiking, driving, and going to the beach.

When Not To Use Polarized Lenses

If polarized lenses are so beneficial, why would you want to use anything else? There are some instances when using polarized glasses may not be ideal. As shown in the computer test below, using an LCD screen with polarized glasses can actually blackout at certain angles and prevent you from properly seeing things. Some examples of LCD screens are as follows:

  • Car dashboards with LCD screens
  • Cell phones
  • ATM machines
  • Some digital watches

Certain professions, such as those in the aviation industry, can also prevent you from wearing polarized lenses. Most pilots stay away from using polarized sunglasses due to the LCD screens in many planes that are used to navigate. Always double check before putting yourself or others in danger.

People who have sensitive eyes may experience headaches or nausea while wearing polarized sunglasses. Their eyes do not adjust well to the change brought on by polarized lenses. If the symptoms are only minor, it can be due to wearing low-quality polarized lenses. Lower quality lenses can often be found in gas stations or discount stores. Investing in higher quality polarized lenses may help reduce your symptoms.

polarized sunglasses can affect the view of an atm machines
You should not being wearing polarized sunglasses when using a ATM machine. The LCD screen in combination with your polarized lenses may cause a blackouts at certain angles.

Non-Polarized versus Polarized Lenses

When buying sunglasses, it is important to know the difference between non-polarized lenses and polarized lenses. Both might be great for reducing brightness and provide protection from harmful UV light. However, non-polarized lenses do not eliminate glare as polarized lenses do. If you want to learn more about UV protection, be sure to check out “Do Sunglasses Need UV Protection?”.

Are Your Lenses Polarized?

Not sure if you already own polarized sunglasses? Here are two different tests to try at home to see if your sunglasses are polarized.


1. Computer Test

All you will need for this one is a back-lit LCD computer. Look at the computer screen through your lenses, then, start to rotate your glasses. If your lenses are polarized, it will start to get darker as you turn it until it blacks out. The reason why this test work is because LCD screens also use polarized technology.

How to test if your sunglasses are polarized using your computer


2. Pop Out Your Lenses

The first thing you should do is find a sheet of white paper. With both of your lenses already popped out of your frames, hold one lens on top of the white paper as if you were looking through it. Hold the other lens on top of the first facing the same direction and slowly start turning it until the second lens is vertical to the first one. If it is polarized, you should see the overlap area of the two lenses progressively getting darker until it completely blacks out. This is because the bottom lens blocks out horizontal light waves and the top lens blocks out vertical light waves. The bottom and the top lenses cancel each other out which means no light can pass through.

How to test if your sunglasses are polarized by popping out the lenses

Summary

  • Light travels in waves and they come at you from multiple directions. Polarized lenses filter out those light waves and only allow the passage of vertical waves.
  • There are four main benefits of polarized lenses: it blocks glare, it increases color contrast, it reduces eye strain and it helps you see into the water.
  • Activities like fishing, boating, hiking, skiing, running, biking and driving are great examples of when it’s helpful to wear polarized lenses.
  • There are certain instances where wearing polarized sunglasses can actually cause problems. For example, certain cars that use LCD screens on their dashboard, cell phones, ATM machines, and certain watches. It can also cause problems to people in certain professions, like those in aviation who may navigate using LCD screens.
  • Not all sunglasses are the same. It is important to know the differences between polarized and non-polarized lenses. If lenses offer UV protection (protection from ultraviolet light) it does not automatically mean it is also polarized.
  • There are two tests you can do at home to check if your lenses are polarized. One requires an LCD computer and the other requires you to pop out your lenses.


The next time you go outside, make sure you reach for your polarized sunglasses.

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This frame has multiple sizes