What to Know About Polarized Lenses

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 27, 2021
4 min read

Polarized lenses, like UV sunglasses, protect your eyes from sun damage. While they do offer UV (ultraviolet) protection from the sun's rays, they also have other added benefits.

Why are polarized lenses important, and how do they work?‌ Here's what you need to know about how they work, the pros and cons, and more.

Most glasses offer some level of UV protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Polarized lenses go a step further by reducing the glare of rays reflecting on horizontal surfaces like water, the road, or snow. Polarized lenses are a great choice for someone who spends a lot of time outdoors.

Polarized lenses are made with a slightly different material than other typical sunglasses. They are coated with a special chemical that filters light. The chemical's molecules align in a specific way that allows some of the light to filter through, but not all of it. You may compare polarized lenses to blinds or curtains in your windows that block some of the sunlight.‌

Only the light that hits your lenses vertically passes through polarized lenses. If light hits horizontally, it bounces off your lenses instead. Because of this, everything may look a little darker than normal when you’re wearing polarized glasses. Still, the trade-off is that things should look clearer without added glares from the sun bouncing off things around you.‌

But you shouldn’t stop at polarized lenses. You also want to ensure you have larger lenses over smaller ones. Larger lenses in your glasses cover more of your eyes and offer a greater level of protection from the sun from the top and sides.

Pros of Polarized Lenses. The greatest benefit of polarized lenses is the clarity of vision while outdoors. If you like to do outdoor activities like fishing and golfing, polarized lenses won’t give you a better technique. But they will help you see better so that you can improve your natural abilities. 

Without glare on the water, you won’t have to squint around the piercing reflection of the sun beaming to your eyes. While playing golf, you can see farther and possibly hit the ball with more accuracy.‌

Cons of Polarized Lenses. Polarized lenses aren’t always beneficial. In some situations, they may actually impair your vision and make it harder to see.

An example of this is LCD screens like:

  • The dashboard controls in your car
  • ATMs at your bank or credit union
  • Your cellphone‌
  • Some wristwatches or activity trackers

It is also important to note that glasses boasting UV protection aren’t necessarily polarized. While polarized glasses do offer protection from added UV rays, they also have the added benefit of reducing glare. Some glasses may protect from UV rays while not reducing glare.

UV radiation damages your eyes from the surface tissue down to the cornea and lens. UV damage to your eyes is very similar to sunburn you get on your skin, although it may not have the same symptoms immediately. Polarized lenses can lessen your risk of damage to your eyes from the sun's UV rays.‌

You may get damage to your eyes without even realizing it. Over time, the damage adds up and increases your risk for dangerous eye conditions that may require surgery.‌‌

Photokeratitis. This condition occurs when you are in the sun for an extended period of time, and UV rays cause temporary loss of vision. It is often compared to a severe sunburn, and the effects may last around six to 24 hours.

Cataracts. This is characterized as clouding of your eye’s lens. It usually happens very slowly over time and may not be immediately obvious that your vision is even impacted. Luckily it’s easily treatable with a procedure that removes the cloudy barrier and improves your vision.

Eye cancer and tumors. Cancer and other abnormal growths may affect your eyes in different ways.

Cancer or tumors can affect different parts of your eyes including:

  • The jelly-like substance that fills your eyeball
  • The tissues that surround and protect your eyeball‌
  • The structures inside your eyelid like tear ducts‌

Without UV sunglasses protection and polarized lenses, your eyes are more likely to get damage that changes the cells in your eyes. Cancer of the eye is dangerous because it may spread and affect other areas of your body, too.

Blindness or other loss of vision. If your eye gets enough damage over time, your nerves may be beyond repair. In this case, you can lose your vision to the point of blindness. Some damage may be slowed down, but it is often not reversible once it begins.