Updated on 

June 28, 2022

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Transition Lenses - How they Work, Pros, Cons & Costs

What are Transition Lenses?

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 TransitionsLight Intelligent Technology™ by Johnson & Johnson and Transitions Optical Limited.2 These soft contacts are for treating nearsighted (myopia) and farsighted (hyperopia).

How Do Transition Lenses Work?

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.

Pros and Cons of Transition Lenses

Like every product in the market, transition lenses have their share of advantages and disadvantages.

Pros

  • Convenient. They’re helpful both indoors and outdoors.
  • Cost effective. With a pair of photochromic lenses on your eyeglasses, there’s no need to buy a pair of UV-protection sunglasses.
  • Continuous protection. The dyes activate in UV light to darken the lenses and protect the eyes. 
  • Easy care and maintenance. There’s no need to change your glasses when going outdoors, lowering the chances of misplacing or forgetting them.
  • Many options are available. You can choose your preferred tint color and style.
  • Meet everyone’s prescription needs. Regardless of your prescription, there’s certainly a transition lens for you.
Where to Buy Glasses + Contacts

Best Overall: Warby Parker

Fastest Delivery: EyeBuyDirect

Also Great: Liingo

Best Place to Buy Contacts: 1800 Contacts

Cons

  • Less effective when inside a vehicle
  • The transition time may be prolonged in less sunny weather
  • The level of darkening depends on the brand
  • Some lenses may take longer to adjust than others
  • Some lenses lack glare protection (unpolarized)
  • Costly compared to standard lenses

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. 

How Much Do Transition Lenses Cost?

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.

Where to Buy Them

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.

Alternative Lenses

Below are some alternatives to transition lenses:

Polarized 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

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).

Summary

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.

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
glasses usa logo

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

7 Cited Research Articles
  1. Turbert D., “Sunglasses With Transition Lenses: Pros and Cons,”  American Academy of Ophthalmology, 25 Mar. 2021
  2. FDA clears first contact lens with light-adaptive technology,” The United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA), 10 Apr. 2018
  3. Araujo R. “Photochromic Glass,” ScienceDirect, 2003
  4. Turbert D., “The Sun, UV Light and Your Eyes,”  American Academy of Ophthalmology, 11 Jun. 2020.
  5. Wachler B., “Assessment of Levels of Ultraviolet A Light Protection in Automobile Windshields and Side Windows,” JAMA Ophthalmology, Jul. 2016
  6. Lee J., “Sunwear Alternatives Protect More Eyes,” Review of Ophthalmology,  03 May 2007.
  7. Lazarus R., “Tinted Lenses and Mirror Coatings,” Optometrists Networks, 06 Dec. 2020.
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 June 28, 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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