Designer Sunglasses vs Cheap Sunglasses

Posted on March 27, 2011


It’s common sense when buying things like cars that more expensive = better. But most people tend to overlook this when buying smaller items, such as watches or sunglasses. Especially sunglasses. A common argument for people in favor of buying a cheap $20 pair of sunglasses is “oh they’re just sunglasses.”. People will say that the end result is exactly the same, whether you spend $30 or $300 on a pair of shades.

This is true if all you’re looking for is basic UV protection, provided the manufacturers’ claims are true and the sunglasses have a UV protection rating of at least 400. But if you get shades that offer no UV protection (commonly found in $5 – $10 lenses) you can actually do more damage to your eyes than good. Cheap sunglasses simply block light, causing your pupils to get bigger in an attempt to get more light. With no UV protection, this lets more UV rays to get into your eyes and damage your retinas more than if you didn’t wear sunglasses at all.

But beyond simple UV protection, expensive lenses such as the ones found in designer shades like Oakleys and Ray-Bans are composed of many layers and filters, not simple pieces of tinted plastic. To understand this more, you need to know how each individual layer of the lens works and what purpose it serves.

First, the tint on the lens. Yes, most people think they just add these tints to make the sunglasses look cooler, but in reality they serve a greater function. As you might know, different color filters block different kinds of light. Basic grey tints are good for regular use, like driving. It allows for comfort in bright situations while blocking UV and still allowing you to retain the ability to see colors correctly. Yellow or gold tints block blue light while letting other light through. Blue light tends to scatter and refract, causing a blue haze. The yellow tint virtually eliminates the blue part of the spectrum and makes other colors sharp and bright. This is why snow goggles are typically yellow. However, this tint really distorts color perception, making yellow tinted glasses ineffective for tasks that require accurate color perception. Green tints block some blue light and reduce glare. Also, green tints offer the best contrast and highest visual acuity of all colors. Purple and rose color tints offer the best contrast against green and blue backgrounds, making them a popular choice for hunters and water skiers.

Next is a feature called polarization. When light is reflected or scattered, the resulting light is called polarized light. Most cheap sunglasses offer minimal or low polarized light protection, while virtually all expensive sunglasses offer some form of protection. You can see examples of polarized light by looking at the surface of a lake, or the hood of a car. To test of you have polarized lenses, just go outside and look at the hood of your car. Point the shades at the hood and slowly start tilting them forwards, if the lenses are polarized, the glare should gradually reduce, until it is eliminated altogether.

More expensive sunglasses are also generally more durable. The lenses are scratch-resistant and the frames are made of durable, lightweight materials. Cheap shades have their place though — in high-risk situations where there is a very real possibility of your shades getting damaged. You don’t want to have a $300 accident. The nice thing about cheap shades are that they’re practically disposable. My personal recommendation is to own both a pair of cheap $20 sunglasses and an expensive high-quality pair as well. Use the cheap ones as a good disposable backup pair.

Posted in: Products, Tips