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Prescription sunglasses: Do you really need them?

prescription sunglasses
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Prescription sunglasses can be beneficial for people who already wear prescription glasses and want to spend time outdoors. However, not everyone needs prescription sunglasses: if you have a weaker prescription, or don't use sunglasses very often, they might be completely necessary for you. 

In this article, you'll find everything you need to know about prescription sunglasses – from what they are and their pros and cons, through to how to buy them – to help you decide whether they're right for you. 

If you decide you do need prescription sunglasses, you'll find our guide to the best places to buy glasses online elsewhere on the site.

What are prescription sunglasses?

Prescription sunglasses are, essentially, sunglasses that adjust your vision in the same way as your prescription glasses. Just like traditional sunglasses, prescription sunglasses will protect your eyes from harmful UV rays that can damage your eyes – while enabling you to have optimal vision outdoors during bright, sunny days. 

How much do prescription sunglasses cost?

The cost of prescription sunglasses can vary, depending on the retailer and brand of your frames – much like prescription glasses. Some cost as little as $10, while premium prescription sunglasses might cost as much as $600. 

However, many retailers offer prescription sunglasses at a reduced cost if you purchase your eyeglasses from them too, so it's worth looking around for deals. 

Do I need prescription sunglasses with polarized lenses?

While normal sunglasses protect your eyes from bright light and UV rays, only polarized lenses are able to block glare. Light can become more intense when it reflects off shiny surfaces like water, vehicles and the pavement. Polarized lenses use a filter to reduce the effects of glare, improving visibility and reducing discomfort. If you’re intending to drive, take photos, visit areas with lots of water like the beach and so on, you may find polarized prescription sunglasses to be beneficial. 

How to buy prescription sunglasses: online vs in store

Whether you're buying prescription glasses online or from a brick-and-mortar store, it's easy to order a pair of prescription sunglasses at the same time. (Just remember you'll need an updated prescription.) 

Buying prescription sunglasses online can be very convenient. There are thousands of styles available to browse: some retailers will let you try them on virtually, while others will send you a few pairs to test for a certain period of time. Remember to check the delivery fee and return policy before selecting any prescription sunglasses to try, as these could cost you additional expense. 

Of course, buying prescription sunglasses in a brick-and-mortar store has it's pros and cons too: if you choose this option, you have a more accurate idea of how they fit your face, reducing the chances that you'll have to return them if you don't like them. However, you'll have to allocate travel time and expenses to go to the store, which may not having as many options as online vendors do. 

What are transition lenses? Should I buy them instead?

Transition lenses, also called photochromic lenses, are lenses that darken with exposure to light. In the absence of sunlight – when it’s cloudy, or you’re indoors – they return to their original, clear appearance. 

They can be a great alternative for anyone who doesn’t want to invest in a pair of prescription sunglasses, removing the need to carry multiple pairs of glasses with you. But some people find it frustrating that they can’t control when the glasses are light or dark.

To help you decide whether to choose prescription sunglasses or transition lenses, here are the pros and cons of each…

Prescription sunglasses: pros and cons

Reasons to buy

  • Control over style
  • Sunglasses frames can be expensive
  • Prescription sunglasses generally block out more sunlight than transition lenses
  • Good for people who drive around a lot during the day

Reasons to avoid

  • Have to carry them around
  • Easy to lose prescription lenses

Transition lenses: pros and cons

Reasons to buy

  • Convenient: only one pair of glasses necessary
  • Great for quick trips between the indoors and outdoors
  • Good for kids 
  • Generally more cost-efficient than sunglasses
  • Last about 3 years, more than traditional prescription sunglasses
  • Adapt to changing light conditions, so the tint will usually be the perfect amount to offset the brightness outside, meaning that they will usually never be too dark

Reasons to avoid

  • May not darken enough in conditions where light is reflected off snow or water
  • May take longer to adjust in colder temperatures
  • Smaller, narrower frames may not be able to completely block out the sunlight
  • Some tint lenses may not sufficiently protect your eyes on a bright day
  • Not ideal for photographers
  • Not ideal for driving: vehicle windshields block UV rays so the lenses will not be activated

Think that prescription sunglasses might be the right option for you? Head over to our buying glasses online guide to find out the best places on the web to purchase new glasses.