How To Buy Sunglasses


More than an acces­so­ry, the right pair of sun­glass­es will offer you pro­tec­tion from the sun’s harm­ful rays, deliv­er defense against dust and debris, and yes, make you look cool. There is a pair of shades for every head and intend­ed use—whether you’re walk­ing the beach, bik­ing a gran fon­do, or con­ceal­ing last night’s hang­over. But not all sun­glass­es are cre­at­ed equal; and expen­sive does not always mean bet­ter. This guide intro­duces some top­ics that will help you learn how to choose the best sun­glass­es for your style—and budget.

Fit: The shape of one’s face is as unique as the per­son­al­i­ty express­ing the emo­tions it reveals. So, too, is the shape of sun­glass­es. Some impor­tant facial char­ac­ter­is­tics to keep in mind when choos­ing sun­glass­es are:

  • Width of face
  • Length of eye­lash­es: Peo­ple with long eye­lash­es will go crazy if their glass­es sit too close to their face.
  • Cheek­bone height: The wrong pair can sit too high on the cheek­bone for comfort.
  • Nose size: deter­mines the size of the bridge you should look for in your shades.

Most name-brand sun­glass­es pro­vide five unique mea­sure­ments for you to com­pare to your own face. They are:

  • Lens Width: The dis­tance from side to side on the lens.
  • Lens Height: The dis­tance from top to bot­tom of the lens.
  • Diag­o­nal dis­tance of the lens diam­e­ter — The dis­tance from one cor­ner to the oppo­site cor­ner (for exam­ple: bot­tom left to top right)
  • Bridge width: The dis­tance from the inside edge of the mid­point of the lens to the oth­er edge. (Basi­cal­ly the dis­tance between the mid­points of where your nose fits on the glasses.)
  • Length of the arm: the length from the where the arm meets the frame to the back of the arm that fits behind the ear.

These mea­sure­ments to your own needs will help you choose the best fit­ting frame for your face type.

Coun­try of Ori­gin: In the Unit­ed States and many oth­er coun­tries, there is a law requir­ing all import­ed lens­es to state the coun­try of ori­gin. Some coun­tries, like Italy and the Unit­ed States, are known for mak­ing excep­tion­al qual­i­ty high-end sunglasses.

Frame: It’s impor­tant for the frame to fit your face and stay on while engaged in activity.

Mate­r­i­al is what the frame is made out of. There are many mate­ri­als to choose from, and depend­ing on your needs, one will prob­a­bly stand out as a bet­ter option than the other.

Met­al shades are strong and gen­er­al­ly light­weight. Com­mon met­al types are nick­el, stain­less steel, and alu­minum. Tita­ni­um is regard­ed as the strongest and light­est of them all.

Plas­tic shades also come in a vari­ety of types, the most com­mon being Zylonite. This is light­weight and inex­pen­sive, but also prone to break­ing, espe­cial­ly in extreme weath­er. Kevlar is anoth­er type of plas­tic that is very strong. Nylon is anoth­er pop­u­lar mate­r­i­al that is usu­al­ly blend­ed with anoth­er form of poly­mer to cre­ate a strong frame that can with­stand hot and cold. Poly­car­bon­ate is both light­weight and impact-resis­tant, mak­ing them a pop­u­lar choice for pre­mi­um sports glasses.


Shape — See­ing as there are many uses for sun­glass­es, it makes sense that there is a wide vari­ety of shapes to fit every use.  Here are the main types you can choose from:

  • Wrap­around
  • Frame­less
  • Semi-Frame­less
  • Wire
  • Round
  • But­ter­fly
  • Way­far­er
  • Avi­a­tor
  • Rec­tan­gle

Lens­es: Lens­es come in a vari­ety of qual­i­ty that will dra­mat­i­cal­ly affect your expe­ri­ence in the sun. There are many fac­tors that go into lens­es, from the aes­thet­ic to the scientific.

Acrylic Lens­es are a great light­weight, scratch-resis­tant (with spe­cial coat­ing) alter­na­tive to glass. Acrylic is poly­mer-based, mean­ing it’s a spe­cial breed of plas­tic that resem­bles the opti­cal qual­i­ties of glass. The major­i­ty of non-glass lens­es these days are made from Acrylic. They are both afford­able and durable.

Polyurethane Lens­es are gen­er­al­ly used for pre­scrip­tion sun­glass­es. They have years of sci­en­tif­ic research behind them, and usu­al­ly car­ry the price tag to match.

Glass Lens­es will prob­a­bly nev­er go out of style due to their opti­cal qual­i­ty. The draw­back is they are prone to break­ing, and are gen­er­al­ly heav­ier than a com­pa­ra­ble plas­tic coun­ter­part. Glass is not rec­om­mend­ed for out­door activity.

Polar­ized Lens­es fil­ter light to reduce glare and enhance con­trast. Because reflect­ed light comes from a dif­fer­ent angle, the polar­iz­ing fil­ter on your sun­glass­es is able to block out the glare while still allow­ing you to see through. Orig­i­nal­ly polar­ized lens­es were sig­nif­i­cant­ly more expen­sive than a non-polar­ized lens, but these days they are quite affordable.

Pho­tocromic Lens­es will actu­al­ly dark­en when exposed to sun­light. When you walk indoors, the col­oration dis­ap­pears. This effect can be uti­lized on all lens types. They are pri­mar­i­ly used on pre­scrip­tion glasses.

AR Coat­ing: AR stands for “Anti-Reflec­tive”.  AR lens­es work on both the inside and the out­side of the lens. It helps in high-glare sit­u­a­tions when the sun is at its max­i­mum, espe­cial­ly if your frame type allows light in from the sides such as in wire-frame glass­es or frames that do not wrap around to cov­er the sides of the eyes.

UV Pro­tec­tion / VLT Rat­ing: All but the cheap­est knock off sun­glass­es these days offer UV (Ultra­vi­o­let) pro­tec­tion.  UV rays are the harm­ful rays that come from the sun and do dam­age to our eyes and skin.  There are two forms of UV rays:  UVA and UVB.  UVA rays affect the sur­face and cause the instant burn, and can even dam­age the reti­na with pro­longed expo­sure.  UVB rays are the rays that pen­e­trate deep and cause long term dam­ages.  Both rays are harm­ful.  In fact, if the lens­es have slight mag­ni­fy­ing prop­er­ties and do not come with UV pro­tec­tion, you will be expos­ing your eyes to more radi­a­tion than if you had noth­ing. Most glass­es offer 99–100% UV pro­tec­tion, and since the rays are not vis­i­ble, there is no rea­son to have any less protection.

VLT Rat­ing stands for “Visu­al Light Trans­mis­sion”.  This is essen­tial­ly a mea­sure­ment of how much light is actu­al­ly com­ing through the lens and reach­ing your eyes.  A VLT rat­ing of 20% means that 20% of light pass­ing through the lens­es actu­al­ly reach­es your eyes.

Col­or: Lens­es are all tint­ed dif­fer­ent­ly and each col­or fil­ters light based on var­i­ous conditions:

Gray: Lens­es are the most com­mon, and block out light uni­form­ly while still retain­ing accu­rate col­or range

Brown: Lens­es reduce blue wave­lengths and also pro­vide excel­lent con­trast and depth perception.

Yel­low: Lens­es actu­al­ly increase the light enter­ing your eye. They also cre­ate a great con­trast. Yel­low is ide­al for low light sit­u­a­tions or cloudy days.

Orange: Lens­es are also used for low­er light con­di­tions, although reduce the trans­mis­sion of blue light so can be used in sun­light as well. Orange is great for hunt­ing and snow sports.

Red: Lens­es are best used at sun­set and sun­rise con­di­tions, increas­ing con­trast while also reduc­ing glare and block­ing out light.  They are a great all around lens when the sun is not too intense.

Blue: Lens­es are great for bring­ing out def­i­n­i­tion dur­ing fog­gy and cloudy days, but can also be used in sun­ny con­di­tions.  Many ten­nis play­ers use it as it brings out the def­i­n­i­tion in the ball quite well.

Inter­change­able: A num­ber of glass­es, espe­cial­ly those geared to sports, offer inter­change­able lens­es. This is a great option for folks need­ing sun pro­tec­tion in vary­ing light conditions.

Hinges: Most glass­es have hinges on the arms to allow for them to fold com­pact­ly. There are two main types of hinges:

Spring Loaded Hinges are designed to flex to the face and com­press next to the face, giv­ing a more secure fit.  These are more com­mon on met­al sunglasses.

Bar­rel Hinges are where a small screw is insert­ed between the arm and the frame.  Depend­ing on the mate­r­i­al of the frame/arm, you might need to be cau­tious of these, as weak­er plas­tic can be prone to break­ing at this spot.


Uses: The best way to choose your next pair of sun­glass­es is to decide how you’ll be using them. Here are a few ele­ments to look for when mak­ing your decision:

Ski­ing: Ski­ing sun­glass­es are a nice replace­ment for gog­gles in spring snow when tem­per­a­tures are warmer. Look for mod­els that offer vents to keep the lens­es defogged while you’re bomb­ing groomers.

Cycling: Look for a shape that will fit wide­ly around the whole eye to help pre­vent dust, debris, and insects from get­ting in. Wider lens­es will also accom­mo­date a wider field of view for when you’re ped­al­ing in the attack position.

Pad­dling: Look for pho­tocro­mat­ic lens­es to com­bat the glare from side waves while you’re fight­ing through a train of Class III-IVs

Running/Hiking: Look for light­weight, tight-fit­ting sun­glass­es that won’t bounce up and down with each stride.

Climb­ing Glass­es: Look for wide lens­es that will pro­tect the eye from dust and debris and ensure the widest field of view so you nev­er miss a crimp.

Of course, you don’t need a unique pair of glass­es for each of your dif­fer­ent out­doors pur­suits but it helps to know the lev­el of move­ment you’ll be doing, as well as what lev­els of reflec­tion you’ll be fight­ing. A good pair of sun­glass­es is worth its weight in gold; that said, just because a pair is expen­sive does­n’t mean that it’s right for you. Be hon­est with what you need and you will have an enhanced expe­ri­ence in all light­ing conditions.