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Polarized sunglasses are a must-have — an expert explains why

Show off your personality while protecting your eyes.
Woman wearing sun glasses and smiling, WOWSUN Polarized Sunglasses and a Woman wearing Diff Eyewear Lizzy Sunglasses
Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images / Amazon / Diff Eyewear

It's officially summer and you know what that means — it's time to break out the warm weather essentials. While you're stocking up on sunscreen and sun hats to protect your skin this summer, there's also another important area that needs protection: your eyes!

Sunglasses are a fun and easy way to express your style. With so many different colors, sizes and styles out there, there's no shortage of options to choose from. Why not take eye protection one step further? That's where polarized sunglasses come in.

What are polarized sunglasses?

Dr. William T. Reynolds, president of the American Optometric Association, gave Shop TODAY some insight via email about how polarized sunglasses work, along with the benefits of wearing them.

Reynolds explained that when light is reflected from a flat surface, it will have an orientation that's mainly parallel to that surface. For example, if you're looking at light reflected from a horizontal surface like water, it will be horizontally polarized. Polarized sunglasses, however, have a vertical polarization axis, which blocks horizontally-polarized light and allows vertically-polarized and most non-polarized light through. These lenses are made with a special chemical filter so that the only rays that approach your eyes are the ones that fit through the openings created by the filter, according to a breakdown from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Anything you see will be a bit darker than usual because of this, but the world will also simultaneously be crisper and clearer.

Despite the color or darkness of the lenses, neither of those factors solely determine UV protection, according to Reynolds. "No matter the season or the location, the American Optometric Association recommends wearing quality sunglasses (whether polarized or not) that offer UV protection whenever you're outdoors outdoors — even on cloudy or overcast days," he said.

Reynolds recommends looking for lenses that have a uniform tint and are free of distortion. If you're going for a gradient lens, he says they should lighten gradually with the bottom being the lightest.

"To be sure your sunglasses are right for certain activities and will properly protect your eyes from UV radiation, your best resource is your doctor of optometry, who will also help ensure your eyes are heathy through yearly, comprehensive eye exams," he said.

What are the benefits of wearing polarized sunglasses?

The immediate benefits of wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses include decreased eye strain and irritation from bright sunlight, Reynolds told us. "They reduce glare from sunlight that bounces off snow or water, can add comfort and enhance vision when participating in certain outdoor activities and can even be helpful when driving by reducing direct reflective glare from the hoods of vehicles and light-colored pavement."

There are also instances when you shouldn't wear polarized sunglasses. For example, LCD screens are partially polarized, so you may have difficulty looking at a car dashboard, outdoor signage or televisions that use them if you tilt your head to one side or the other, Reynolds explained. He also shared that wearing polarized sunglasses is not advised for activities that occur on primarily non-horizontal surfaces like downhill skiing or snowboarding. "The polarization axis of the lenses can actually closely match the polarization of light from non-horizontal surfaces, potentially causing more glare than when using non-polarized sunglasses or goggles," he said.

With all of these tips in mind, we rounded up a few affordable pairs of polarized sunglasses that will keep your eyes protected and vision clear all year long.

Best polarized sunglasses, according to shoppers

1. Kaliyadi Semi-Rimless Polarized Sunglasses

These semi-rimless frames are an Amazon bestseller and it's easy to see why. They have UV400 protection to keep your eyes safe and come in plenty of styles and colors.

2. Wowsun Polarized Sunglasses

Don't be afraid to try sunglasses with bold colors and prints like these yellow leopard print frames with purple lenses from Wowsun! There are 14 different color and pattern combinations for single pairs and 18 options for packs of two.

3. Carfia Retro Round Polarized Sunglasses

If you're going for a more retro look, try these sunglasses with a rounded frame. They are made with TR90, a durable and lightweight thermoplastic material that comfortably conforms to your face. You can choose from over a dozen available options.

4. Rivbos Polarized Sports Sunglasses

If you're looking for sunglasses that will see you through the more active days (no pun intended), try these sporty sunglasses from Rivbos. It has a solid 4.4-star average rating and comes in 13 different colors.

5. Luenx Aviator Polarized Sunglasses

You can't go wrong with classic aviator-style sunglasses. This pair from Luenx comes in 17 different lens and frame color pairings.

6. Sojos Vintage Cat Eye Polarized Sunglasses

Embrace your boldness with these cat eye polarized sunglasses. The top of the frame is solid black, while the bottom features a posh marble pattern. The lenses also follow the gradient guidelines laid out by Reynolds. They are currently available in 12 different color and pattern combinations.

7. Diff Eyewear Lizzy Sunglasses

If you're willing to spend a bit more, these options from Diff Eyewear are a great choice. They have an oversized shape with accented top corners to add a bit of extra flair. They come in four other colors and patterns with varying lens colors to match.

An added bonus of shopping with DIff Eyewear is their partnership with Sightsavers. It allows them to provide glasses, medicine, eye exams, surgeries and more to people in need with every purchase of Diff glasses, so you can be confident that your purchase will help others.

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