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Everything You Need to Know About Transition Lenses – The Pros & Cons

Dr. Jordan Marr

Written By:

Dr. Jordan Marr

Updated: 30 September 2022 •  

Are you getting tired of swapping between your clear eyeglasses and your sunglasses? Or do you just want one pair of glasses that will do it all? Transition lenses might be the solution for you!
 

What are transition lenses?

Transition lenses are a type of eyeglass lens that becomes dark when exposed to UV light (i.e sunlight) and returns to clear when indoors. You might also know these as reaction lenses, or photochromatic lenses.
 
You might be wondering how this is possible. Transition lenses are made with photochromic molecules which decompose when exposed to UV light. This decomposition causes the lens to darken, and is known as the “activated” state.
 
When the UV light source is taken away (i.e. you go indoors) the molecules return to their original state and the lens appears clear again. Photochromatic lenses are a great way to get more out of your everyday eyeglasses!
 
transition lenses on uv rays

Transition lenses turn dark automatically in UV light.

 
Transition lenses can be made of many different materials (such as glass, plastic, or polycarbonate), and can be added to single vision, multifocal (i.e. bifocal or trifocal), or progressive lenses. They can also have coatings added to them, such as anti reflective/anti glare coatings.
 
In addition to this, transition lenses come in many colors, which allows for a more personalized lens. The most common colors provided are brown and grey, however newer transition lenses are offered in colors such as emerald (green), amethyst (purple), sapphire (blue), and amber (yellow).
 
Apart from being aesthetically pleasing, different colored transitional lenses offer various benefits that cater to your lifestyle. For example, brown colored lenses provide higher color contrast while grey colored lenses provide the darkest overall tint and “truer” colors.
 

The pros of transition lenses

  • ConvenienceIt’s handy to not need to swap between your everyday eyeglasses and your sunglasses! Plus, you won’t have to worry about losing your glasses since you can wear one pair all the time.
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  • Cost effectiveHaving just one set of eyeglasses that can be used both indoors and outdoors can save you a lot of money. Adding transitions to your everyday eyeglasses means that you won’t need to pay for an additional pair of prescription sunglasses.
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  • Less glare and light sensitivityHaving UV protection and a tinted lens reduces glare and the harshness of light, making for a more pleasant experience when it’s bright outside.
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  • Eye protectionTransition lenses filter out harmful UV rays (both UVA and UVB rays), which keeps your eyes healthy. Protection against UV rays can prevent many ocular conditions (i.e. cataracts and pterygium).
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  • Blocks blue lightSome types of transition lenses can help to protect against blue light, which can ultimately protect the eyes from damage and eye strain.
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  • Can be used with most frame styles, sizes, and prescriptionsTransition lenses are extremely versatile in that they can be put in many different frames and can be used for most prescription strengths.
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  • Only react to UV lightTransition lenses only react with UV light and will not become darker when exposed to light from a lightbulb or computer screen. This means that your lenses will only darken outside.

 

The cons of transition lenses

  • Less effective while drivingAs many windshields have UV blocking technology, there is less UV light to react with your photochromatic lenses. This prevents your eyeglasses from becoming as dark in the car as they normally do outdoors.
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  • Affected by temperatureIn colder weather, transition lenses can take longer to react to UV light which means they will darken more slowly.
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  • Not always polarizedMany transition lenses do not come with polarizing, which means that you might experience more glare than you would in polarized sunglasses. However, as technology advances, polarized transition lenses are becoming more readily available.
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  • Residual tintingTransition lenses are typically designed to have a lifespan of approximately two years. After this time, the lens may become discolored in its “clear” state and can appear yellowed. This is because some of the photochromatic molecules become worn out and can no longer properly activate. When the lens degrades like this, you may also notice that they take longer to darken outside and don’t become as dark as they used to.
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  • Not as dark as sunglassesTransition lenses do not always become as dark as sunglasses, which can be inconvenient if you’re after a particularly dark lens. Although transition lenses provide UV protection at all the times, the level of darkness depends on how much UV is available to react with the lens. The UV index, weather, and time of day play a role in how well your lenses darken.

 

How to know if transition lenses are right for you

Before buying transition lenses, there are some things that you should ask yourself:
 

1. When will I use my eyeglasses?

 
If you’re planning on wearing your glasses mostly for driving or if you’ll be dealing with extreme glare, a pair of prescription sunglasses might be best for you. However, if you are looking for a versatile pair of eyeglasses that you can wear all the time, then transition lenses are your best bet!
 

2. What type of eyeglasses do I currently wear?

 
Transition lenses are mostly used for everyday glasses, such as single vision distance, multifocal, and progressive lenses. However, some people get transition glasses for their reading prescription if they do a lot of outdoor reading.
 

3. Do I always want my lenses to be dark when I’m outside?

 
For aesthetic reasons, some people do not always want for their lenses to appear tinted while they are outside. This may be the case when taking outdoor photos or if you are just going outside briefly.
 

4. What type of environment do I live in?

 
Factors such as UV index and weather can affect how much UV is present. If you live in an area that is frequently overcast with very low amounts of UV, you may find that your lenses do not darken as much as they might in a sunny location with high levels of UV light.
 

Asking an expert on transition lenses

If you are unsure about trying transition lenses, you should consult with your eye health professional.
 
By doing this, you can discuss what you want to get out of your eyeglasses and any concerns that you may have.
 

Frequently asked questions

1. What are transition lenses good for?

 
The most common reason for choosing a transition lens is convenience! Transition lenses are great for people who are looking for one set of eyeglasses that can be worn indoors whilst also providing extra glare and UV protection outdoors. These lenses give you the best of both worlds.
 

2. Do transition lenses have UV protection?

 
Yes! Transition lenses have the same level of UV protection as sunglasses. Photochromatic lenses protect against UVA and UVB rays. Transition lenses are a great way to protect your eyes while wearing your everyday eyeglasses.
 

3. Are transition glasses better than sunglasses?

 
Neither option is “better” than the other – this is a personal preference that will depend on what you want your eyeglasses to do for you. If you spend most of your time outdoors, or if you drive a lot, then sunglasses may be the better choice. However, transition lenses are better if you want convenience.
 

4. What color transition glasses are best?

 
The best color transition lens for you depends on what you will use your glasses for. If you need the maximum darkness possible in a transition lens, it is best to opt for a grey colored lens. However, brown transition lenses are best for people who would like better contrast (i.e. while fishing or playing golf). As with sunglasses, your chosen tint color will be mostly down to personal preference.
 

5. Are transition lenses worth it?

 
Transition lenses are convenient and cost effective, whilst also providing UV protection. If you want one pair of eyeglasses that will do everything for you, then transition lenses are the best option. However, it is important that you consider the pros and cons of transition lenses before buying them so that you can ensure that you will get the most out of your eyeglasses.
 

References

  • “What Are Transition Lenses?”, Optometrists Network
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  • “The Effects of Photochromic Lenses on Visual Performance”, Journal of Clinical and Experimental Optometry
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  • “Sunglasses with Transition Lenses”, American Academy of Ophthalmology
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  • “Differences in the Optical Properties of Photochromic Lenses Between Cold and Warm Temperatures”, PLoS One
Dr. Jordan Marr

Written by:

Dr. Jordan Marr

Dr Jordan Marr has over 5 years of clinical and academic optometry experience and is a visual science editor for the Clinical and Refractive Optometry journal. He is licensed under the Optometry Board of Australia.
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