Deciding between a pair of polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses can be difficult if you don’t understand the difference between the two. However, choosing the right pair of sunglasses may result in your ability to clearly see your cell phone, ice, snow, or LCDs. The choice of sunglasses seems mighty trivial until you can’t see the ordering display screen at your favorite fast food joint. (Not that we’ve ever done that..)
The primary function of polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses is different. For example, non-polarized sunglasses protect your eye from ultraviolet light. Exposing the human eye to UV light can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and corneal damage.
On the other hand, a pair of polarized sunglasses’ primary purpose is to remove glare from reflected light. The reduction in glare leads to better vision. However, reducing the glare doesn’t equate to removing UV light.
The outdoor season is almost upon us. So, let’s figure out what kind of sunglasses will best suit your needs. Which type of eyewear should you select between non-polarized sunglasses and polarized ones? Let’s jump in and see what we find!
Non-Polarized vs. Polarized: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Allows||Vertical light waves||Horizontal light waves, |
Vertical light waves
|Filter||Horizontal lightwaves may filter for UV||UV only|
|Cost||40-50% more expensive than a non-polarized lens||Less expensive|
|Screen visibility (phone, display panel)||Difficult||Easier|
Non-Polarized vs. Polarized Sunglasses: What’s the Difference?
The “visible light spectrum” is one portion of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. First, the human eye can see wavelengths of light that fall into the visible light spectrum category. Next, the light wave itself has polarity. Now, let’s look at the two primary polarization components of sunlight.
Vertical vs. Horizontal Polarization
Light waves with vertical polarization travel up and down in a sinusoidal wave. Furthermore, light waves that have vertical polarization travel perpendicularly to the Earth’s surface. Light waves with horizontal polarization travel side to side in a parallel path along the surface of the Earth.
Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Sunglasses
A pair of polarized sunglasses remove most (not all) of the horizontal light waves as they pass through the lens of the sunglasses. As a result, the lens reduces the light reflected from water, glass, and snow.
A pair of non-polarized sunglasses allows both vertical and horizontal light waves to pass through the lens of the sunglasses. Therefore, the sunglasses reduce the intensity of the light but do not filter the light wavelength.
Ultra-Violet Ray Protection
The darkness of the lens has nothing to do with the amount of UV protection that it provides. So, let’s take a quick look at the different levels of tint and UV protection available in sunglasses. If you also plan to use the sunglasses indoors, go with a Category 0 lens. Or will you be basking in the outdoors full-time with bright sunshine? Then, category 4 is your best bud!
- Category 0: Blocks 3-20% UV, very lightly tinted lenses, suitable for a fashion show!
- Category 1: Blocks 20-56% UV, lightly tinted lenses, ideal for an outdoor fashion show!
- Category 2: Blocks 57-82% UV, moderately tinted lenses, use on overcast days!
- Category 3: Blocks 82-92% UV, dark lenses, standard sunshine use!
- Category 4: Blocks 92-97% UV, very dark lenses, extremely bright sunshine use!
Non-polarized sunglasses have UV protection, but the level of protection may vary. So, check the specification carefully to verify that you’re purchasing sunglasses with the maximum amount of UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C available.
Polarized sunglasses don’t (necessarily) have UV protection. In addition, polarized sunglasses are not inherently UV sunglasses. So, check the specification carefully.
Best Use Scenarios
Please Note: As of July 16, 2023, the Legend Eyewear Non-Polarized Sunglasses are currently unavailable on Amazon. If you cannot find the product elsewhere, please check back later.
What sunglasses are best for which events? Different users will have differing needs for polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses. So, depending on your activities, you might determine (after a bit of trial and error) that you need two different types of sunglasses.
For example, you may need one pair of non-polarized sunglasses for work (we’re looking at you, airline pilots and heavy equipment operators). And you may need a different pair of polarized sunglasses for other outdoor-related activities. Now, let’s take a look!
|Polarized Sunglasses||Non-Polarized Sunglasses|
|Outdoor Sports||Hiking, fishing, running, boating, biking, cross-country skiing||Downhill skiing|
|Automobile Driving||Daylight||Not recommended|
|Flying (Pilot)||Not recommended||Recommended|
|Heavy Equipment Use||Not recommended||Recommended|
|Cell Phone||Not recommended||Recommended|
|Fast Food Menu||Not recommended if you want to see the menu||Recommended|
Conditions to Consider
- Skiing: The ‘glare’ from ice on the ground lets skiers know about upcoming transitions from snow to ice. However, polarized sunglasses reduce the glare from light reflection; that’s their primary function. So, we’d recommend either using non-polarized sunglasses or seeking out polarized sunglasses that are made especially for when you’re downhill skiing.
- Flying: You can wear whatever lens you want while you catch up on the latest gossip in your magazine, but if you’re a pilot, polarized lenses are a no-no. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that pilots not use polarized sunglasses. But, of course, some of the aviation equipment already has antiglare filters. However, polarized sunglasses may dangerously render them ‘invisible.’
- Heavy Equipment Use: Wearing polarized sunglasses may make it difficult for the operator to see the equipment controls displayed on screens.
- Fast Food Menu: (We’ve been to this rodeo!) Some fast food restaurants have a polarized light filter on the front face of their display menus (you can’t “see” it, but it’s there to help us see the menu more clearly). Consequently, a pair of polarized sunglasses, plus a polarized filter, equals a black screen. So, whip off those shades and squint if you want to see the readerboard.
Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Sunglasses: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Polarized sunglasses remove the glare from reflected light and reduce the intensity of the light that reaches our eyes.
- Non-polarized sunglasses reduce the ultraviolet rays that reach our eyes.
- Non-polarized sunglasses reduce the intensity of the light before it reaches our eyes.
- Not all polarized sunglasses offer high levels of UV protection. As a result, the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests UVA and UVB blocking rates of 99-100% (UV400 or above).
- Polarized sunglasses are beneficial for glare reduction for most outdoor activities.
Non-Polarized vs. Polarized Sunglasses: Which Ones Are Better? Which Ones Should You Use?
Different activities will also require different types of eye protection. For instance, outdoor activities that include water, trekking, biking, running, or cross-country skiing will benefit from polarized sunglasses.
If you choose the DEMIKOS polarized sunglasses for water sports or cross-country skiing, for example, then the light won’t reflect (too much!) off the frame.
Outdoor activities like heavy equipment operation, downhill skiing, or piloting an airplane will benefit from non-polarized sunglasses. For this reason, the Legend Eyewear sunglasses are an excellent choice when you don’t want polarized sunglasses.
Above all, don’t wear your polarized or non-polarized sunglasses when driving a car at night. Rock out with your headphones, but please leave the sunglasses in the case when it’s time to hit the road.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Jaroslav Monchak/Shutterstock.com.