What Does Polarized Sunglasses Mean?

posted in: Eye Advice | 42

Girl Wearing Polarized SunglassesIn this article I will talk about why polarized sunglasses are superior to regular sunglasses and how they can enhance the way you see the world.

One of the great many benefits of wearing contact lenses is that it allows you the freedom to wear non-prescription sunglasses. For many people in fact, being able to wear sunglasses at the beach during the summer time while still being able to see, is one of the biggest motivators to start getting into contacts.

If you’ve ever been in the market for sunglasses, you will surely have come across the term ‘polarized sunglasses’. But what does ‘polarized sunglasses’ mean?

The word ‘polarized’ comes from the fact that the lenses of these types of sunglasses contain something known as a ‘polarizing filter’. To understand what a polarization filter does, you first have to understand a little bit about light, and what causes glare.


I am not a doctor. The information provided on this page is for general educational purposes only. You are not receiving medical advice or being prescribed glasses. Please read Contacts Advice Terms of Use before continuing.

How Light Travels
Light Wave

Without getting too much into the physics of light, suffice it to say that light is essentially waves travelling through space. When light waves are emitted from a source (in the case of this discussion, the sun), the waves are very disorganized. When the orientation of light waves is completely disorganized and random, it is called ‘unpolarized light’. But when light hits a surface, the reflected light rays aren’t randomly oriented anymore. Rather, all the reflected light rays share the same orientation, or in other words, the light is said to be ‘polarized’.

The reason why we experience glare off the road, off cars, off bodies of water, etc. is because of the polarization of light once it has been reflected. When light rays are all organized in the same orientation, they become stronger and our eyes have difficulty dealing with it.

Polarized sunglasses contain a ‘polarizing filter’ which blocks out the polarized light and eliminates glare.

Polarized Sunglasses Vs Non Polarized

Non Polarized Sunglasses:

Non polarized sunglasses are tinted which blocks a certain percentage of all the light that passes through them. The darker the tint, the more light is blocked by the lenses and the harder it is to see through them. Everybody has at some point tried these kinds of sunglasses on. Because non polarized sunglasses reduces the overall amount of light reaching your eyes, they by definition make your vision worse.

Non polarized sunglasses may not be too detrimental to your vision In extremely sunny conditions, but they will make your vision too poor to function on overcast days, and indoors. Although they may shield your eyes from harmful UV rays and make your eyes more comfortable, they do not eliminate glare in any way. The glare is just dulled down along with everything else in your vision.

Polarized Sunglasses:what does polarized sunglasses mean?

Polarized sunglasses on the other hand work differently. In addition to being tinted, the lenses contain a microscopic layer which blocks the polarized light that causes glare. This actually enhances vision instead of diminishing it. Without the distracting (and often debilitating) effect of glare, the tints don’t have to block out as much light in order for your eyes to see comfortably. This means that you can wear polarized sunglasses in any condition, whether sunny or overcast, whether indoors or outdoors and see better than you would with non polarized sunglasses or without any sunglasses at all.

In every situation, polarized sunglasses will help you see things quicker, and from further away than you would with non polarized sunglasses. That means that driving with polarized sunglasses can actually help prevent motor vehicle accidents by increasing drivers’ reaction times. Some studies have shown that drivers wearing polarized sunglasses were able to react 1/3 of a second faster than drivers wearing non polarized sunglasses, which resulted in them being about to stop their car 23 feet sooner (for a car travelling at 50 mph).

Technically, there is no difference between polarized and non polarized sunglasses when it comes to UV protection. Both types of sunglasses block 100% of UVA/UVB rays. This is important because prolonged exposure to UV light can damage the eyes. UV light can lead to conditions such as premature cataracts, macular degeneration, pinguecula, pterygiums, moles, wrinkles, etc.

How To Tell if Sunglasses Are Polarized

The best way I have found to determine if a pair of sunglasses is polarized at a glance, is to hold it up to an LCD screen, and rotate the lenses as you look through them towards the monitor. If the screen blacks out as you rotate the lenses, they are polarized. If the screen does not black out as you do a full rotation, the lenses are not polarized.

The reason why this works is because the light emitted from LCD screens is polarized. The polarization filter in polarized sunglasses will block the polarized light coming form the monitor to cause a complete blackout. This doesn’t affect how you see LCD screens normally when wearing polarized sunglasses though, because you would have to tilt your head about 45 degrees while looking at the screen for it to black out.

Video showing how polarized sunglasses behave in front of LCD screens.

Video showing how non polarized sunglasses behave in front of LCD screens.


How To Clean Polarized Sunglasses

This is a question I receive a lot from my contact lens patients looking for sunglasses. There must be some rumor floating around about how to clean polarized sunglasses, otherwise I’m not sure why I would ever get this question. The proper way to clean polarized sunglasses is no different than how you would clean non-polarized sunglasses or how you would clean regular glasses.

You take some lens cleaner and spray both sides of each lenses. Then with a clean microfiber cloth, you wipe both sides down until all of the lens cleaner has been wiped away. Do no use paper based products like tissue paper, toilet paper or paper towel to wipe the lenses. Similarly, avoid using your clothes to clean the lenses. Over time this will produce many scratches on the surface of your lenses which can accumulate to affect how well you see through the lenses. Once those scratches appear, they cannot be buffed out, or otherwise removed.

How To Reduce Glare While Driving

Glare at NightPolarized Sunglasses:

Polarized sunglasses and polarized visors are your best tools for eliminating glare while driving. Polarized sunglasses are a very multi-purpose solution to reduce flare while driving, as they be very useful in many different situations, as well as serve as a fashion accessory. The downside of relying on your polarized sunglasses to reduce glare while driving is that they are easy to forget or misplace, leaving you with no solution when you might need it the most.

Polarized Fit-Overs:

For people who don’t wear contact lenses, and can’t afford prescription polarized sunglasses, there are many types of polarized fit-over glasses that you can wear directly over your regular glasses. They can feel a little bulky on your face, but they’ll definitely do the trick as far as reducing glare while driving.

Polarized Visors:

Polarized visors are a more specific solution to your issue of glare while driving. These visors hook on your driver’s side overhead visor and flip down when you need them, and back up when you don’t. Because these are made specifically for your car, they’reHDVision Visor Demo always there when you need them. There is no risk of forgetting to bring them with you on any particular day.

It’s also nice because you have the option of going with the darker visor for daytime, and the lighter visor for nighttime, a useful feature that you won’t get from sunglasses. The polarized visor that I like the most, and the one I recommend, is the HD Vision visor.  It’s highly effective at reducing glare during the day or at night, and it’s inexpensive!  Click here to get the HD Vision visor.

Specifically for eliminating glare for night time driving, the visor mention above are very effective, but you can also get a separate pair of polarized sunglasses with anti glare lenses for night driving. These kinds of glasses are still polarized, but typically have lighter yellow tints so as not to dim the vision too much.

Who Makes The Best Polarized Sunglasses?

In my opinion there is not a single company that makes the best polarized lenses. There are many different brands that all produce extremely high quality polarized sunglasses, and which one your like best will be up to your own individual preference.

Personally, I own Maui Jim polarized sunglasses because polarized lenses are their specialty. The only thing Maui Jim makes is polarized sunglasses. Many other companies try to compete on all fronts, ophthalmic frames, non polarized sunglasses and polarized sunglasses, but Maui Jim puts all of their resources, research and development into making the best polarized lenses possible.

To browse the best Maui Jim selections, click here!

My Maui Jim Polarized Sunglasses
One of my Maui Jim Polarized Sunglasses.

I hope this clarifies what polarized sunglasses and their benefits are. If you have any questions about them, leave them in the comments section below.

42 Responses

  1. LakanDula
    | Reply

    I never knew a thing about sunglasses, as I was never really into them. I do see the need to eliminate un-wanted glare, which can be crucial in certain situations, like driving. While street lights are great in aiding driving in the dark, sometimes they emit lots of un wanted glare, which ends up defeating the purpose of providing drivers with visual aid.

    • Julie
      | Reply

      You are right about the driving at night. It is a double edged sword in that more light can help illuminate the streets, but at the same time, they create more glare. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to the problem of glare at night, but the best solution is definitely some sort of lightly tinted polarized glasses or visor.

  2. Jason
    | Reply

    Thanks for sharing!

    I was looking for more information on polarized sunglasses and a potential place to look and shop for a pair.

    I am always wearing sunglasses, unfortunately my Ray Bans fell apart for a second time so I am in need of a new pair.

    I feel like I am missing something without my sunglasses on throughout the day.

    I will give Maui Jim a lookover, thanks again.

    • Julie
      | Reply

      I am absolutely comfortable saying that Maui Jim sunglasses are superior to Ray Bans sunglasses. They may not be as popular/trendy, but as far as the quality of the lenses goes, I’d pick Maui Jim over Ray Bans hands down every time. Hopefully you find what you’re looking for!

  3. Nathan
    | Reply

    I’ve been wearing sunglasses for ages and when i buy a pair it’s always gotta be polarized, even though i didn’t know a thing about the word. Awesome article, I especially enjoyed the diagrams which made it a lot easier to understand. New fact learned for the day , thanks ! Nathan

    • Julie
      | Reply

      I’ve noticed that a lot of people love polarized sunglasses without knowing exactly how they work, which is fine. As long they help people see better, clearer and more comfortably, that’s all that matters. At least now you know the principles behind their awesomeness :)

  4. kyle
    | Reply

    Great post! I really feel as if I learned something from this. I like you how did comparisons with glasses that are not polarized. It’s amazing how much of a difference polarized sunglasses make, definitely worth the investment. It is obvious a lot of time has been put into this, great quality. Thank you for sharing this, i will be passing it on!

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Thanks Kyle, I’m glad you learned a little bit about polarized sunglasses. Once you’ve tried them, they’re the only type of sunglasses you’ll want again.

  5. Jovo
    | Reply

    Hi, this is a very informative article about polarized glasses. I have seen such sunglasses but have not tried them myself. I was not quite sure about their true nature and your text helped a lot. You did not say about prices, comparison between polarized and unpolarized. Are polarized glasses expensive? Thank you.

  6. Christian
    | Reply

    Now I am very much into sunglasses, and all of my eyeglasses have tint on them dark enough to be considered sunglasses, maybe not quite as dark as sunglasses because I can drive at night with them comfortably, whereas with my sunglasses I can’t see very well at night. With polarized lenses I have two questions: Can I get a prescription in a polarized lens, and will a dark polarized lens help me to see at night as opposed to a regular dark lens? I never knew anything about polarized lenses, please help me clarify.

  7. Esteban
    | Reply


    What a great article.

    I especially like the simple test you can do by just holding your sunglasses and turning them in front of your LCD screen.

    I always heard the word polarized but never really understood the meaning of it.

    Glad to say these days are over.

    I once read that the sunglasses sold in cheap shops on beaches for example can actually be more damaging than protective to the eyes.

    Is that true?

    Thanks again for a great article.


    • Julie
      | Reply

      Hi Esteban! Thanks for your excellent question. If you buy sunglasses that protect 100% against UVA/UVB light, is doesn’t matter how much or little you pay for them, they will not damage the health of your eyes. I mean, obviously there are differences in quality of sunglasses, which is why the price varies so much. But all that matters for the health of your eyes is the 100% UV protection.

      Unfortunately, there are some places that sell sunglasses that don’t block 100% of the UV light. This can be damaging to your eyes’ health. The tint in the glasses will cause your pupils to dilate (by tricking your eyes into thinking that it’s dark outside). Dilated pupils allow more light into the eyes, so if the lenses don’t block 100% of the UV light, more UV light floods into the eyes than under normal circumstances.And UV light can damage the sensitive tissues inside the eyes.

      My advice is to always buy 100% UV blocking sunglasses for the good of the health of your eyes, and always buy good quality sunglasses for the good of your vision. As I’ve mentioned in the articles, I think Maui Jim sunglasses are the best quality sunglasses you can get for your eyes.

  8. inzhirov
    | Reply

    Wow, great info. I never thought about sunglasses like that before and I did not even know that there was a difference between the two. I Always thought that they made all sunglasses the same. I will now consider getting some sunglasses that will help me reduce my glare in the rain. Thanks, I really appreciate the information in this article.

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Hi! As you mentioned, polarizes sunglasses are great at reducing the glare caused when the sunlight hits a wet road after it has rained. That kind of glare can be so distracting that it can endanger you on the road. I hope you find a nice pair, as I mentioned, Maui Jim is a great place to start looking :)

  9. Daniella
    | Reply

    Hi Julie,

    What a nice and interesting article, I really enjoyed reading it! I usually wear sunglasses, but until I saw your article I wouldn’t even know about the polarized:) I never paid attention to this before. Now I realize how important it is to wear polarized sunglasses. I have a question if you don’t mind. Is there polarized sunglasses for kids or it just for adults.
    Thank you very much!

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Hi Daniella! Great question! Polarized sunglasses are absolutely for kids as well as adults. However, many of the great benefits of polarized sunglasses may not be appreciated by kids as much, making it less worth it to them.

      Adults benefit greatly from polarizes sunglasses when they’re driving, playing outdoor sports, fishing, boating, etc. Kids are less likely to be engaged in these kinds of activities and in general, kids a less bothered by glare than adults are. That is why most kids sunglasses that you’ll find at children’s stores are not polarized. Not to mention that kids are MUCH more likely to lose their sunglasses, so spending a lot on a high quality pair of polarized sunglasses may not be the wisest investment.

      It’s important to remember that both polarized and non-polarized sunglasses offer the same about of UV protection, so both are just as safe for kids.

  10. EllieCommunicates
    | Reply

    Thank you for your website. I like wearing sun-glasses – in the summer, but also in the winter.

    When I am choosing my sun-glasses I always prefer them to be polarized, but after reading your posts and pages now I feel more informed about what to look for next time I need to change my sunglasses.

    I liked that you included the section “Who Makes The Best Polarized Sunglasses” – it was really useful for me as I am familiar with the brand you are mentioning and I have considered them before.

    • Julie
      | Reply

      I’m glad that you have already been taking advantage of the benefits of polarized sunglasses. Once you’ve experienced the difference, you will never want regular sunglasses again. Maui Jims are definitely worth considering.

  11. Michelle
    | Reply

    I have only ever bought glasses for the fashion perspective or the fabulous sales. I’ve never actually considered how and if they are working properly. As long as they look good on top of my head I’m all good!

    I think I’ll take a little more care in my next selection and actually ask what I’m buying!

    Thanks again


    • Julie
      | Reply

      Yeah sunglasses definitely have a large fashion component to them, but the good thing is that you can find something that looks really good and than provides really high quality visions. The two are not mutually exclusive. Thanks for reading :)

  12. Tyler Redlev
    | Reply

    Great content! This is really what I call quality content! I didn’t know until now the difference between polarized and non-polarized sunglasses. It was a question which was bugging my mind for a long time. Your review is awesome, and the videos were really cool! This was so fun for me to read because I love physics!

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Hi Tyler! I’m glad you enjoyed the article! There really is a lot of physics principles behind how polarized sunglasses work. I’m glad you didn’t find that part boring! ;)

  13. Jdoo
    | Reply

    Great explanation, I’ve been wondering about this. I do have a further question for you though – when choosing polarized glasses, does it make a difference if they are left-hand polarized or just linearly polarized? If so, are glasses manufactured to both types or are they all polarized the same?

    Finally, if there is a difference, do you have any info on which glasses are polarized according to each method?

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Hi, great question! The graphic that shows, unpolarized light, linearly polarized light and left-hand polarized light was just to illustrate the concept of light polarization. All polarized sunglasses filter out linearly polarized light, not left-hand polarized light. Thanks for the great question!

  14. Johnson
    | Reply

    Thanks for your review on polarized sunglasses. I’m actually a fan of sunglasses but I never actually heard of the name polarized sunglasses. Now that I know a little more about them, I’m definitely going to be looking out for them the time I’m out shopping for sunglasses.Thanks again for your review!

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Hi Johnson, it’s my pleasure! Maybe you’ve already gotten polarized sunglasses in the past without even knowing it! Do the quick test in front of your computer monitor, and if non of your sunglasses are polarized, definitely give them a try next time!

  15. coughlanmaureen
    | Reply

    I have been wondering about this for so long! Thanks for the great information.

    For a long time I thought ‘polarized’ was just a brand of sunglasses. I had no idea there was such a big difference between polarized and non-polarized sunglasses! I learned a lot from reading this post.

    Thanks for the cool videos, I’m going to go check to see if any of my sunglasses are polarized. I hope they are!

    • Julie
      | Reply

      My pleasure, I’m glad you learned something from my article :)

  16. bioelectrobot
    | Reply

    Nice introduction. The basic explanation at the beginning has helped me to understand the benefit of polarized lenses. You mention that non polarized lenses reduces the amount of light reaching the eye, and that this can make vision worse. Would this extend to any situation in which the amount of natural light reaching the eye is reduced? Also, would it be correct to say that polarized glasses always improve vision?
    I like the simple tip you provide about holding the glasses up to an LCD screen and then rotating the glasses to see if they turn dark. I wear sunglasses all the time. I will definitely try this.
    OK. I just tried this. I had to close one eye while doing this. It is clear that my sunglasses are not polarized. I may need to replace the lenses or get some new sunglasses. This article has already been very helpful. Thanks for the information.

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Yes anything that reduced the overall amount of light reaching your eye will make vision worse. Think about reading in a very dimly lit room VS outside in natural light. Regular sunglasses will reduce the amount of light that reaches your eyes to the point where you just don’t see as well. Polarized sunglasses don’t do this nearly as much. They slightly reduce the amount of light reaching the eyes. but they mostly filter out the glare-causing polarized light, which is why most people see better with polarized lenses outdoors than without and sunglasses at all.

  17. JIM
    | Reply

    Julie, Great post. I drive at night and with today’s bright headlights it is a need to cut down on the glare. especially when I am driving on a 2 lane highway. Lots of good content here and very informative.

    Appears you know a lot about sunglasses or have done extensive research.

    Great work

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Thanks Jim! I work in an optometry clinic that sells all sorts of sunglasses. It is through being around other very knowledgeable people that I learned this stuff.

  18. Shannon
    | Reply

    Wow I never knew what polarized sunglasses really meant and it looks like it really makes a difference. I hate when I get a glare. I don’t like to drive at night because of the glare, looks like I should look into some glasses to help with that. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Vision is amazing with polarized sunglasses, especially when driving. I highly recommend you try out a pair. You will love it :)

  19. Derek Marshall
    | Reply

    Brilliant article. And I actually loved the video demonstration of how to tell if your sunglasses are polarised or not.

    I assume this can be done with a smart phone and, thus know if a retailer is selling genuine polarised sun glasses or not with a simple test.

    As for the glare from car, law in France makes it obliged that cars have anti-glare filter over the head lights, sadly that is not enough. Making me wonder now, if cars should be fitted as standard with anti-glare windshields.

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Wow, really? That’s such a good idea to have the mandatory anti-glare filters over headlights. Maybe Canada will adopt the same some day. And I think you’re also onto something with the windshields, although I think maybe a more cost effective solution would be to equip every car with a drop down polarized visor.

  20. Kris
    | Reply

    HI Julie, this is a very informative article. I have always used prescription polarised lenses due to their superior vision quality but without knowing the science behind it but I do now! So, thanks for that!
    Another reason I love polarised and the reason I will never buy unpolarised is the way they make the ocean look an incredible shade of blue and they actually enable to see below the surface to see reef and fish which is quite useful in this part of the world.
    Thanks for the info, Kris

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Hi Kris! I’m glad you have been enjoying the benefits of polarized sunglasses. You are lucky that you live near the ocean, I’m so jealous! xp

  21. Bonnie
    | Reply

    YES! I LOVE that you included the physics behind light waves as I am a science teacher and always appreciate web sites that back up their information in sound, scientific ways. I like the embedded videos as well that really help put the descriptions into visual. I know my husband uses polarized lenses when he fishes and he says its like night and day and won’t go on the boat without them. Thank you for the great article!

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Oh thank you! Your comment means a lot to me coming from a science teacher :)

  22. Kayla Zsa
    | Reply

    Great content !! I feel more informed from your post.
    When I am choosing my sun-glasses I always prefer them to be polarized.
    Feature of polarizing lenses can reduce glare from reflective surfaces such as water, snow, and glass; and photochromic lenses which are activated by UV rays and darken as the sun gets brighter.
    Hence I choose Ray-Ban Wayfarer from basoptiek.nl as a shield for my eyes. The polarization works well. I love that they aren’t super dark so I can wear them until the sun goes down and on rainy but brighter days.

    • Julie
      | Reply

      Hi Kayla, I took a look at your website, but it’s all in Dutch and I can’t understand any of it :(
      Does your site have an English version?

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