Home Health & Fitness What Are Polycarbonate Sunglasses? | POPSUGAR Health

What Are Polycarbonate Sunglasses? | POPSUGAR Health

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What Are Polycarbonate Sunglasses? | POPSUGAR Health

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The world can be a scary place for an eyeball. Take it from Hannah Oliver — a content creator and business owner who never expected her designer sunglasses to become such a pivotal part of her life story. In August of 2021, Oliver left her parents’ house, driving with her favorite pair of sunglasses on like she always did. Suddenly, a car pulled out in front of her and slammed on the brakes, leading to a full-on collision. Oliver’s airbag hit her sunglasses, and the glass lenses immediately shattered into her eye. When Oliver gained consciousness, her right eyelid had torn in two and the pressure from the airbag had crushed her eyeball. She wound up having the eyeball removed that night — the first of many surgeries. “You always think this is never going to happen to you,” Oliver says.

As the weather gets warmer and the sunglasses start to come out, we may think we’re doing enough to protect our eyes, but the reality is that most lenses aren’t made with safety in mind. And although it’s seldom talked about, the consequences of unsafe sunglasses can be costly.

Oliver was injured in a car, but the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that half of all eye injuries occur at home, and 78 percent of those injured were not wearing protective eyewear at the time. One 2019 study published in the journal “Ophthalmic Epidemiology” estimated that 24 million people in the US have experienced eye injury, 1.5 million have experienced injury-related vision impairment, and 147,000 are either partially or completely blind from their injury. Of the nearly 60,000 cases of eye injury reported in 2019, foreign bodies were among the most common causes, followed by exposure to mechanical forces, and falls. That’s not to mention the 30,000 sports-related eye injuries treated in the ER each year. Still, even with these numbers in mind, the majority of sunglasses remain stubbornly fragile.

“I think our vision is the most precious sense we have, and we take it for granted unless it’s compromised,” Dr. Avila says. “In terms of eye protection, we have the bones around our eyes . . . but we don’t have anything in front of that, and that’s where I think sunglasses — and glasses in general — can play a big role.” Generally speaking, the best material for shatter-resistant lenses (since, technically, anything will shatter under enough pressure) is polycarbonate. It’s often used in sports glasses, safety goggles, and children’s eyewear, but the majority of adult sunglasses still make their lenses out of glass or acrylic because it’s less expensive (and potentially more attractive). That said, there’s still plenty of ways to rock polycarbonate sunglasses, and you shouldn’t wait for an eye injury to invest in a pair yourself.

Why Polycarbonate Lenses?

Polycarbonate lenses are made from strong, yet lightweight plastic. The lenses are impact-resistant with clear visibility, which means they’re easy to see out of. Sometimes people will sacrifice safety for the aesthetic when choosing lenses, “because having something made out of glass is a little bit more aesthetically pleasing…or so they say,” says Dr. Avila. But polycarbonate lenses worth the trade-off, she argues — as they can protect the eyes from impact, as well as UV damage.

Why Aren’t All Sunglasses Polycarbonate?

This was the question on Oliver’s mind shortly after becoming monocular. Noticing the stark lack of chic and safe sunglasses, she set out to create her own brand of polycarbonate sunglasses, aptly named “Blue Eye.” But Oliver’s journey to create and sell stylish polycarbonate lenses wasn’t as easy as she had originally anticipated. Some of the first manufacturers she contacted wanted her to use a cheaper industry-standard plastic called CR-38. “I had to tell my story over and over and some manufacturers wouldn’t even work with me,” Oliver says.

While you may be more likely to find polycarbonate in eyewear like prescription reading glasses, sunglasses are a different story. In addition to cost barriers, the lenses also tend to scratch more easily, which isn’t always ideal when it comes to fashion. Still, considering the amount designer brands already charge for cheaper lenses, it’s surprising that more companies don’t offer polycarbonate lenses in their sunglasses, even for a small upcharge. It’s also important to mention that polycarbonate lenses are perfectly capable of blocking out UV radiation, and can be protected with scratch-resistant coatings, so there’s no real reason for brands to skip out.

Where to Get Polycarbonate Lenses

Eventually Oliver found a manufacturer and Blue Eye was born. Our favorite styles include the tortoise-shell Emory Sunglasses ($110), and the minimalist Grady Sunglasses ($110). Dr. Avila also recommends trying athletic brands such as Maui Jim, which has some impact-resistant polycarbonate options like the Banyans Sunglasses ($239) and Oakley, which offers lenses made from a high-grade polycarbonate called Plutonite. We especially love Oakley’s Sielo Sunglasses ($252), which are just as safe as they are stylish. If you’re more of an aviator person, go polycarbonate with the Sade Sunglasses ($245) from Warby Parker. (Pro tip: you can upgrade almost any of their sunglasses online by selecting “single-vision” lenses and choosing “polycarbonate.”)

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Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for POPSUGAR Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.

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