Vision Center is funded by our readers. We may earn commissions if you purchase something via one of our links.
In this article
Transition lenses, also known as photochromic or “adaptive” lenses, are light-intelligent lenses that protect the eyes against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. They provide a “sunglass effect.”
Although transition lenses have been around for decades, there has been significant improvement.
Initially, all lenses were made of glass and came only in the color gray. Today, they’re available in multiple colors and materials, including plastic and polycarbonate. The color differentiation makes it easy to adjust to different lighting conditions.
Photochromic technology can be used in different types of eyewear, including sunglasses, prescription eyeglasses, and contact lenses.1
In 2018, the FDA approved the first contact lenses with adaptive technology. They are ACUVUE® OASYS with Transitions™ Light Intelligent Technology™ by Johnson & Johnson and Transitions Optical Limited.2 These soft contacts are for treating nearsighted (myopia) and farsighted (hyperopia).
Light-intelligent lenses adjust their tint when exposed to UV light.3
When indoors, the lenses will be transparent. When exposed to harmful UV rays, the lenses darken within a minute or less. This shields your eyes from the harmful effects of UV and blue light.4
The transition from clear to dark does not affect vision quality or comfort. This is why prescription glasses with transition lenses are a great alternative to standard lenses and prescription sunglasses.
Like every product in the market, transition lenses have their share of advantages and disadvantages.
Best Overall: Warby Parker
Fastest Delivery: EyeBuyDirect
Also Great: Liingo
Car windshields have some level of UV protection, preventing the lenses from darkening even when it’s visibly bright.5 However, there are special lenses like Transitions® XTRActive® and Transitions® Drivewear® designed to solve this problem by reacting to visible light.
Usually, transition lenses are covered by most vision insurance companies. Without insurance, you may have to pay about $100 to $400 or more on top of the cost of prescription lenses. The price may also vary based on the brand you select.
Transition lenses are available in major retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, or Target. They’re also available at eyewear stores like Eyeglasses.com, Warby Parker, etc.
If you need glasses for vision correction, talk to your doctor first to know what will work best for you.
Below are some alternatives to transition lenses:
Polarized lenses are great for indoors and outdoors. When added to UV-blocking lenses, they offer UV protection, superior visual clarity, and contrast.
Unlike transition lenses which may lack glare protection, polarized lenses are also designed to reduce glare. They have a laminated filter that helps filter out glare. This reduces eye strain.
Polarized lenses may make images appear darker. However, when the glare is eliminated, images become clearer. The lens function is not affected by temperature changes.
Glare occurs when light rays bounce off a reflecting surface such as a lake, snowy mountainside, or shiny object. The light is scattered horizontally from the surface but the polarized lens filters out horizontal light.
Polarized lenses are common in sunglasses, fitovers, and clip-ons. Fitovers and clip-ons are worn over prescription glasses that do not darken, especially when inside a vehicle.6 A significant downside of polarized lenses is that your positioning can alter their effectiveness since they only filter out horizontal light waves.
Mirrored lenses or anti-reflective lenses are unique lenses that feature a thin, metal material to reflect light. The lens color may vary depending on the type of metal used.
As the name suggests, mirror-coated lenses are shiny on the outside. The shiny lens material helps reflect excess light, hence eliminating glare and eye strain.
Mirrored lenses are useful in activities done in bright conditions, such as skiing on a sunny day. The main disadvantage of mirrored lenses is the risk of color falsification (difficulty determining color).
Transition lenses or photochromic lenses are light-intelligent lenses that protect the eyes against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. They’re available in multiple colors and materials, including plastic, glass, and polycarbonate.
Transition lenses darken outdoors based on the amount of UV light or harsh artificial light indoors. These lenses are convenient, cost-effective, protective, and available in many colors and styles.
You can get transition lenses from online and offline retailers such as Walmart, Walgreens, Target, etc.
In this article
Warby Parker has stylish, high-quality frames at affordable prices.
Liingo Eyewear is another great option to buy glasses online.
EyeBuyDirect has a wide variety of budget frames starting at $6.
1-800 Contacts is our #1 recommendation to buy contacts online.
GlassesUSA has a huge selection of contacts, glasses, & sunglasses.
All Vision Center content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed optometrist to ensure the information is factual and meets industry standards.
We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from recent scientific research, scholarly articles, textbooks, government agencies, optometry websites, and medical journals.