Confused about the benefits of polarized sunglasses, and how to tell the difference between polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses? Not sure which type of sunglasses to buy? You’ve come to the right place.
The difference between polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses
The primary benefit of polarized lenses is that they reduce glare, allowing your eyes to see richer colors, starker contrast in shadows and more clarity in your environment.
Non-polarized sunglasses simply reduce the intensity of the light. Non-polarized lenses effectively treat all kinds of light the same, without recognizing the nuances of a glare.
This makes polarized lenses the obvious choice for anyone who is spending time outside, particularly in high-glare situations such as near water or snow, or for people who simply want to enjoy the best vision possible when they head outdoors.
Choosing polarized sunglasses might actually make you safer if you are doing an active sport that requires a quick reaction time, like mountain biking or trail running, since a reflection can be a dangerous distraction and poor visible contrast on the trail can lead to a surprise tumble over an unexpected tree root or rock. Compared to regular sunglasses, polarized lenses will erase the shimmer and keep your tires on the dirt.
Curious what polarized sunglasses are? Check out more here!
Polarized lenses also reduce eye strain and fatigue. This includes eliminating that pesky headache that some folks get after a few too many hours of staring at a glare-coated road, snowpack or shimmering ocean, lake or river.
Polarized lenses aren’t completely *different* than regular sunglasses, they just have that extra special somethin’ (the anti-glare coating). While the UVA-UVB protection on all sunglasses keeps your eyes safe from ultraviolet rays, polarized lenses give you superior optics that outperform non-polarized sunglasses in any outdoor situation with glare, which includes, uh, most outdoor situations.
If they’re so great, then why aren’t all sunglasses polarized?
Well, to start, some cheaper sunglasses companies might not invest in polarized lenses. Adding polarized lenses to sunglasses increases the manufacturing cost, which is why many sunglasses brands (even big, well-known, expensive ones) skimp on this feature to allow for higher margins.
Luckily, Sunskis are super affordable and always polarized–a rare combo that’s part of our reason for starting Sunski in the first place. As avid outdoor enthusiasts ourselves, we wanted to make the best possible adventure sunglasses for ourselves and our community, and to do so at a fair and friendly price, with zero shortcuts along the way. Although our product lineup has grown a lot since the early days, we’ve stayed true to our mission (and we definitely still live life outside, every chance we get!).
Keep in mind, there are a few limitations to polarized sunglasses. They’re not compatible with other screens that have anti-glare coatings, and they won’t protect you from staring directly at the sun (even during a solar eclipse…) so we don’t recommend trying that.
If you’re into really extreme solar adventuring, Sunski's Alpine Collection provides extra sun protection with side shields and ultra low VLT lenses designed for high-glare conditions!
How can I tell if I have polarized sunglasses?
Sometimes, you might come across a great pair of sunglasses in a thrift shop or even just find them lying on the ground. If you have a found pair and you’re not sure about the sunglasses lenses being polarized vs. non-polarized, there are a couple of ways to test for polarization. Most computer screens have anti-glare technology similar to that of polarized sunglasses vs. non-polarized sunglasses. When combined, polarized lenses, the two will sort of cancel each other out. Hold your sunglasses up to a screen, look through them, and then tilt them slowly towards 90 degrees. If they turn black, they’re polarized!
You can do the same thing with a reflective surface, or a second pair of
While polarized lenses are especially popular among people who enjoy watersports like fishing, SUPing and surfing, or winter snow sports like backcountry touring, the benefits of polarized lenses aren’t just for athletes. Polarized sunglasses are also an excellent option if you’re driving because they’re great at blocking the road glare from the setting or rising sun. Polarized sunglasses don’t always look sporty, either! Every single pair of Sunskis is polarized, and our styles range from premium sunglasses to sports sunglasses, and everything in between.
So, how do polarized sunglasses actually work?
We see you, science and physics nerds! Here’s the nitty gritty details of how polarized lenses actually work:
Polarized lenses block horizontal light rays, which not surprisingly, come from horizontal surfaces, like black pavement, clear water, or blinding snow. When sunlight strikes flat surfaces, it reflects off, matching the angle of that surface. Those horizontal light rays create glare that makes its way into your eyes. This glare can distract you, put you in danger, or even (gasp!) obscure the clarity of a beautiful view when you’re out in the woods.
Polarized sunglasses to the rescue! Polarization means the lenses have been coated in a special chemical, then laminated in a vertical pattern. That chemical lamination blocks horizontal rays, only allowing in vertical rays. It’s similar to those vertical window blinds you might see in a hotel room. The right kind of light gets in, without being overwhelming or distracting.
A true story about polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses
The first time I learned what polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses are, I was already well into my career in the outdoors. My friends asked if I could see the fish underwater when we were fishing in Colorado.
The ensuing conversation went something like this:
Me: “What do you mean? That’s impossible. You can’t see through moving water.”
Them: “Of course you can. Are your sunglasses polarized?”
Me: “I don’t know. How can you tell?”
Time to fess up: my friend on the right, who's rocking polarized shades, caught the fish in this photo. My cheap-o, non-polarized fashion shades didn't let me see into the water, so I had to fake my fishing success.
My friend, a fly fishing guide, helped me out. When I tried on his polarized sunglasses, the difference was obvious. The glare of the alpine sun was gone, allowing me to view beneath the surface to find the trout we were there to catch. When my own sunglasses faced the reflection on the water, they didn’t block much except for my view of the fish. We spent the rest of the day with the friends wearing polarized-lens catching as many trout as they could, and me catching exactly zero.
Now you know enough to make an informed decision when it comes to your next pair of sunglasses. Still curious to learn more? Check out our guide to all your polarized sunglasses-related questions: What are polarized sunglasses?.
Give them a try!
Polarization cuts glare and makes it more fun to be out in the sun. It’s a must-have feature for anyone who loves the great outdoors. Don’t skimp on non-polarized sunglasses or overpay for a great pair of polarized adventure sunglasses; give Sunski a try and see what you’ve been missing!
Meet the Author
Elissa Mardiney grew up in the Gunks, fell in love with the sun in Frisco, Colorado, and is currently learning to love the fog in San Francisco. Before producing radio stories and writing, she worked as a wilderness trip leader, a horse wrangler, a ski instructor, a waitress at a place called The Stinky Boot, and a dog hiker, among other roles. Whether it's through a blog post, an audio story, or a backpacking trip, she’s passionate about taking people on adventures and finding dogs to pet along the way.