Photochromic lenses are eyeglass lenses that are clear (or nearly clear) indoors and darken automatically when exposed to sunlight. Other terms sometimes used for photochromic lenses include “light-adaptive lenses,” “light intelligent” and “variable tint lenses.”
How photochromic lenses work
The molecules responsible for causing photochromic lenses to darken are activated by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Because UV rays penetrate clouds, photochromic lenses will darken on overcast days as well as sunny days.
Photochromic lenses typically will not darken inside a vehicle because the windshield glass blocks most UV rays. Recent advancements in technology allow some photochromic lenses to activate with both UV and visible light, providing some darkening behind the windshield. Ask your optician for details.
Photochromic eyeglass lenses are available in nearly all lens materials and designs, including high-index lenses, bifocals and progressive lenses. An added benefit of photochromic lenses is that they shield your eyes from 100 percent of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays.
Because a person’s lifetime exposure to sunlight and UV radiation has been associated with cataracts later in life, it’s a good idea to consider photochromic lenses for children’s eyewear as well as for eyeglasses for adults. Polycarbonate is the safest lens material for kids, providing up to 10 times the impact resistance of other lens materials.
Adding anti-reflective coating to photochromic lenses enhances their performance even further. AR coating allows more light to pass through photochromic lenses for sharper vision in low-light conditions (such as driving at night), and eliminates bothersome reflections of sunlight and other light from the backside of the lenses in bright conditions.
Though photochromic lenses cost more than clear eyeglass lenses, they offer the convenience of reducing the need to carry a pair of prescription sunglasses with you everywhere you go.
By Gary Heiting, OD
Photochromic sunglasses are primarily for outdoor wear. They are not as clear indoors as other photochromic lenses, but they provide extra comfort in bright sunlight and behind the wheel.
Transitions Drive wear (Transitions Optical and Younger Optics) — These polarized adaptive lenses are designed specifically for the driving task. They adapt to changing light conditions when worn inside a vehicle, enhance contrast, and improve visual performance for driving, according to Transitions Optical.
Photochromic lenses with blue light technology
Besides protecting your eyes from glare outdoors, photochromic lenses offer an additional important benefit — they help protect your eyes from harmful blue light.
Blue light contributes to digital eye strain and causes oxidative stress in the retina. It’s even possible that long-term exposure to harmful blue light from sunlight and the display screens of computers, smartphones and other digital devices may increase a person’s risk of macular degeneration and other eye problems later in life.
See your eye care professional to discuss your blue light exposure risks and which type and brand of photochromic lenses is best for your specific needs.