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:
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.