Sunglass Lens Guide: Everything you need to know about prescription sunglasses lenses

You’ve found the perfect prescription sunglasses frames. They’re the perfect color and have all of the bells and whistles you’re looking for and you think the hard part is over. That is, until you start seeing words like polycarbonate and digital surfacing and backside A/R.

Finding the best lens to suit your needs can be a bit tedious, which is why we created this complete guide to simplify the process of narrowing down the options to find your ideal type and tint.


Prescription Lens Types

Your prescription lens type is referring to the type of vision being corrected by the lens in terms of myopia or hyperopia aka nearsightedness or farsightedness. Whether you need help reading your phone screen, street signs, or both, there’s a lens type for you. 

Single Vision: This type of lens will correct for one type of vision, either near or farsightedness. This is the most popular vision type for prescription sunwear. 

Progressive: These lenses are also known as lineless bifocals, because instead of a visible line separating your distance power from your reading power, a progressive lens gradually progresses to your total reading power at the bottom. This lens will correct 3 types of vision, both near and farsightedness as well as intermediate (computer) distance.

Lined Bifocal: This lens type is the original dual-power lens, which corrects both distance and near vision, separated by a visible line. This lens type has largely been replaced with progressive lenses, but bifocals are still available by request.

  

Have an ADD power on your prescription, but uncertain if you should opt for multi-focal lenses? If you need a little extra help reading up close, chances are you will love the convenience of distance and near correction all in one lens. This means less pairs of glasses to carry around with you at all times, and fewer pairs to take care of.

Among people with progressive prescriptions, it’s about a 50/50 split between those who opt for progressive sunglasses versus single vision lenses. Those predominantly running around town and driving in their shades tend to enjoy the benefits of progressives for reading their phones or dashboards.

If you are shopping for sport-specific sunglasses, multi-focal lenses tend to be preference based. For example, cyclists love progressive lenses as they can see obstacles in the distance as well as read their cycling computers. Golfers however tend to prefer single vision lenses because reading magnification can distort depth perception when looking down to address a golf ball on the ground.

To learn more about progressive lenses, check out our Everything You Need To Know About Progressive Lenses page. If you are looking for sport-specific sunglasses, visit our Shop By Sport page for specialized recommendations by activity.

 

Surfacing Techniques

All prescription sunglass lenses on SaltCityOptics.com are digitally surfaced. Though some other companies still offer conventional surfacing on wrapped, or curved eyewear, we have found that this tends to lead to distortion and thus unwearable and unbearable lenses. For this reason, all of the labs we work with including our own use only the most modern digital surfacing techniques. What exactly is digital surfacing, you may be wondering?

Digital surfacing takes more than just your prescription into consideration, but also accounts for the size, shape, and curve of the lens in relation to your prescription. This ensures prescription accuracy to the nearest 0.01 of a diopter (compared to 0.25 with conventional methods). This accuracy results in lenses that feel comfortable, no matter where you look. Conventional surfacing was only able to ensure accuracy at the optical center, right in front of your pupils.

 

Prescription Sunglass Lens Materials

All of the above lens types are offered in various lens materials. Some eye doctors make it easy by recommending a lens material and notating this on your prescription, but if yours doesn't, we'll step in with the assist.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate lenses are the most popular in today’s market for a number of reasons including impact resistance, weight, and 100% UV light blocking power.

Polycarbonate was originally designed for canopies in fighter jet cockpits, which as you can imagine require the utmost impact resistance. Because the aircraft needs to fly, it also needs to be lightweight, and when you are above the clouds, you have no protection from the sun’s brutal UV rays. When it was discovered that polycarbonate material was also optically clear, it made sense to repurpose the material for eyeglasses.

Trivex: Trivex is very similar to polycarbonate in many ways thanks to its superior impact resistance and 100% UV light blocking abilities. There is an age-old debate on Trivex vs. polycarbonate, and proponents for Trivex say that it is slightly lighter weight (about 10% lighter). The debate continues into optical clarity, as Trivex does rate a bit higher on the ABBE scale, meaning it boasts better optical clarity.

Glass: Glass is the original sunglass lens material, but over time many labs have entirely phased glass out due to higher demand for impact-resistant lenses. Glass is still somewhat in demand due to its unparalleled optical clarity and scratch resistance, but again, most people prefer a safer, and considerably lighter weight lens. While fewer and fewer labs are making prescription glass lenses these days, there are a few brands who still see the benefit and have found a way to make glass lenses lighter than ever before.

High Index: High Index lenses are made from a denser lens material. To get techy for a moment, this denser material gives the lens a higher refractive index (hence the name) which means less material is needed to bend light to correct your vision.

This means that high index material was designed for those with strong prescriptions. Strong prescriptions tend to be too thick in polycarbonate lenses, which causes distortion as light fights to bend through all of the material. High index lenses will make a strong-powered lens thinner than a polycarbonate or Trivex lens. 

The 2 most popular high index options are 1.67 and 1.74. The good news, is if you need high index lenses, our expert lab technicians will select the best performing index for your prescription. 1.67 is typically recommended for those with prescriptions stronger than -3.50 or +2.50 and 1.74 is typically recommended for those with prescriptions stronger than -7.00 or +4.00.

SR-91: SR-91 material is very unique, as it was actually developed by a smaller consumer brand, Kaenon. Kaenon was driven to develop SR-91 because they felt that polycarbonate was too prone to scratching, and found glass too heavy for all day, every day wear. SR-91 is a material all its own, which boasts optical clarity and scratch resistance similar to glass, yet maintains the low weight and impact resistance akin to polycarbonate.

 

Sunglass Lens Tints

A standard sunglass lens is a non-polarized, tinted lens, made of any of the materials listed above. While there are almost infinite lens tint choices, here are the most popular:

Grey: This is the most popular sunglass lens tint due to its neutral color perception and darkness. Many people enjoy grey lenses for everyday use as it does not alter color perception. Those with light sensitivity tend to prefer lenses with grey base tints because they are naturally darker than other more contrast-enhancing tints.

Brown: This is the second most popular lens tint for everyday use, and a top pick for sports use due to contrast enhancement and neutral aesthetics. Brown lenses are as great for everyday use as they are for active lifestyles as they enhance contrast, allowing you to differentiate between objects easier. Those with light sensitivity can still enjoy a brown lens, but we recommend pursuing a dark brown, or adding a mirror finish to further darken your lens.

Grey-Green: Ray-Ban is the company that really put grey-green on the map with their G-15 tint. Grey-Green is a great lens tint for those who like grey lenses but want a little bit of contrast enhancement. The green undertones help enhance contrast without drastically altering color perception.

Rose: This tint is a hyper-contrast enhancing tint which is best suited for sports use because it tends to be a bit too light without a mirror finish for everyday use, and alters color perception a bit. Golfers, fishermen, trail runners, and mountain bikers tend to enjoy the brightening and contrast enhancing qualities rose offers. Many people enjoy a rose lens with a black or silver mirror finish which neutralizes the aesthetic of the lens while further boosting contrast and repelling glare.

Amber: Amber is essentially a brown lens with more yellow undertones, but the tint itself will vary from company to company. Some ambers are a dark brownish-yellow, while others are quite light which more closely resemble honey-colored fossilized amber.

Copper: While Amber is brownish-yellow, Copper is a more rosy-brown. The rosy undertones paired with the brown base really enhance contrast to make colors pop. Copper is a desirable tint among fresh water fishermen especially, but also makes a great lens for everyday use if you like the added contrast.

Grey/Brown Gradient: These lenses are darker on top than they are at the bottom of the lens and they gradually lighten from top to bottom. These lenses do not adapt to sunlight (see Photochromic/Transitions below) but rather always have a darker top and a lighter bottom. These lenses are best for those who do not suffer from light sensitivity and are most popular in fashion-forward frames.

 

Sunglass Lens Treatments

Polarization: A polarized lens drastically reduces glare from the sun as it reflects off of bodies of water, ice, snow, or pavement. This type of glare can actually be more harmful to our eyes than the light which comes directly for the sun! Polarized lenses also tend to make colors a bit more crisp and vibrant, and most eye doctors recommend polarization as it is better for the eye’s overall health. The only tints that polarization won’t work in are clear lenses.

Photochromic/Transitions: A photochromic lens will lighten and darken according to the amount of UV light present. Many patients know these lenses as Transitions lenses, which is the name of the brand who really put photochromic lenses on the map. A traditional photochromic lens will be completely clear indoors, or at night, and will darken in direct sunlight. Because the tint of the lens adapts to sunlight, this reduces eye fatigue. We use Transitions branded lenses, which come in 3 different versions:

  • Transitions Adaptive: This is known as the original Transitions lens, transitioning from clear to grey or brown.
  • Transitions Xtractive: If you intend to do any driving in your new Transitions lenses, you will want to opt for the Xtractive version. Traditional Transitions lenses will not darken in the car while driving because modern windshields have UV blockers present, which prevent the chemical reaction necessary to darken your lenses. Xtractive is the exception! Not only will these lenses work while driving, they get a bit darker than the original Transitions lenses too, making them ideal for those with light sensitivity.
  • Transitions Vantage: Transitions Vantage lenses are great for patients seeking a versatile lens but who still need polarization in their sunglasses. When these lenses are clear, the polarization filter will not work, which allows you to use your computer uninhibited, but once the lenses darken in the sun, the polarization works in full force.

Backside Anti-Reflective Coating: While adding an anti-reflective coating tends to be unnecessary for most sunglass styles, there are still plenty of added benefits to adding a backside A/R coating. As the name implies, this A/R goes on the back of the lens to prevent reflections from light that may seep in from the frame’s top, bottom, or most commonly, sides.

Aside from preventing reflections in the back of your lens (such as seeing the reflection of your own eye in the back of the lens) a backside A/R coating also improves optical clarity as it creates distraction-free wear. While this is optional for standard grey, brown, copper, etc sun lenses, any time a mirror finish is applied to the front of the lens, a backside A/R is automatically included.

Bonus note: the reason front side A/R coatings are not used on sunglasses is because most people want their eyes to be masked behind sunglasses and front A/R’s tend to make the eyes more visible, but just enough so that your eyes look like black holes, an arguably pretty creepy look.

Mirror Coating: Mirror coatings are the hyper-reflective treatments applied to the front of a lens, and they are beneficial for a number of reasons, the first of which being aesthetics. Many people enjoy mirror finishes as they make a lens totally opaque, meaning that lookers on cannot see through the lenses. Aesthetics aside, mirror finishes also enhance contrast, repel glare, and darken the lens. Mirror finishes come in various colors from subtle black and bronze mirrors to vibrant blue, orange, and purple mirrors.

Whenever a mirror coating is applied to the front of a lens, a backside anti-reflective coating will be applied to the back of a lens. Because mirror finishes are so reflective, the backside A/R prevents reflected light from becoming trapped on the inside of the lens, which can be distracting.

Fun fact, you can also add a mirror coating to a transitions lens! At their clearest, the mirror will look like a standard A/R coating, but when the lenses darken, you’ll have a darker lens that lookers on can’t see through. 

 

Anti-Fog: If you live in a humid climate or plan on using your new prescription sunglasses for sports use, an anti-fog coating is likely an excellent add-on for you. This coating is applied to the back of your lenses to keep your lenses from fogging up.  

 

Brand-Specific Prescription Sun Lenses

While we work with a full-service optical lab which can make prescription lenses for almost any frame on the market, many of the brands we carry have their own proprietary lens tints, technologies, and labs. Let’s explore what these brands have to offer by way of authentic prescription lenses.

Oakley: Oakley authentic prescription lenses are all made of signature Plutonite material, a high-grade polycarbonate lens. For this reason, all Oakley lenses are 100% UV blocking and are shatter-resistant. Oakley is famous for their extensive variety of sunglass tints, with the iridium (mirrored) and Prizm lenses being the most popular.

All of Oakley’s iridium lenses are grey or brown based while the Prizm lenses have a variety of base tints, specifically designed for certain sports and light conditions. Oakley also offers transitions lenses, including iridium transitions lenses (mirrored transitions). All of Oakley’s tints are available in single vision and progressive. 

Oakley also boasts one of the best lens warranties in the industry with a 2 year warranty against defects for both frames and lenses. This also includes a one time scratch redo within that 2 year period because Oakley understands that accidents happen.

 

Ray-Ban: Ray-Ban launched authentic prescription sunglass lenses in 2017, offering their famous tints such as G-15 and B-15 with the iconic Ray-Ban logo inked onto the upper temple corner of the lens. Ray-Ban uses polycarbonate lens material for its lightweight and shatterproof qualities. Ray-Ban offers a 2 year warranty on their sunglass frames and lenses which includes a one-time scratch redo.

 

Costa: Costa’s claim to fame are ultra-clear 580 lenses which manages harsh yellow light while boosting the reds, greens, and blues that make color and contrast pop. Costa’s 580 tech is available in three different lens materials: 580P polycarbonate, 580P trives, and 580G glass. All of Costa’s frames will accommodate the 580P materials, and almost all frames will accommodate the 580G glass lenses. All of Costa’s mirror finishes are protected by C-Wall molecular bond, a super scratch-resistant coating, while mirror finishes are also encapsulated behind a layer of glass in the 580G options for a truly scratch-proof mirror. 

All Costa lenses and frames carry a 2 year warranty against manufacturer defect and a 1 year, 1 time scratched lens replacement policy. 

  

Smith: Smith is famous for their polarized ChromaPop and TechLite lens technologies. ChromaPop comes in two varieties, standard and ChromaPop Plus. ChromaPop technology separates visible red, green, and blue wavelengths of light which effectively sharpens color contrast making the optics really pop. ChromaPop lenses utilize polycarbonate material while the ChromaPop Plus is a trivex lens.

Smith also offers a glass lens known as TechLite. All TechLite lenses are polarchromic meaning they are polarized and lighten and darken according to light conditions. TechLite lenses are currently available in the Dolen, Drake, Wayward, Wolcott, Dover, Redmond, and Ridgewell models. 

All Smith frames and lenses feature a 2 year warranty for frames and lenses against manufacturer defects.

 

Kaenon: As we had mentioned earlier in the Lens Materials section, Kaenon is famous for creating their own proprietary lens material for their incredible polarized lenses, called SR-91. This material is more scratch resistant and optically clear than polycarbonate while still shatter-resistant and 100% UVA/UVB blocking. Kaenon’s lenses feature a one year, one time replacement for manufacturer defect or accidental scratching.

Kaenon also offers a “tuned” version of their SR-91 lenses which filter out harmful blue light. These improved SR-91 lenses are known as SR-91 Ultra.Ka

 

SPY: SPY’s lab, similar to a few other brands mentioned above, is manipulating wavelengths of light to sharpen optical clarity. The big difference is that while other brands are filtering out blue light, SPY is only filtering out the harmful blue rays while allowing the good blue light through which boosts our mood and makes us happier! All SPY lenses are polycarbonate.

Another point to smile about is SPY’s lifetime frame warranty against manufacturer defects and their one year, one time replacement for accidental scratching or manufacturer defects.

  

Wiley X: Wiley X’s claim to fame is their specialization in ANSI Z87.1 rated prescription eyewear. All of Wiley X’s lenses are stringently tested to meet and exceed Z87.1 standards, providing top-notch protection for any activity. Wiley X uses only polycarbonate material due to its durability and shatter resistance, and all prescription lenses include a 1 year manufacturer warranty which includes a one time accidental scratch replacement.

  

Serengeti: All of Serengeti’s lens tints are photochromic lenses, or sunglasses that lighten and darken, adapting to almost all light conditions. Serengeti’s lenses boast incredible optical clarity due to their premium trivex base, and feature a 2 year warranty against manufacturer defects.

  

Bolle: Bolle has been manufacturing prescription eyewear for over 100 years and has a wide variety of tints to suit any lifestyle. In addition to selecting your lens tint, you’ll also have the choice between polycarbonate or trivex lens materials. Just like Serengeti, Bolle offers a 2 year warranty against manufacturer defects for frames and lenses.

  

Zeal: Zeal makes the lens selection process pretty simple with two great tints to choose from: Polarized Copper and Polarized Dark Grey. Both tints are constructed of proprietary Ellume material, a plant-based and super sustainable material. This material provides crisper and clearer optics while reducing environmental impact. Zeal’s lenses feature a 1 year accidental scratch warranty on prescription lenses and a 2 year warranty for both prescription lenses and frames against manufacturer defects.

 

If you have any other questions about which lens materials, tints, finishes, or brands are best for you, we would love to be of further assistance! Please reach us via email or phone with additional questions at info@saltcityoptics.com or 888-507-1230.