Updated on 

August 5, 2022

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Photochromic (Transition) Lenses - Types, Pros & Cons

What are Photochromic Lenses?

Photochromic lenses, also known as adaptive ortransition lenses,” are intelligent lenses designed to protect the eyes from bright light and harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. They provide a “sunglass effect,” which means they darken in bright sunlight and become clear in low light.

The first photochromic lenses were developed in 1966 by Corning Glass Works Inc.1 They were glass lenses treated with silver halide crystals, which made the finished lens darker in reaction to the sun’s UV rays. Since then, there has been significant improvement in design and effectiveness. 

Today, different types of eyewear use photochromic technology, including prescription sunglasses, eyeglasses, and contact lenses.2 

A notable development is the FDA-approved ACUVUE® OASYS with Transitions Light Intelligent Technology™ by Johnson & Johnson and Transitions Optical Limited. It corrects nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia).3

Photochromic lenses are available in multiple brands, colors, and materials, including glass, acrylic, and polycarbonate. 

Types of Photochromic Lenses

There are several types of photochromic lenses sold in the USA. The most common brand is Transitions®, manufactured by Transitions Optical. 

Due to their popularity, some think transition lenses is a general term for all adaptive lenses. Transitions Optical represents only one brand among several in the U.S. market.

Transitions Gen 8 lenses 

Introduced in July 2019, the Gen 8 lenses are designed to protect against indoor and outdoor light. They change from dark to clear quicker than other lenses available (in 30% less time). These lenses also achieve significant darkness outdoors (up to category 3). The extent of their darkening depends on factors such as UV light intensity and temperature.

Since they darken as much as standard sunglasses, which have a set tint, Transitions Optical’s Gen 8 lenses provide the best balance between outdoor comfort and indoor clarity.

Where to Buy Glasses + Contacts

Best Overall: Warby Parker

Fastest Delivery: EyeBuyDirect

Also Great: Liingo

Best Place to Buy Contacts: 1800 Contacts

Transitions Vantage

These everyday lenses slightly darken indoors and polarize for outdoor comfort and sharper vision. Transitions Vantage lenses are best for people frequently exposed to bright lights and reflective glare from horizontal surfaces such as roads, water, and snow.4

The polarization effect blocks the reflective glare. This enables the lenses to deliver a high-definition visual experience in different lighting conditions. 

Transitions XTRActive

Transitions® XTRActive®  lenses, another product of Transitions Optical Limited, are designed for people with indoor light sensitivity issues who also want a darker shade when outside. These lenses slightly darken to offer comfort when exposed to harsh indoor lighting from fluorescent lights or digital devices like LED screens.

Transitions XTRActive new generation lenses offer the darkest tint in hot temperatures. They block up to 34% of harmful blue light indoors and up to 90% while outdoors. XTRActive lenses also have quicker fade-back abilities than previous versions (up to 35% faster). 

Their ability to activate fast and behind the windshield makes these lenses perfect for driving.

LifeRx Photochromic Lenses

Developed by Vision-Ease Lens, LifeRX lenses are made from polycarbonate and are designed to darken quickly. They attain full tint in less than 60 seconds and fade back to clear within no time.

LifeRX lenses provide 100% UVA and UVB protection and are compatible with different frames, including rimless.

Sensity Photochromic Lenses

Sensity Photochromic Lenses were introduced in 2016 by Hoya Vision Care. They’re designed to adjust tints based on UV, climate, and temperature.

Sensity lenses exist in various colors, materials, and anti-glare coatings. For example, the Sensity Shine lenses have a mirror coating and are great for those who love trendy lenses.

On the other hand, the Sensity Dark lenses are designed for optimal performance. They deliver extra darkness outside and inside the car, making them the best lenses when faced with intense light or temperature.

ColorMatic IQ Sun 2 

Made in Germany, the ColorMatic IQ Sun 2 lenses are designed for comfortable UV and glare-free vision. The lenses have a basic tint of 40% in low incident light and darken in strong sunlight. These changes happen within seconds, but the color is maintained throughout the process.

ColorMatic IQ Sun 2 lenses are available in three tints:

  • Chocolate brown. For contrast-enhancing effect
  • Pure gray. Accurate color vision
  • Racing green. For a soothing, relaxing, and calming effect

ZEISS PhotoFusion Lenses

Developed by Carl Zeiss Vision in Germany, PhotoFusion lenses are designed to provide accurate color vision in different light conditions. They come in different colors - brown, gray, blue, and pioneer green.

Like the other lenses, they darken and fade back quickly. The newer versions, like the ZEISS PhotoFusion X, darken up to 60% faster than the previous generation.

PhotoBrown and PhotoGrey Lenses

Developed by Corning, The PhotoBrown and PhotoGrey lenses are constructed with glass, making them scratch resistant. The silver chloride compound (that enables color changes) is evenly spread across the thickness of the lens. However, this is a drawback because the thicker sections may appear darker than the thinner ones. 

In the case of severe nearsightedness, the lens is designed to include a brighter center and a darker perimeter. According to the manufacturer, the Thin & Dark glass photochromic lenses are much lighter and thinner than conventional ones.

SunSensors Lenses

Initially manufactured by Corning and later acquired by Mitsui Chemicals, SunSensors™ are lenses made of plastic (acrylic). SunSensors darken slowly compared to standard lenses and maintain their dark tint even when indoors. 

How Do Photochromic Lenses Work?

Light-intelligent lenses adjust their tint when the silver chloride compound is exposed to UV rays or blue light.

The lenses will be transparent indoors due to little or no UV/blue light. When exposed to harmful UV rays outdoors, the lenses begin to darken, achieving a tint that promotes visual comfort and protects the eye against the harmful effects of UV rays.5

The transition from clear to dark does not affect vision quality or comfort. This is why prescription glasses with photochromic lenses are a great alternative to standard lenses and prescription sunglasses.

Pros and Cons of Photochromic Lenses

Photochromic lenses have their share of benefits and drawbacks.

Pros

  • Convenient. Functional for both indoors and outdoors
  • Cost-effective. No need to spend on a pair of UV-protection sunglasses
  • Continuous protection. The dyes activate in UV light to darken the lenses and protect the eyes from direct sunlight in all weather conditions
  • Easy care and maintenance. Low chance of misplacement or loss since you don’t have to exchange them for sunglasses
  • Several options are available. You can choose your preferred brand, tint color, and frame design
  • Meets everyone’s needs. Regardless of your prescription, there’s undoubtedly a photochromic lens for you

Cons

  • Some are less effective behind the windshield.
  • Prolonged transition, especially in less sunny weather.
  • The extent of darkening depends on the brand.
  • Some lenses may take longer to adjust than others.
  • The unpolarized versions lack glare protection.
  • Costly compared to standard lenses

Windshields have some UV protection, preventing some lenses from darkening even when it’s visibly bright.6 However, special lenses like Transitions® XTRActive® and Transitions® Drivewear® are designed to react to visible light. 

Photochromic Lenses vs. Transitions® Lenses

Photochromic lenses (adaptive lenses) adjust their tint based on the lighting and temperature conditions. On the other hand, Transitions lenses are a popular brand of photochromic lenses from Transitions Optical Limited. They block 100% of harmful UVA and UVB rays. However, many people, including health professionals, use the two terms interchangeably.

How Much Do Photochromic Lenses Cost?

Most vision insurance companies provide coverage for photochromic lenses. With no insurance, sunglasses with photochromic lens technology may cost between $70 and $400 a pair or more, depending on brand and design

Adding photochromic lenses to prescription eyeglasses may cost you between $100 and $400 on top of the cost of standard glasses. The price may also vary based on your selected brand, lens indexes, and add-ons.

Summary

  • Photochromic lenses are light-intelligent lenses protecting the eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and blue light
  • These lenses darken outdoors based on the amount of UV light or harsh artificial light indoors
  • Photochromic lenses are available in multiple brands, colors, and materials
  • Common brands include Transitions (Gen 8, Vantage, and XTRActive), ColorMatic IQ Sun 2, Sensity, LifeRx, ZEISS PhotoFusion, Sensors, etc. 
  • Their ability to adjust tints based on lighting and weather conditions makes photochromic lenses a great alternative to prescription sunglasses and standard eyeglasses

Best Places to Buy Glasses

Best Overall

Warby Parker has stylish, high-quality frames at affordable prices.

Also Great

Liingo Eyewear is another great option to buy glasses online.

Best on a Budget

EyeBuyDirect has a wide variety of budget frames starting at $6.

Best Places to Buy Contacts

Best Overall

1-800 Contacts is our #1 recommendation to buy contacts online.

Also Great
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GlassesUSA has a huge selection of contacts, glasses, & sunglasses.

6 Cited Research Articles
  1. Chemical & Engineering News. “What's that stuff? Self-Darkening Eyeglass: The science behind dual-purpose lenses,” cen.acs.org, 2009.
  2.  American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Sunglasses With Transition Lenses: Pros and Cons,” aao.org, 2021.
  3. US Food and Drug Administration. “FDA clears first contact lens with light-adaptive technology,” fda.gov, 2018.
  4. Cleveland Clinic. “Are Polarized Sunglasses Worth the Extra Money?,” health.clevelandclinic.org, 2019.
  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. “The Sun, UV Light and Your Eyes,” aao.org, 2020.
  6. Wachler B., “Assessment of Levels of Ultraviolet A Light Protection in Automobile Windshields and Side Windows,” American Medical Association, 2016.
Melody Huang is an optometrist and freelance health writer. Through her writing, Dr. Huang enjoys educating patients on how to lead healthier and happier lives. She also has an interest in Eastern medicine practices and learning about integrative medicine. When she’s not working, Dr. Huang loves reviewing new skin care products, trying interesting food recipes, or hanging with her adopted cats.
Vincent Ayaga is a medical researcher and experienced content writer with a bachelor's degree in Medical Microbiology. His areas of special interest include disease investigation, prevention, and control strategies. Vincent's mission is to create awareness of visual problems and evidence-based solutions shaping the world of ophthalmology. He believes that ophthalmic education offered through research has a greater impact among knowledge seekers.
https://www.visioncenter.org/author/vince/
Author: Vince Ayaga  | UPDATED August 5, 2022
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Medical reviewer: Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.

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