Originally published for online retailer TheClymb.com

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HOW TO BUY SUNGLASSES

More than an acces­sory, the right pair of sun­glasses will offer you pro­tec­tion from the sun’s harm­ful rays, deliver defense against dust and debris, and yes, make you look cool. There is a pair of shades for every head and intended use—whether you’re walk­ing the beach, bik­ing a gran fondo, or con­ceal­ing last night’s hangover. But not all sun­glasses are cre­ated equal; and expen­sive does not always mean bet­ter. This guide intro­duces some top­ics that will help you learn how to choose the best sun­glasses for your style—and budget.

FIT: The shape of one’s face is as unique as the per­son­al­ity express­ing the emo­tions it reveals. So, too, is the shape of sun­glasses. Some impor­tant facial char­ac­ter­is­tics to keep in mind when choos­ing sun­glasses are:

  • Width of face
  • Length of eye­lashes: Peo­ple with long eye­lashes will go crazy if their glasses sit too close to their face.
  • Cheek­bone height: The wrong pair can sit too high on the cheek­bone for comfort.
  • Nose size: deter­mines the size of the bridge you should look for in your shades.

Most name-brand sun­glasses pro­vide five unique mea­sure­ments for you to com­pare to your own face. They are:

  • Lens Width: The dis­tance from side to side on the lens.
  • Lens Height: The dis­tance from top to bot­tom of the lens.
  • Diag­o­nal dis­tance of the lens diam­e­ter — The dis­tance from one cor­ner to the oppo­site cor­ner (for exam­ple: bot­tom left to top right)
  • Bridge width: The dis­tance from the inside edge of the mid­point of the lens to the other edge. (Basi­cally the dis­tance between the mid­points of where your nose fits on the glasses.)
  • Length of the arm: the length from the where the arm meets the frame to the back of the arm that fits behind the ear.

These mea­sure­ments to your own needs will help you choose the best fit­ting frame for your face type.

COUN­TRY OF ORI­GIN: In the United States and many other coun­tries, there is a law requir­ing all imported lenses to state the coun­try of ori­gin. Some coun­tries, like Italy and the United States, are known for mak­ing excep­tional qual­ity high-end sunglasses.

FRAME: It’s impor­tant for the frame to fit your face and stay on while engaged in activity.


MATE­R­IAL is what the frame is made out of. There are many mate­ri­als to choose from, and depend­ing on your needs, one will prob­a­bly stand out as a bet­ter option than the other.

METAL shades are strong and gen­er­ally light­weight. Com­mon metal types are nickel, stain­less steel, and aluminum. Titanium is regarded as the strongest and light­est of them all.

PLAS­TIC shades also come in a vari­ety of types, the most com­mon being Zylonite. This is light­weight and inex­pen­sive, but also prone to break­ing, espe­cially in extreme weather. Kevlar is another type of plas­tic that is very strong. Nylon is another pop­u­lar mate­r­ial that is usu­ally blended with another form of poly­mer to cre­ate a strong frame that can with­stand hot and cold. Polycarbonate is both light­weight and impact-resistant, mak­ing them a pop­u­lar choice for pre­mium sports glasses.


SHAPE — See­ing as there are many uses for sun­glasses, it makes sense that there is a wide vari­ety of shapes to fit every use.  Here are the main types you can choose from:

  • Wrap­around
  • Frame­less
  • Semi-Frameless
  • Wire
  • Round
  • But­ter­fly
  • Way­farer
  • Avi­a­tor
  • Rec­tan­gle

LENSES: Lenses come in a vari­ety of qual­ity that will dra­mat­i­cally affect your expe­ri­ence in the sun. There are many fac­tors that go into lenses, from the aes­thetic to the scientific.

ACRYLIC Lenses are a great light­weight, scratch-resistant (with spe­cial coat­ing) alter­na­tive to glass. Acrylic is polymer-based, mean­ing it’s a spe­cial breed of plas­tic that resem­bles the opti­cal qual­i­ties of glass. The major­ity of non-glass lenses these days are made from Acrylic. They are both afford­able and durable.

POLYURETHANE Lenses are gen­er­ally used for pre­scrip­tion sun­glasses. They have years of sci­en­tific research behind them, and usu­ally carry the price tag to match.

GLASS Lenses will prob­a­bly never go out of style due to their opti­cal qual­ity. The draw­back is they are prone to break­ing, and are gen­er­ally heav­ier than a com­pa­ra­ble plas­tic counterpart. Glass is not rec­om­mended for out­door activity.

POLAR­IZED Lenses fil­ter light to reduce glare and enhance contrast. Because reflected light comes from a dif­fer­ent angle, the polar­iz­ing fil­ter on your sun­glasses is able to block out the glare while still allow­ing you to see through. Originally polar­ized lenses were sig­nif­i­cantly more expen­sive than a non-polarized lens, but these days they are quite affordable.

PHO­TOCROMIC Lenses will actu­ally darken when exposed to sun­light. When you walk indoors, the col­oration dis­ap­pears. This effect can be uti­lized on all lens types. They are pri­mar­ily used on pre­scrip­tion glasses.

AR COAT­ING: AR stands for “Anti-Reflective”.  AR lenses work on both the inside and the out­side of the lens. It helps in high-glare sit­u­a­tions when the sun is at its max­i­mum, espe­cially if your frame type allows light in from the sides such as in wire-frame glasses or frames that do not wrap around to cover the sides of the eyes.


UV PRO­TEC­TION / VLT RAT­ING: All but the cheap­est knock off sun­glasses these days offer UV (Ultra­vi­o­let) pro­tec­tion.  UV rays are the harm­ful rays that come from the sun and do dam­age to our eyes and skin.  There are two forms of UV rays:  UVA and UVB.  UVA rays affect the sur­face and cause the instant burn, and can even dam­age the retina with pro­longed expo­sure.  UVB rays are the rays that pen­e­trate deep and cause long term dam­ages.  Both rays are harm­ful.  In fact, if the lenses have slight mag­ni­fy­ing prop­er­ties and do not come with UV pro­tec­tion, you will be expos­ing your eyes to more radi­a­tion than if you had noth­ing. Most glasses offer 99–100% UV pro­tec­tion, and since the rays are not vis­i­ble, there is no rea­son to have any less protection.

VLT RAT­ING stands for “Visual Light Trans­mis­sion”.  This is essen­tially a mea­sure­ment of how much light is actu­ally com­ing through the lens and reach­ing your eyes.  A VLT rat­ing of 20% means that 20% of light pass­ing through the lenses actu­ally reaches your eyes.

COLOR: Lenses are all tinted dif­fer­ently and each color fil­ters light based on var­i­ous conditions:

GRAY: Lenses are the most com­mon, and block out light uni­formly while still retain­ing accu­rate color range

BROWN: Lenses reduce blue wave­lengths and also pro­vide excel­lent con­trast and depth perception.

YEL­LOW: Lenses actu­ally increase the light enter­ing your eye. They also cre­ate a great con­trast. Yel­low is ideal for low light sit­u­a­tions or cloudy days.

ORANGE: Lenses are also used for lower light con­di­tions, although reduce the trans­mis­sion of blue light so can be used in sun­light as well. Orange is great for hunt­ing and snow sports.

RED: Lenses are best used at sun­set and sun­rise con­di­tions, increas­ing con­trast while also reduc­ing glare and block­ing out light.  They are a great all around lens when the sun is not too intense.

BLUE: Lenses are great for bring­ing out def­i­n­i­tion dur­ing foggy and cloudy days, but can also be used in sunny con­di­tions.  Many ten­nis play­ers use it as it brings out the def­i­n­i­tion in the ball quite well.

INTER­CHANGE­ABLE: A num­ber of glasses, espe­cially those geared to sports, offer inter­change­able lenses. This is a great option for folks need­ing sun pro­tec­tion in vary­ing light conditions.

HINGES: Most glasses have hinges on the arms to allow for them to fold com­pactly. There are two main types of hinges:

SPRING LOADED Hinges are designed to flex to the face and com­press next to the face, giv­ing a more secure fit.  These are more com­mon on metal sunglasses.

BAR­REL Hinges are where a small screw is inserted between the arm and the frame.  Depend­ing on the mate­r­ial of the frame/arm, you might need to be cau­tious of these, as weaker plas­tic can be prone to break­ing at this spot.


USES: The best way to choose your next pair of sun­glasses is to decide how you’ll be using them. Here are a few ele­ments to look for when mak­ing your decision:

SKI­ING: Ski­ing sun­glasses are a nice replace­ment for gog­gles in spring snow when tem­per­a­tures are warmer. Look for mod­els that offer vents to keep the lenses defogged while you’re bomb­ing groomers.

CYCLING: Look for a shape that will fit widely around the whole eye to help pre­vent dust, debris, and insects from get­ting in. Wider lenses will also accom­mo­date a wider field of view for when you’re ped­al­ing in the attack position.

PAD­DLING: Look for pho­tocro­matic lenses to com­bat the glare from side waves while you’re fight­ing through a train of Class III-IVs

RUNNING/HIKING: Look for light­weight, tight-fitting sun­glasses that won’t bounce up and down with each stride.

CLIMB­ING GLASSES: Look for wide lenses that will pro­tect the eye from dust and debris and ensure the widest field of view so you never miss a crimp.

Of course, you don’t need a unique pair of glasses for each of your dif­fer­ent out­doors pur­suits but it helps to know the level of move­ment you’ll be doing, as well as what lev­els of reflec­tion you’ll be fight­ing. A good pair of sun­glasses is worth its weight in gold; that said, just because a pair is expen­sive doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. Be hon­est with what you need and you will have an enhanced expe­ri­ence in all light­ing conditions.

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