Why Do You See Rainbows in Polarized Lenses?



Have you ever looked through your polarized glasses and seen rainbows? Or maybe a faint black spot when you look through your car window? Though this doesn’t happen with traditional lenses, that’s not your mind playing cruel tricks on you, you are literally seeing rainbows and there’s a lot of cool science behind this effect.

What Are Polarized Lenses?

A cross section diagram labels the parts of a polarized lens
Polarization filters wavelengths to filter light.

Before we cover why you might see rainbows when looking through polarized lenses, we must cover what polarized lenses are. Different lights have different wavelengths, some of which are horizontal and some vertical. Polarized lenses are like blinds that block horizontal light with chemicals in them that are positioned vertically to block the oncoming light. Because polarized sunglasses block out a lot of the harsh light when wearing them you may notice that things appear darker, but they also will appear crisper and clearer at the same time.

We know that polarized lenses help against glare, but what IS glare, exactly? Typically, light scatters and bounces at varying angles when it hits an uneven surface, thereby diluting the power of the reflection. However, if the surface is smooth or flat, like a road, metal, or calm water, that light is going directly in your eyes like a beam of light. The glare that bounces from flat surfaces is also known as “polarized light”.

Why do I see a rainbow through my polarized lenses?

plastic bottles on a table
The "rainbow" effect is occurs when light is refracted.

Seeing a rainbow through polarized lenses is due to a phenomenon called refraction. If you imagine a prism, like on the Dark Side of the Moon album cover, you have a direct beam of light and on the other side a rainbow appears. The same thing happens when light passes through water droplets in the sky and then creates a rainbow after a rainy day. The water droplets act like a prism.

When you look at something through your polarized lenses and you see a rainbow it’s because another material is refracting the light. For instance if you have tinted windows in your car, because of the added tint you will see rainbows when looking through them. Another example is if you look at an LCD screen or your phone. The added layer on the LCD screen will refract the light once, and then when it goes through your polarized lenses it will refract the light a second time, thus creating a rainbow effect. However, phones are now built with polarization in mind, so it is less likely that you will see the rainbow effect.

Why do I sometimes see dark stripes on my windshield?

A window shows "stripe" effect
Dark "stripes" appear in spots where birefringence has occured.

The effect of dark stripes may appear on your windshield due to the tempering process the glass goes through to prevent shattering in the event of an impact. This process involves heating and cooling the glass rapidly, and as a result, polarized areas on the window know as “stressed birefringence” are created. The polarization spots in the glass when combined with the polarized filter of your lenses essentially cancel out the light that is coming through and creates the effect of “dark stripes”. Though this can easily be ignored, many opt to keep a spare pair of non-polarized lenses or glasses on hand to avoid the stripe effect while driving.

What polarized lenses do we recommend?

Here at Fuse Lenses, we have a variety of color and tint options to customize your polarized replacement lenses or polarized sunglasses. If you have a pair of frames that you love, our polarized replacement lenses are a perfect option as they can be popped in and out in a matter of seconds for an entirely new look. If you need a new pair of glasses, we have a wide range of styles with almost every pair featuring a polarized option. Our Egmont frames with polarized lenses are a Fuse fan favorite, even earning a spot in Business Insider alongside top brands like Costa and Oakley!

 If you’re worried about changing the lenses on your own, don’t worry we got you covered. For just a small fee you can send your frames to our concierge service, we will replace the lenses for you and send them back ready to wear. To customize your own pair of polarized lenses or glasses; visit our homepage, simply select the brand you have or fame style you wish to purchase, select the polarized option on the product page, and off you go!

The Big Picture

Polarized lenses can sometimes cause a rainbow or pattern effect to appear on your windows, especially in your car. This is even more likely if you have tinted windows. However, polarized lenses provide the added benefit of protecting your eyes from harmful rays and reducing the discomfort from glare on the road. Here at Fuse Lenses we specialize in customized sunglasses, so if you’re interested in learning more about Fuse Lenses replacement lenses visit our website and YouTube channel for tips and tricks to style or create your own custom lenses super easily!

What Makes Polarized Lenses Expensive? Are they Worth the cost?

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