Polarized sunglasses are quite popular nowadays. Most sunglasses retailers carry fashionable styles in both regular and polarized versions. Because the polarized versions cost anywhere from $20 to $40 more than regular sunglasses, though, many people still opt for non-polarized lenses. But are polarized sunglasses actually worth the extra money? To answer that question, consider why polarized sunglasses came about and how they differ from non-polarized sunglasses.

Sunglasses for Boaters and Fishermen

Polarized lenses are meant to block glare caused by refracted light. Boaters and fishermen began using them because it allowed them to see despite the glare coming from the water all around them. Joggers, bikers and other outdoor folks quickly adopted polarized sunglasses and made them popular.

What Makes Polarized Lenses Different?

The main difference is this: regular, non-polarized sunglasses rely only on shaded lenses to block intense light. But glare resulting from light that is reflected off flat surfaces can get past regular shades. Polarized sunglasses, on the other hand, are specifically designed to block glare from reflected light.

When light is reflected off a smooth, flat surface, it becomes horizontally polarized. Polarized lenses are vertically polarized, which is what allows them to block horizontally polarized light. This reduces annoying and sometimes dangerous glare. If driving for long stretches of road, especially on bright, hot days, polarized lenses greatly reduce the glare that comes off long, flat road and reflective car hoods, allowing one to see better and drive safer.

If wanting to test out the difference, it's pretty easy to do. Simply go out to the street on a sunny day and hold out two pairs of sunglasses in front ones face, (one polarized, one not) and compare the view through the lenses of each pair. One can notice that the polarized sunglasses noticeably reduce glare and provide a clearer vision, allowing one to distinguish shapes and lines better.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Polarized Lenses?

There are some instances where polarized sunglasses can be a bit problematic, but not really anything that can't be easily avoided. LCD screens, for one, can sometimes become invisible when looking at them through polarized lenses. The obvious solution is simply to remove the sunglasses while using ATMs, GPS system screens, and other machines that might use LCDs.

As to whether polarized lenses are beneficial in the snow, say, for skiers and snowboarders, the jury is still out. While many claim that polarized sunglasses help reduce snow glare, some say that they cause a reduction in contrast, which means skiers going fast downhill may have a harder time picking out snow patches and other hazards. However, contrast is usually determined in great part by the color of the shades one is wearing.

However, almost in every other case, prescription polarized sunglasses have proven to be superior in blocking glare in addition to direct light. If this is something that is needed, i.e. if driving often during the day or spending a lot of time playing or working outdoors, the extra few tens might be worth the extra protection.