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Polarized Sunglasses vs. Regular Sunglasses: What’s the Difference?

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More than a fashion accessory, sunglasses protect your vision and help you feel more comfortable in sunny and snowy conditions. Of course, you have to look for the right qualities, such as level of protection against ultraviolet (UV) light.

Some people want more than straightforward protection from UV rays. They also want sunglasses capable of blocking glare. Polarized glasses can do this better, but they do not always offer the same benefits as regular sunglasses.

An Overview of Standard Sunglasses

Sunglasses help you see better in sunny conditions and can be particularly helpful in snow and near water. They protect your eyes against UV rays, which can harm your eyesight.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends these guidelines to find the best pair of sunglasses:

couple both wearing sunglasses
  • Focus on bigger models. These can protect your peripheral vision as well.
  • Buy sunglasses that offer 100 percent protection against UV rays. Inexpensive models can protect your eyes as much as costlier options, as long as they protect your eyes against all harmful UV rays.
  • Color can help if you have certain hobbies. Green, gray, or amber lenses can improve contrast, which helps if you enjoy sports. Amber lenses tend to block blue light.
  • Darker lenses are best for everyday use. Lighter lenses may not provide enough protection.

Some regular sunglasses are a bit different from the traditional kind that have just one color. Variations include:

  • Gradient sunglasses. These may be dark at the top but clear at the bottom. Some are dark at the top and bottom, and they may only be clear in the middle.
  • Wrap-around glasses. These can fit over a pair of prescription glasses as long as they are big enough.
  • Clip-on or magnetic lenses. If you wear prescription glasses, you may be able to use magnetic or clip-on lenses to turn your glasses into sunglasses.

What to Look for in Polarized Glasses

man with sunglasses on

Polarized do not necessarily protect your eyes from UV rays. Instead, they make it more comfortable to see around things that reflect, such as windshields, pavement, snow, and water. Benefits of polarized lenses are:

  • Improved clarity.
  • Decreased strain on the eyes.
  • Ability to see colors as they are.

People who enjoy fishing, are sensitive to light, or have had cataracts removed may benefit from polarized lenses as well. There are some situations where polarized lenses are not the best option.

  • If you need to see a digital screen clearly, such as when using an ATM or dashboard on an airplane, they are not a good option. Polarized lenses make it harder to see liquid crystal (LCD) displays.
  • If you are skiing or snowboarding downhill, avoid polarized lenses. Glare is a sign that you may be traveling in an icy area, so you don’t want that reduced.
  • Some people report that using polarized lenses distorts their senses or makes them dizzy.

Tinted and polarized glasses can look similar, but you can test whether a pair of glasses is truly polarized. Visit a retailer that sells polarized lenses, and follow these steps:

  • Retrieve a pair of sunglasses, and hold your lenses at a 90-degree angle from the pair at the store.
  • If your glasses are polarized, both lenses should turn almost or completely black.

You can also optimize your polarized glasses if you have additional needs. Photochromic, or transition, lenses are helpful for people who spend a lot of time going in and out of bright or sunny areas. You can also get progressive (bifocal or trifocal) polarized sunglasses.

Cost Comparison

woman calculating cost

The frames, materials, and brand you choose will influence the cost of your sunglasses, whether they are polarized or not.

Polarized glasses tend to start at $25 and can cost up to $450 or more if you choose a designer label. A regular pair of sunglasses can cost about the same.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I look for in a regular pair of sunglasses?

A regular pair of glasses should provide 100 percent protection from UV rays that could harm your sight. Bigger lenses can also protect your peripheral vision.

Both inexpensive and expensive brands can protect your sight.

How do I know when glasses are polarized?

You usually need to check your pair of glasses using other polarized lenses. Visit a pharmacy or retailer that sells polarized glasses, and align yours at a 90-angle from the second pair of polarized lenses. They should turn black or almost black when you look through both of them.

Are regular sunglasses or polarized glasses better?

A regular pair of sunglasses is best for regular outdoor activities.

Polarized lenses do not always fully protect against UV rays, but they are more comfortable to wear in the snow, an area with water, or where there is bright cement. This is why they are so popular with drivers, people who enjoy fishing or other aquatic activities, and people who spend time in the snow.


  1. How to Choose the Best Sunglasses. (May 2015). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  2. Recommended Types of Sunglasses. (December 2015). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  3. Prescription Sunglasses & Polarized Glasses. (2019). SportsRx.
  4. Sunglasses Frame Materials and Styles. (June 2019). Verywell Health.
  5. What to Know About Polarized Sunglasses. (June 2019). Verywell Health.

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