Which is better: photochromic glasses or prescription sunglasses?

Posted by Maddy D on

Typical prescription eyeglasses do not provide sufficient protection from the harmful rays of the sun. Whereas, just sunglasses are not enough to give you a clear vision. Fortunately, there are glasses that can protect your eyes from the harmful effects of the sun and give you a clear vision. However, one big question for people who wear prescription glasses is: which is better, photochromic glasses or prescription sunglasses? Photochromic glasses darken when exposed to sunlight, whereas, with sunglasses, you will have to switch between regular glasses and sunglasses. The answer to this question primarily depends on your lifestyle. Do you spend more time indoors or outdoors? How many hours do you spend in front of a computer? Do you regularly participate in outdoor sports? How often do you drive?

While you should choose between the two depending on your lifestyle, photochromic lenses, and sunglasses both protect you from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun that can be quite damaging for the eyes. UV light is a predisposing factor to pterygium, macular degeneration, and cataracts.

What are photochromic lenses?

Photochromic lenses change color on exposure to light. The glasses are also known as photochromic lenses, variable tint, light adaptive, or transitions lenses. Photochromic lenses are clear indoors but after exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, a chemical reaction within the lenses causes them to darken after about 30 seconds. The lenses are available in a range of lens treatments, lens colors, and materials. It is also available in anti-glare coatings. The transitions lenses can even be used in bifocal or progressive eyeglasses. If you’re spending long periods of time in the sun, prescription glasses are better for you. Whereas, photochromic glasses are better if you’re transitioning between the indoors and outdoors all day. Although, both these glasses have pros and cons.

Both glasses block 100 percent of ultraviolet rays and are light-adaptive lenses. Prescription sunglasses are even compatible with most optical quality frames. You need to consider what you spend the majority of your time doing before deciding between the two.

  • Adaptive lenses work well for quick trips in and out.
  • For activities where the bright light may reflect back at you, for example, activities in water or snow, prescription sunglasses with polarized lenses will be a better fit. Adaptive lenses may not darken enough to meet your needs because they react differently to glare from shiny surfaces, like snow or water.
  • Prescription sunglasses offer more comfort and higher impact resistance for an active lifestyle compared to transitions lenses.

Different types of photochromic lenses

There are several different types of photochromic lenses including Transitions Signature, Transitions XTRActive, and Transitions Vantage. All of these lenses offer and advanced and adaptive technology with a standard of eye protection, visual comfort, visual quality, and performance.

Transitions Signature

Transitions signature are the most recommended adaptive lenses and are ideal for everyday use for enhanced vision. The lenses are fully clear when indoors or at night. Whereas, these lenses darken and adapt to every variation of light outdoors so you can see your best. The lenses provide you with better contrast, more clarity, reduce strain, eye fatigue, and glare for effortless vision.

Transitions XTRActive lenses

These lenses are everyday-adaptive lenses that maintain a hint of tint indoors and reach superior darkness in changing light conditions outdoors. The lenses are an ideal choice for prescription lenses wearers who are sensitive to light and spend a lot of time outdoors. The lenses work best while driving because they respond to both natural and UV light.

Pros of photochromic lenses


Photochromic lenses are convenient and can easily be accessorized with bold sunglasses. However, there are some people who find it a hassle to switch between regular glasses and prescription sunglasses. If you’re clumsy, carrying a pair of each of the glasses means that you might even leave a pair somewhere. What’s more, you may even forget to carry your sunglasses when you need them. Photochromic lenses are a good option for children who wear eyeglasses. They can benefit from glasses that automatically change color in sunlight.

Reasonable cost

Transition lenses last longer than typical prescription eyeglasses and can last for up to three years. The lenses may not get as dark and show signs of yellowing after about three years. However, even when getting a new pair or a replacement, you will only be paying for an upgrade charge of photochromic lenses. A pair of prescription sunglasses can cost as much as or even more than regular prescription glasses. With prescription sunglasses rather than replacing a pair of glasses, you will be replacing two pairs of glasses every time your prescription will need an updating. Photochromic glasses save you money overall.


Photochromic glasses continuously adapt to changing light and reduce eye strain. The glasses reduce sensitivity to light and protect from UV rays. The lenses change color in response to the brightness outdoors, on the contrary, prescription sunglasses may be too dark for a partly cloudy day. The lenses are especially useful for people who spend a large portion of their day in bright outdoor conditions. Some prescription sunglasses include photochromic treatment on already tinted glasses, making the tint darker than the conditions call for.

Cons of photochromic lenses

Photochromic lenses are a great choice when going for a walk or for an outdoor barbecue, however, they still have some drawbacks. Users quite often complain that the eyeglasses are small framed and large enough to block the sun comfortably. The eyeglasses with variable tint should wrap around to cover the entire eye for best protection and to effectively block stray UV rays. In addition to this, the lenses are not as dark as sunglasses and may block a maximum of 75% of the sun, whereas, sunglasses can block up to 85% of light. In addition to this, the lenses make the display on your camera difficult to see in the sun and are not ideal for outdoor photography. If you like being in front of the camera, you may want to pose without the glasses for outdoor portraits to avoid dark lenses in your photo.

Polarized lenses vs photochromic lenses

You need to protect your eyes from the sun every time you step outside. Although, there are other ways to protect your eyes from the bright conditions and glare outdoors. Sunglasses can help prevent eye strain, discomfort, and squinting caused by the sun. However, not all sunglasses are the same.

Polarized lenses are designed to block light that bounces off surfaces, such as, water and cars in the form of horizontal wavelengths and preventing glare. When you’re looking for sunglasses that reduce glare while outdoor activities, driving, or sports, polarized lenses are a suitable choice. Filtering of the wavelengths decreases strain on the eyes in high glare, bright environments so you’re more comfortable. Although, these lenses do not offer protection from the UV rays on their own. For this reason, you will need to ensure that you’re choosing glasses that come with 100% UV protection. However, polarization is not ideal for all conditions and can make it difficult to see a GPS screen or your phone. It even becomes difficult to see icy patches on the slopes when the weather gets chilly. Some people also experience dizziness and nausea while wearing polarized lenses.

Common uses for polarized sunglasses are:

  • Boating

  • Fishing

  • Driving

  • Hiking

  • Golfing

  • Biking

  • Other outdoor activities

Photochromic sunglasses adjust to light conditions automatically to let an ideal amount of tint pass through the lenses. If you will experience varying conditions of light in your activities, photochromic lenses might be the right choice for you. However, a darker tint does not mean more UV protection. Your eyes will only be as comfortable because the tint adapts as necessary in the sun as they would be on a slightly overcast day.

Common uses for photochromic sunglasses are:

  • Hiking
  • Golfing
  • Biking
  • Gardening

When choosing eyewear, think about when you wear sunglasses. If you will wear them while fishing, jogging, hiking, or driving, polarized lenses will be a good choice for your lifestyle. However, if you’re a pilot, photographer, or ski and use your smartphone often, they are not the best choice.

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