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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Polarized Lenses

If you’ve ever stopped to consider how your polarized lenses work and why your eyes need them anyway, we’re here to give you the skinny. In fact, this skinny’s going to be ever-so-slightly scientific, so don your geek specs, strap on a calculator, and get prepared for knowledge to be bestowed (don’t worry, we promise not to go overboard with the boffin speak!).

What does ‘polarized’ mean, anyway?

First, let’s cover the basics. Light is a wave comprised of photons, each of which has an orientation, just as waves in the ocean oscillate up and down. But when it comes to light waves, they can oscillate in an infinite number of orientations. For instance, when a light wave hits flat, non-metallic surfaces (e.g. roads, water, snow, sand, windscreens, etc.), it tends to reflect or ‘vibrate’ in all directions (or planes). Sometimes this is a good thing – vertical light is great for seeing more objects in your visual plane.

But most reflected light is horizontal. That means the photons are more likely to bounce onto the back of your eye (or retina), get magnified and cause glare. This plays havoc with your depth and colour perception, distorts your vision and can even temporarily blind you. And that’s – literally – not a great look. However, when light is polarized, all the photons are oscillating in the same direction. Unfortunately for our eyes, this rarely occurs in nature.

What do polarized lenses do, then?

Polarized lenses give nature a helping hand, and make your eyes feel more comfortable in bright sunlight, too. They feature a thin, embedded chemical film that absorbs horizontal light waves. If you want to get all science-y, the film’s molecules physically align to create slots that allow light to pass through in a particular orientation, kind of like how a Venetian blind blocks light. Your polarized lenses permit vertical light to pass through – so you can see – but block horizontal light to eliminate glare. Nifty, huh?

Who needs polarized lenses?

Originally, fisherman and boaters wore polarized sunglasses because the glare off the water’s surface was so often blinding. It also helped them see fish and other such things under the water more clearly – as you can see below. But everyone else quickly caught on. Polarized sunglasses are great for sports people of all persuasions – golfers, bikers, surfers and joggers particularly. They’re brilliant for reducing reflections from roads, windscreens and hoods while driving. Basically, those who spend time outdoors, don’t want to strain their eyes and need to see clearly, despite the presence of glare, can benefit greatly from polarized sunglasses. Thankfully, lots of brands make polarized eyewear, from Hugo Boss to RayBan, Oakley to Calvin Klein sunglasses.

However, we strongly recommend that skiers don’t use polarized sunnies on the ski fields. Snow’s irregular surface means that wearing polarized sunglasses may not have a maximal effect on reducing the glare caused. However, they might even prevent you from seeing important features, such as ice patches, while you’re on the slopes. But using polarized sunglasses après ski is totally OK though.