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- Polarized sunglasses can help reduce eye strain and give you a sharper, clearer view.
- There are polarized sunglasses for every style and budget.
- We spoke to two ophthalmologists to identify the best polarized sunglasses.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
You may think of polarized sunglasses as the domain of anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. While that is somewhat true, anyone who wears sunglasses can benefit from polarized lenses. I spoke with two ophthalmologists, Drs. Lisa Park and Natasha Herz, who explained the benefits of these types of lenses that block out polarized light, AKA glare, that's created when light bounces off surfaces like water or a car hood and enters the eye horizontally. They both explained that polarized lenses do not provide protection from ultraviolet light, but do help significantly reduce glare.
According to Dr. Herz, the clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, polarized lenses can help make your eyes feel less tired, prevent associated headaches, especially when you're on or near the water, and make your surroundings appear sharper. For people who are especially light sensitive, Dr. Herz recommends wrap-around style sunglasses.
Dr. Park, an Associate Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, said the polarized lenses are especially good for driving. She recommends larger frames, since they provide more eye coverage. For more on my conversations with these two doctors, see the FAQ section below.
This guide provides a variety of polarized sunglass styles and price points. All the selections also provide protection from the two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA/UVB, above and beyond the benefits of polarization. The sunglasses in this guide are unisex, but will look bigger or smaller on you depending on your face shape and size. Look at the dimensions of the sunglasses for an idea of how they might fit. Some of the brands will send you frames to try before you buy and others offer virtual try on apps on their websites.
Here are the best polarized sunglasses
The American Optical Saratoga sunglasses are back after being unavailable for decades. Beautifully designed and with outstanding lenses, it’s no wonder they were JFK’s favorite shades.
American Optical (AO) knows how to make sunglasses. After all, it’s the oldest eyewear company in the U.S., founded in 1869 when two even older Massachusetts companies merged. They have a storied history, including designing the original Aviators, being the first sunglasses on the Moon, and President John F. Kennedy’s favorite shades. And unlike many of its competitors, the company still makes its products in the U.S., at a facility in Chicago. AO’s Saratoga sunglasses (JFK’s favorite), ticks all the boxes.
The clarity of the AOLite lenses is outstanding, with great depth perception and glare reduction. The lenses have a coating to further prevent glare, and another to prevent smudging. The acetate frames have a nice heft to them—they’re slightly heavier than Ray-Ban Wayfarers, but less chunky design-wise. Even the feel of the hinges has a bit of gravitas. There are tons of thoughtful details, from the diamond-shaped rivets that secure the hinges, to the lens cloth that comes with the shades and features the Saratoga’s schematics on it. The Saratoga was reintroduced last year after being unavailable for decades, due to the former factory in Massachusetts no longer able to produce the cotton-based acetate needed for the frames, according to Scott Shapiro, the CEO Of Europa Eyewear, which owns AO. So now you can see for yourself why JFK loved these sunnies so much.
Saratoga (small) Tomahawk Shades Ranger Class
Tomahawk Shades’ Ranger Class sunglasses are handsome, have great lenses, and are as good as brands that sell for two times the price.
Tomahawk Shades is a buzzy DTC sunglasses brand that sells shades at a reasonable price point ($35 to $75). The company makes all the sunnies in small batches to ensure the highest quality and are as good as brands that cost twice the price or more. When the shades arrive at your house, inside the box you’ll find a card with the batch number and when it was made, just one of the brand’s thoughtful details. “We try to show people that we are here producing top of the line products with the best materials we can source,” Andrew Shapiro,Tomahawk Shades CEO and Founder, told Insider via email.
While the lenses aren’t quite on par with a brand like the much pricier Maui Jim, they are excellent, especially for the price point. They completely wipe out glare, offer 100% UVA protection, and are scratch and shatter resistant. Plus, Tomahawk Shades offers a stellar lifetime warranty. If you damage, break, or even lose your sunglasses, the company will replace them up to two times for a small fee ($10 to $20 depending on the style, a bit more for international orders) plus shipping. The Ranger Class shades have a mid-century aesthetic with square lenses and elegantly tapered temples. They’re made from cellulose acetate with an internal steel frame. The Watsons are a particular favorite with their semi-transparent dark-yellow frame and dark gray lenses.
Watson (small) Smith Lowdown 2
The Smith Lowdown 2s are perfect for running and other outdoor activities. They’re light but strong, large enough to fully block the sun, and stay put even if you’re sweating a lot.
The Smith Lowdown 2 are my favorite sunglasses to run in. They’re light, and the frames are large enough to fully block out the sun. They don’t slip down my nose, even when I’m sweating buckets, and everything looks crisp and bright through the lenses. The frames kind of have an oversized, sporty Wayfarer look, and are made using a bio-based material that’s very light but still durable. I’ve been abusing mine fo two-and-a-half years and they still look as good as the day I got them. The nose pads are made from Megol, a man-made rubber-like compound that does a great job preventing the sunglasses from slipping. The lenses—you can choose from either ChromaPop or polarized carbonic—are impact resistant. The Chromapop lenses are also smudge and moisture resistant and provide enhanced contrast and color. The colors are brighter and the depth perception is crystal clear. All of Smith’s lenses also offer 100% UV protection.
Lowdown 2 (small) Knockaround Pacific Palisades
The Knockaround Pacific Palisades sunglasses are sexy ’70s-style oversized frames that will up your cool factor without emptying your wallet.
Knockaround, the So Cal brand that’s been around since 2005, made its name with shades that are stylish, sturdy, and priced right (they start at just $20). The Pacific Palisades are ’70s-style oversized sunnies with a key-hole bridge and rounded rectangular lenses that give you plenty of eye coverage. They come in a variety of colorways, but the Coastal Dunes are especially good looking with their glossy two-tone green frames and Polarized amber gradient lenses. Besides reducing glare, the lenses offer UV400 protection, and are impact resistant. At just $25, these are a great deal.
Pacific Palisades Coastal Dunes (small) Raen Optics Remmy
Raen Optics’ Remmy highlights the best features of this California brand: Handmade frames, timeless style, and high-quality materials.
Raen Optics is a California brand that has continued to up the game on mid-priced sunglasses with handmade frames, timeless style, and high-quality materials, all at a decent price point. The Remmy, which comes in both narrow and medium sizes, features classic rounded lenses in frames with subtly horned temples and a keyhole bridge. Made from acetate, the temples have a wire core to which the five-barrel hinges are mounted for a stronger pair of shades. The lenses are manufactured by the German manufacturer Carl Zeiss, one of the world’s leading optics companies. Besides cutting glare, these lenses also take out 100% UVA/UVB light. The Remmy comes in eight colorways, but the Honey with Green polarized lenses are a standout. Their sunglasses come with a sturdy case and great presentation package. If you’re looking for sunnies that are understated yet ultra cool, and still keep the sun’s harsh rays from doing a number on your eyes, you can’t go wrong with Raen Optics’ Remmys.
Remmy (small) Maui Jim Relaxation Mode
Maui Jim’s Relaxation Mode has a unique style with lenses that wipe out glare and make colors pop.
I’m a big fan of Maui Jim for the brand’s ability to come up with unique frames and for their polarized lenses—which are all made in either Italy or Japan—that are some of the best available. Their sunnies are also durable. I’ve had several pairs for more than four years that look as good as the day I got them and I’m not overly careful with my shades (I don’t carry them in the case and I’m prone to dropping them). Their Relaxation Mode sunglasses are made from acetate and stainless steel and have classic square lenses set off by the metal double bridge for a unique look. You can customize the frame and lens color for an even more individual style. The Grey Tortoise with the Hawaii Lava lenses are stunners. The polarized lenses are made from the company’s Maui Brilliant, a polycarbonate material that’s much lighter than glass but with optics nearly as clear, while being shatter and scratch resistant. They wipe out glare while providing sharp details, offer complete UV protection, and make colors pop beautifully. The best way to describe it is that looking through these lenses is akin to boosting the saturation levels on your Instagram photos.
Relaxation Mode (small) Fetch Eyewear Westley Sun
Look good while you do good with the Fetch Eyewear Westley Sun, browbar-style shades from a company that donates its proceeds to animal welfare.
I’m a sucker for great causes, especially if it means getting super stylish sunnies while supporting animal welfare. Fetch Eyewear donates 100% of its net proceeds to help pets in partnership with the Portland, Oregon-based Pixie Project, an animal rescue that offers low-cost spay and neutering and other veterinary services.
Now, onto the shades. The Westley sunglasses are modeled after Ray Ban’s Clubmaster Classic—the brow and temples are of acetate while the lenses are held in place by metal rims—and come in eight different unique colorways, including Avocado, a semi-transparent light green. The frames come with a lifetime warranty. Like Warby Parker (see below), Fetch lets you try the frames at home before pulling the trigger on your purchase. The polarized lenses include anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings.
Westley Sun (small) Ray Ban Aviator Classic
The Ray-Ban Aviator Classic marries the cool factor of this iconic style with superior polarized lenses developed by the company over 70 years.
As a kid I lusted after both the Ray-Ban Wayfarer and the Aviators. As an adult, after I’d finally made the upgrade from cheaper imitations, the brand’s quality and craftsmanship made me that much more of a fan. The Ray Ban Aviators are classics that have been around since the late ’30s when they were designed for the U.S. Army pilots (before the birth of the U.S. Air Force). The thin, but resilient, metal frames have a double bridge for added strength. The teardrop lenses are made from either crystal or polycarbonate depending on which you choose and have an anti-reflective coating on the back of the lens preventing 99% of reflected light from reaching the eye and also providing 100% UV protection. The company’s polarized lenses provide great clarity and vivid colors. The gold frames with green (G-15) crystal lenses are a favorite, but there are 11 more options to choose from.
Aviator Classic (small, Preferred: GlassesUSA) Sunski Topeka
Sunski’s Topeka sunglasses bridge the gap between sporty and stylish and are eco-friendly and decently priced.
Sunski began life on Kickstarter after the founders failed to find success with their bowl specifically designed for chips and salsa (true story). The brand offers a nice range of unique sunglass styles at a decent price, including the Topeka, a frame that bridges the gap between sporty and stylish. They have a slight wrap around design with square shaped lenses. The company makes the frames from recycled polycarbonate plastic, and they’re super light, flexible, hard to break, and more eco-friendly than many other sunglasses. If you do break them, Sunski will fix or replace them for free. The lenses are made from triacetate cellulose, with the polarization layer sandwiched inside, like many higher-end lenses that helps prevent the polarization from being rubbed off. The lenses offer 100% full-spectrum UV protection. This is all for less than $70, with some of Sunskis’ polarized sunglasses priced even lower.
Topeka sunglasses (small) Vuarnet Legend 03
The iconic Vuarnet Legend 03, made famous by The Big Lebowski, goes beyond mere style with the brand’s famous polarized lenses that provide crystal-clear color and depth.
Vuarnet’s Legend 03 sunglasses were already iconic by the time Jeff Bridges sported them as the Dude in the Coen Brothers’ film The Big Lebowski, but the movie helped propel these polarized shades that are made in France to legendary status. Also legendary are the brand’s mineral glass lenses; in 1960, Olympic skier Jean Vuarnet teamed up with a Parisian avant-garde optician to create the company. The polarized lenses come in several models depending on what you’re looking to use them for—skiing, golf, running, beach sports—but all of them offer crystal-clear colors and depth perception while blocking out glare and UV, infra-red and blue light. The large frames provide full-coverage of the eyes and the anti-reflective backsides help stop reflected light from hitting the eyes. The frames are made from a super-durable bio-nylon that conforms to the wearer’s face.
Legend 03 (small) Warby Parker Barkley
The Warby Parker Barkley is a contemporary take on the mid-century square frame that comes with the company’s easy return and exchange policy.
Warby Parker, the DTC brand that changed the optometry game, offers both non-prescription and prescription versions of its Barkley polarized sunglasses. The Barkley, a contemporary take on square-framed sunnies, are made from hand-polished cellulose acetate. The Antique Shale Fade is an attractive choice with its two-tone black-and-tan colorway. The polarized, non-prescription lenses are made from a scratch-resistant plastic polymer, CR-39, while the prescription versions are made from polycarbonate, known for its impact resistance. Both types of lenses also offer 100% UV protection. The company is renowned for its Home Try-On program that allows you to pick five frames and try them for five days before making a purchase. Plus, Warby Parker has a 30-day hassle-free return or exchange policy, free shipping, and a no-scratch guarantee for their lenses (they’ll replace them for free within the first 12 months). The non-prescription version of the Barkley comes in at under $100 with single-vision prescriptions at $175.
Barkley (small) Persol 649 Original
The Italian luxury eyewear brand Persol continues to deliver impeccable style and craftsmanship as exemplified through its iconic 649 Original.
For more than 100 years, the Italian luxury eyewear brand Persol (an acronym of “for the sun” in Italian) has been making the highest quality shades available, combining timeless style with impeccable craftsmanship. The 649 Original, released in 1957, is still handmade in Italy, and remains an iconic sunnies style that has been worn by everyone from Marcello Mastroianni, an Italian actor who helped make them famous back in 1961 to hip hop god, record executive, and entrepreneur Jay Z. The acetate frame has a wide profile with a keyhole bridge that features the company’s patented Victor Flex, a three-notch bridge that allows you to adjust the length and curve for a personalized fit. The 649s also featured Persol’s famous Meflecto flexible stems that prevent them from pressing against your temples, making for a more comfortable wearing experience.
The lenses are made of crystal for incredible clarity and scratch resistance. They completely cut out glare and also provide full UV protection. “Persol’s lenses are scientifically formulated to offer outstanding protection against the sun’s harmful rays, absorbing radiation that can be harmful to the eyes,” Niels Van Geet, Luxury House Brands Director at Luxottica (Persol’s parent company) told Insider in an email. While all the choices are gorgeous, the Resina e Sal with Blue Gradient lenses are a standout.
649 Original (small) Oakley Flak 2.0 XL
Oakley’s retro-futuristic Flak 2.0 XL offers wrap-around eye protection with lenses that enhance colors while blocking glare.
Oakley’s Flak 2.0 XL are retro-futuristic shades that offer wrap-around eye protection in an ultra-lightweight, flexible but sturdy frame. Oakley has been making sports and performance shades for nearly 40 years, and helped popularize the wrap-around style. The Flak 2.0 XL has great eye coverage, including peripheral views, and the polarized Prizm lenses offer great clarity and glare reduction with intense color enhancement. They also have high-impact protection in case you take a spill. These sunglasses also include the brand’s patented “Unobtainium” material for the earsocks and nose pads that’s soft and comfortable but get grippier the more you sweat so the sunglasses won’t bounce around or slip off when you’re slick with sweat.
Flak 2.0 XL (small) Fuse Egmont
Fuse Lenses is known for an outstanding and wide-range of replacement lenses, but the company also makes quality sunglasses at great prices, including the Egmont, a sporty take on the Wayfarer.
Fuse Lenses is best known for its outstanding and wide-ranging replacement lenses, but the company also makes quality sunglasses at great prices. The Egmont are sporty Wayfarer-style frames that wrap around slightly to help block out light, and are perfect for outdoor sports. Like the Smith Lowdown 2, they have rubberized nose grips that prevent them from slipping down when you’re sweaty. Not surprisingly, there’s a large range of lens colors to choose from, andthe frames come in either a matte black or a gloss black. Fuse makes its own optical grade Polycarbonate lenses that are highly scratch and impact resistant (check out this video of their lenses standing up to a .22 caliber bullet. If you do damage (or even lose) your shades, Fuse offers a lifetime, one-time replacement warranty, no questions asked.
Egmont (small) Shwood Gates ACTV
The Shwood Gates ACTV are cool enough for a fancy garden party but tough enough for a long run or strenuous hike.
The Shwood Gates ACTV does double duty. They’re super stylish, but built for sweat-inducing activities like running and cycling. The Gates are made from lightweight but high-density acetate from Mazzucchelli, an Italian company that’s been around for more than 170 years and produces frames for many high-end sunglass brands. The frames also have wood inlays, a nod to the Shwood’s beginnings back in 2009 when they began producing their groundbreaking wooden frames. The Gates feature adjustable nose pads to keep the shades from slipping when you’re running, and have polarized lenses with a smudge, water resistant coating, and a seven-layer anti-reflective coating. Besides eliminating glare, the lenses also block 100% of UVA/UVB light.
Gates ACTV (small) FAQs
FAQ What is polarized light and how do polarized lenses help stop it?
Polarized light, as described by Dr. Park, are waves oscillating in one plane or direction. When light hits a flat surface such as a body of water or the hood of a car, it gets polarized horizontally and can cause glare. Polarized sunglasses work by filtering out the light oscillating in a certain direction. Polarized lenses have a chemical coating that will block out the light coming directly, horizontally, into your eyes and only allow vertical light in, according to Dr. Herz.
What’s the difference between lenses with UVA/UVB light protection versus polarized lenses?
Dr. Park describes UV radiation as a wavelength of light in the non-visible spectrum that can cause damage to tissues of the body, including the eye. UV protective glasses block this wavelength.
Do polarized lenses provide UV protection?
Polarized lenses differ from lenses with UV protection, Dr. Herz explained. Polarization has more to do with glare, and will help reduce your eye strain while you’re working outdoors or playing sports. It’s not medically necessary. UV lenses, on the other hand, protect the surface of your eyes from the harmful rays. “You can’t put sunscreen on the surface of your eyes or your eyelids,” she said. “Those areas can still get skin cancer.” For more information on protecting your eyes, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology website.
Are there different methods of making polarized lenses?
“Inexpensive polarized sunglasses have a thin film applied on one side of the lens,” Dr. Park said. “Higher quality lenses have film laminated between two layers of lens material, preventing it from being scratched or rubbed off.”
What are the downsides of polarized lenses?
According to Dr. Park, polarized lenses reduce visibility at night, so should not be worn while driving when it’s dark out. They also interfere with the ability to see an LCD display because these use polarized light to create a sharp image. Dr. Herz points out that some vehicles have dashboards that use LCD displays, and in those cases polarized lenses would not be the best choice.