Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Sunglasses: Which Is Best?

When you’re looking for a new pair of sunglasses, there are a few different things to consider. You want them to reflect your personal style and do their job in the sun. This naturally leads to questions about the benefits of polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses.

Let’s run through what polarized lenses are and how they work. We’ll also discuss which uses are best for polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of what type might be right for you.

Polarized Lenses vs. Non-Polarized Lenses: What’s the Difference?

Four smiling young women wearing bright colors and polarized sunglasses.

All sunglasses, whether they’re polarized or not, block out a certain amount of light, reducing its intensity and allowing you to see more easily in outdoor environments, especially when it’s sunny. Many sunglasses also offer ultraviolet (UV) protection against harmful UVA and UVB light. To confirm if yours do, look for a UV protection label on the glasses.

Polarized glasses take that one step further.

Normally, light bounces off uneven surfaces in all directions. So for example, if you’re looking at a beautiful garden or a crowd of people, you’ll have no problem seeing them clearly. Reflective surfaces (like a lake or snow), on the other hand, tend to polarize sunlight, concentrating it horizontally. This makes them uncomfortable to look at in bright conditions, and in some cases, the glare can be dangerous.

Polarized lenses are coated with a chemical film that operates much like vertical blinds, allowing through vertical light waves while blocking out most of the horizontal light. This cuts down on bright light reflecting up from horizontal surfaces, improving your clarity of vision and drastically reducing the glare you experience. Polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses should be your first choice on sunny days.

Interesting side fact: Polarized sunglasses were originally developed by NASA to protect astronauts’ eyes from UV light. These high-energy wavelengths can otherwise cause cataracts or macular degeneration. The NASA scientists came up with the idea after studying eagles’ vision. In fact, the chemical that filters the light in your polarized sunglasses mimics an oil that occurs naturally in eagles’ eyes. 

Benefits of Polarized Sunglasses

A woman looks out at the water from a boat deck while wearing polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses.

Choosing polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses really pays off when you’re taking part in outdoor activities on a bright and sunny day. Reflective surfaces can wreak havoc on your eyes, creating eye strain and making it difficult to see clearly. A few hours in the sun can add up to fatigue and a headache. And who wants that after a wonderful day out in the sun?

Polarized sunglasses filter ambient light and reduce the glare from a variety of surfaces, such as:

  • When you’re driving or biking on a bright day, polarized lenses cut down on the light reflecting off the hard, flat surface of the road, or from the bumpers and windshields of other cars, making travel much safer.

  • If you’re a skier out on the slopes, polarized sunglasses reduce the glare from the snow, allowing you to see the contours of your run (provided you’re not expecting icy patches — see more on this below).

  • When you’re fishing, polarized lenses decrease the surface reflection so you can see through the water’s surface to what’s going on underneath.

  • For water sports like boating, polarized glasses help you see the surface clearly so you can read the waves.

  • If you’re a mountain biker or trail runner, polarized sunglasses reduce the glare of hard surfaces like rocks, allowing you to view the trail ahead clearly.

  • And on a slightly different note, polarized glasses cut down on reflections from sunlit windows, allowing you to comfortably window shop on a sunny day.

Polarized lenses offer relief to the wearer’s eyes, making all those experiences much more pleasant. This type of lens also creates more contrast in what you’re seeing, so colors can appear brighter and richer, which adds impact to the scenery if you’re out hiking in nature or admiring a sea view.

When Non-Polarized Sunglasses Work Best

In the comparison between polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses, polarized lenses usually win out. However, there are a few instances when non-polarized lenses do work better:

  • If you’re working with a digital screen — which is very often an LCD screen — you’ll probably struggle to read the display if you’re wearing polarized glasses. This can make using your laptop, smartphone, or LCD watch outside rather a challenge. You may also need to take them off to draw money at an ATM or see what’s happening on the LCD dashboard of your car. 

  • Polarized sunglasses can camouflage shiny patches of ice if you’re driving, walking, or skiing after a snowfall, which can be a slip hazard. So, you need to weigh that against the benefits of seeing the contours clearly.

  • Polarized sunglasses aren’t really designed for reading, working indoors, or doing anything in low-light conditions.

In all these cases, you’ll be better off with non-polarized lenses.

How to Tell if You Have Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Sunglasses

In case you’re not sure whether your glasses are polarized or not, there are a couple of ways you can test this:

  • Sit in front of a computer with an anti-glare screen. Hold up your sunglasses, look through them, and then slowly turn them by 90 degrees. If they’re polarized, the lenses will go dark as the two types of light cancel each other out.

or

  • Look at any reflective surface through your sunglasses. Then turn them again through 90 degrees and if the glare starts to come back, they’re polarized. Turn them the right way again, and it will go away.

Choosing Your Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses: Three pairs of sunglasses sitting on a blue background

Now that you know the difference between polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses, it’s time to select your next perfect pair of sunglasses. Make sure you choose a high-quality brand that prioritizes eye care and also offers a wide range of colors and designs. Note that polarized lenses work for both prescription and non-prescription glasses.

If you like to express yourself through your eyeglasses, the Pair Eyewear collection is the place to start. Select your Base Frame from our collection for men or women, plus as many Top Frames as you want. Each Top Frame attaches magnetically to the base, and you can swap them out as you please. 

Sun Tops are specifically designed for those sunny days and every one of our Sun Tops is polarized to cut the glare. That means you’ll be perfectly comfortable, no matter how bright the day. 

Best of all, Sun Tops fit onto normal base frames, so you only need one pair of glasses. For indoor days, you can go with ordinary lenses, adding on the Sun Tops when you head outdoors. That’s flexibility for you.

Live Your Best Life With Polarized Sunglasses

On a busy day, you really don’t need a side of eye strain or a killer headache. Luckily there’s no need for that if you choose polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses. Polarized eyewear filters out horizontal light, reducing the reflection from flat surfaces, as well as UV rays that can damage your eyes.

With Pair Eyewear, your sunglasses will cut through the glare to help you see clearly wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. And as a bonus, you can pick from a range of designs to suit your personality at a great price point.