Go Back To All Articles Nov 17 2015

The Straits Times Mind & Body: Various shades of protection

In recent years, a type of lenses that darken automatically when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light has become rather popular.

These lenses, which turn clear in the absence of UV light, are often mistaken for transition lenses due to the popularity of the Transitions brand. But they are, in fact, photochromic lenses, which Transitions Optical said it first commercialised in 1990.

Today, there are other brands of photochromic lenses in the market, including cheaper ones from China and South Korea.

Dr Koh Liang Hwee, president of the Singapore Optometric Association (SOA), said this technology has been around for at least 20 years, but recent improvements have made the self-tinting and fading feature more light-responsive, and such lenses reduce glare too.

They are good for those who prefer not to carry a pair of prescription sunglasses around, said Dr Koh, who works at Pearl's Optical.

However, most photochromic lens brands do not darken significantly in the car. This is because they react primarily to UV light - not visible light - and car windshields are built to block more than 99 per cent of UV light. Drivers may therefore want to consider photochromatic lenses meant for driving or use sunglasses.

Photochromic lenses do not turn very dark in hot weather as temperature affects the degree to which they darken. But they can turn very dark in cold weather, like in winter.

There is also a lag of a few minutes when the lenses are either darkening or lightening, so immediate protection from UV light is not possible, said Dr Eugene Tay, medical director and ophthalmologist at Singapore Vision Centre.

Someone who does not wish to use sunglasses may get his normal spectacle lenses coated to provide UV protection, suggested Dr Tay.

Indeed, most high-index lenses already come with UV protection, said Dr Koh. Some contact lenses also have this feature.

But lenses with UV coating do not protect the eyes against glare or excessive visible light, which can cause eye strain.

"UV-blocking coatings are close to colourless - or an almost imperceptible yellowish tint - so they do a good job of filtering out UV light, but not glare," said SOA councillor Chui Wen Juan, an optometrist at CC Chui Optical.


For glare protection, particularly when engaging in water sports and other outdoor activities, polarised lenses will help.

These can cut glare from reflective surfaces and the surroundings. They are especially ideal when driving, doing water sports or in environments with reflective surfaces such as snow or sand, and in glass buildings, said Dr Koh.

However, they are unsuitable for those whose work requires them to view LCD displays, such as commercial pilots. They have to be careful when using these lenses as they will cause the screen to appear dim or blacked out, said Dr Koh.

As glare protection and UV protection are mutually exclusive, a darkly tinted lens without a UV blocking coat will still let UV light penetrate, Ms Chui pointed out.

Also, make sure the frame fits properly on the face, she said.

"You could have the best UV protective lenses, but if the frame sits poorly on the face, the eyes will still be exposed to a significant amount of UV light," she added.