Updated on  February 22, 2024
7 min read

What are Transition Glasses?

7 sources cited
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Transition lenses (photochromic or adaptive lenses) are light-intelligent lenses that protect eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Transition lenses stay transparent indoors and darken within a minute or less when exposed to UV rays. They shield your eyes from the harmful effects of UV and blue light without needing to swap your prescription eyeglasses for sunglasses.

A studio photo of a pair of transition lens glasses

How Do Transition Lenses Work?

Light-sensitive molecules inside photochromic lenses shift their structure when bathed in UV rays. This gives them a darker appearance and allows them to absorb bright light.

The photochromic molecules in the lens material change structure based on the amount of UV light they’re exposed to. The lenses will darken less in the shade than in the sun and become clear again when they’re no longer exposed to UV light. 

Pros and Cons of Transition Lenses

The lenses’ transition from clear to dark does not affect vision quality or comfort, making prescription glasses with transition lenses a great alternative to standard lenses. 

However, like every product on the market, transition lenses have their share of advantages and disadvantages:

Pros

UV Protection

Transition lenses block up to 100% of UVA and UVB rays, reducing your risk of developing photokeratitis, UV-related cataracts, and macular degeneration

A transition lens progresses from transparent to tinted as UV light passes through

Blue Light Protection

Blue light emitted from smartphones, laptops, TVs, and high-efficiency lighting can cause eye strain, eye fatigue, and sleep cycle disruption. Transition lenses filter harmful blue light both indoors and outdoors.

Convenience

Transition lenses eliminate the need for separate frames for prescription glasses and sunglasses. It lowers your risk of losing sunglasses or eyeglasses on a sunny day. You can even use photochromic technology on progressive lenses

Cost-Effectiveness

Photochromic lenses typically cost less than a pair of prescription sunglasses. Additionally, they eliminate the need for multiple pairs of glasses, saving you money. 

Durability

Photochromic molecules are embedded within transition lenses. Unlike an anti-reflective coating, for example, there is no way to remove, scratch, or rub off the UV protective feature. Your lenses will remain effective indefinitely.

Cons

Transition Time

Photochromic lenses will take a minute or more to darken when exposed to UV light. The lenses take 2 to 3 minutes to clear. You may opt for separate eyeglasses and sunglasses if you prefer an immediate transition.

Brand Differences

Different brands of transition lenses may have different levels of darkness and tint, making it challenging to select the exact pair that suits your needs. 

Some lenses take longer to adjust, and some are unpolarized, so they lack glare protection. 

Inefficiency in Vehicles

Most modern car windshields have UV-blocking properties or a special coating that reflects light and causes glare. Therefore, many photochromic lenses won’t completely darken while you’re behind the wheel. 

Special lenses like Transitions® XTRActive® and Transitions® Drivewear® are designed to solve this problem by reacting to visible light.

Weather Dependency

Cloudy or cold weather may prolong the transition time of transition lenses. If you use them in such conditions, you may experience further delays in lens transition time.

Where to Buy Glasses + Contacts

Best Overall: Warby Parker

Fastest Delivery: EyeBuyDirect

Also Great: Liingo

Best Place to Buy Contacts: 1800 Contacts

Are Transition Lenses Right for You?

Transition lenses might be right for you if you want the convenience of using one pair of glasses indoors and outdoors. 

Transition lenses are best for those who spend ample time outdoors, such as athletes and nature enthusiasts. Transition lenses are also suitable for those who have difficulty switching between glasses.

Ultimately, consulting an eye doctor will help you decide which lens type is right for you.

What are the Best Brands of Transition Lenses?

Here’s an overview of the best transition lens brands on the market: 

Transitions® GEN 8™

Transitions® GEN 8™ lenses, introduced in the United States in 2019, are the fastest light-adaptive transition lenses available. 

Outdoors, the lenses darken in seconds and return to clear significantly quicker than older photochromic models. Additionally, the Gen 8™ lenses block 100% of UV light. 

Transitions® GEN 8™ lenses are best for people who want the most transparent and fastest transitioning lens. 

Transitions® XTRActive®

Transitions® XTRActive® lenses were developed for those who are light-sensitive indoors and desire a darker lens outdoors and while driving. The slight tint indoors protects eyes from fluorescent lighting. 

The XTRActive® model is best for people with heightened light sensitivity seeking extra protection in spaces where standard photochromic lenses are less efficient. 

Transitions® Vantage

Transitions® Vantage is one of Transitions Optical’s standard models. 

These lenses have a slight tint indoors and polarize outdoors for greater glare control in bright and reflective conditions. The technology continually adjusts outdoors to match the level of reflective glare. 

Sensity

Sensity photochromatic lenses by HOYA Vision Care feature trademarked technology that ensure consistent lens performance in varying temperatures and UV conditions. 

Sensity lenses are available in various colors, designs, materials, and anti-reflective coatings best suited to different conditions and preferences.  

LifeRX

LifeRX lenses by Vision-Ease Lens are made of polycarbonate and come in various styles and colors. 

LifeRX lenses take less than a minute to darken outdoors and fade back to clear quicker than most competitors. These lenses are hard-coated for superior scratch resistance.  

Which Transition Lens Color is Best for Me?

The most common photochromic lens tint colors are gray, green, and brown. However, other colors are available depending on preference and personal style. 

Each blocks 100% of UV rays and offers unique benefits: 

  • Gray. Gray lenses are best suited for general, everyday use. They function well in sunny and cloudy climates and offer the ability to see colors in their proper form without an effect from the tint. 
  • Green. Green lenses provide higher contrast than gray lenses and are best for reducing glare and brightening shadows. Green lenses are an excellent option for outdoor activities in any weather. 
  • Brown. Brown lenses improve depth perception for activities like driving, golfing, and fishing. They are not recommended in low-light conditions. 
  • Blue & Purple. Blue and purple lenses reduce glare, improve color perception, and enhance contrast. Blue and purple lenses can also be calming for the eyes and work well on a sunny day or in foggy conditions. 

How Much Do Transition Lenses Cost?

Most vision insurance companies cover the cost of transition lenses. Without insurance, you may have to pay roughly $100 to $400 in addition to prescription lenses cost. The price can vary depending on the brand you select.

How Long Do Transition Lenses Last?

Transition lenses should last as long as your eyeglass prescription is valid, from 24 to 30 months. 

What are Transition Contact Lenses?

Transition contact lenses are an excellent option for people who enjoy the convenience of contact lenses and the benefits of photochromic lenses. Like transition eyeglasses, transition contact lenses contain a photochromic additive. When this photochromic additive is exposed to UV light or blue light from screens and lightbulbs, it darkens the lens to block UV radiation and excessive light waves.

While these contacts provide UV protection, they are not substitutes for UV-protective sunglasses or goggles. Photochromic contact lenses cover only the lens and do not protect the entire eye from harmful UVA/UVB radiation. 

Alternatives to Transition Lenses

Transition lenses aren’t for everybody. Depending on your lifestyle and preferences, an alternative might suit you. 

Consider one of the following alternatives to transition lenses:

Polarized Lenses

Unlike transition lenses, which may lack glare protection, polarized lenses reduce glare. They have a laminated filter that filters out glare, helping reduce eye strain. 

When added to UV-blocking lenses, polarized lenses offer UV protection, superior visual clarity, and contrast. They make images appear darker and more transparent since they eliminate glare. Temperature changes also won’t affect polarized lens function.

However, a significant downside of polarized lenses is that your positioning can alter their effectiveness because they only filter out horizontal light waves. 

Mirrored Lenses

Mirrored lenses (or anti-reflective lenses) have a thin, reflective optical metal coating on the outside of the lenses that reflects light. The lens color varies depending on the type of metal used. 

As the name suggests, mirror-coated lenses are shiny on the outside. The mirrored lens helps reflect excess light, eliminating glare and eye strain. 

Mirrored lenses are helpful for activities in bright conditions, such as skiing on a sunny day. The primary disadvantage of mirrored lenses is the risk of scratching the reflective surface off of your lenses.

Summary

Transition or photochromic lenses are light-intelligent lenses that protect the eyes against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. 

Transition lenses darken when exposed to UV rays and lighten when indoors. These lenses are an excellent option for those who want the convenience of using the same pair of glasses indoors and outdoors.

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.

glasses usa logo
Also Great

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

Updated on  February 22, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on  February 22, 2024
  1. Turbert D., “Sunglasses With Transition Lenses: Pros and Cons,”  American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2021.
  2. FDA clears first contact lens with light-adaptive technology,” The United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA), 2018.
  3. Araujo, R. “Photochromic Glass,” ScienceDirect, 2003.
  4. Turbert D. “The Sun, UV Light and Your Eyes,”  American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2020.
  5. Wachler B. “Assessment of Levels of Ultraviolet A Light Protection in Automobile Windshields and Side Windows,” JAMA Ophthalmology, 2016.
  6. Lee J. “Sunwear Alternatives Protect More Eyes,” Review of Ophthalmology,  2007.
  7. Lazarus R. “Tinted Lenses and Mirror Coatings,” Optometrists Networks, 2020.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.