How to Select Eyeglasses and Sunglasses

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Prescription glasses and sunglasses have to be functional but also look good. Fortunately, there are so many styles that it's easy to find the right pair. Learn the technical details first, then shop around.

Consider frame materials. Aluminum and titanium frames are very durable and offer custom fitting options. Plastic frames are light and durable but usually can't be bent to offer a custom fit.

Assess overall weight. Glasses need to be comfortable. Large lenses and thick frames add up to heavy glasses, something most people find uncomfortable. If you need thick lenses, get the smallest diameter lens that looks good on you.

Understand lens materials. Glass lenses resist scratching but are heavy and have lower shatter resistance. Polycarbonate (plastic) lenses are light and shatter resistant but demand care to prevent scratches. Custom options for lenses include an antireflective coating to cut glare, enhanced thinness for light weight and good looks, and photoreactive tinting that gets darker in bright light. Beware: These options can easily double your total cost.

Shop for metal frames that can withstand vigorous bending without damage. Opt for a separate set of specialized sports glasses with an impact-resistant frame and lenses secured by a strap.

Read the label carefully. You want 100 percent UV (ultraviolet light) protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Some lenses are labeled as UV400, which means the same thing.

Own several pair of sunglasses since one pair can't do everything. Leave a pair in the car for driving--cheap ones if you tend to sit on them. A slim stylish pair will not protect your eyes from debris while riding your bike. Expensive, sporty wrap-arounds will make you look like a yahoo at work.

Look for shatter-resistant polycarbonate lenses for water and snow sports, which require protection against strong reflected rays. Glass lenses, with their increased scratch resistance and fine optical quality, are a good choice for pricey, dress-up glasses. Polarized lenses, which reduce glare, are always a good idea.

Choose lens color carefully. Sensitive eyes need dark lenses. Gray or gray-green are good for general use. Brown works well for daytime driving or golf. Yellow and amber provide depth perception in low-light conditions. Avoid light blue and pink for driving or sports as they distort color. Some models have interchangeable lenses.

Tips & Warnings

  • Talk to your optometrist and get prescription sunglasses if you need them. Or get clip-ons that attach to your regular glasses.
  • You don't have to spend a lot to get good protection. Moderately priced sunglasses, around $20, frequently offer good eye protection. Designer sunglasses can cost $100 to $300. Ask about a warranty.
  • Take a Polaroid camera along when you shop for glasses. If you're undecided, get a picture of you wearing them to bring home.
  • If you're under age 20, your eyes let in more UV rays. Since children spend a lot of time outside, protect their little eyes from UV exposure and glare.
  • Too much UV radiation can lead to blindness. Not all tinted glasses--even very dark ones--protect against UV radiation, so be sure to check the label.

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