Polarized vs. Non-Polarized Sunglasses

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?” 

girl holding a fishTime 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.

So, how do polarized lenses work? 

Polarized lenses exist to 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! Polarizing means coating the lenses in a special chemical, then laminating it on in a vertical pattern. That chemical 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.

polarized sunglasses with ocean in backCurious what polarized sunglasses are? Check out more here!

The difference between polarized vs. non-polarized lenses

Standard sunglasses just reduce the intensity of the light. They treat all kinds of light the same, not recognizing the nuances of a glare. Polarized sunglasses, on the other hand, reduce the intensity and block certain types of light. Polarization will allow for richer colors, starker contrast in shadows, and more clarity in your environment.

This might actually make you safer. If you’re doing an active sport that requires a quick reaction time, like mountain biking or trail running, a reflection can be a dangerous distraction. Compared to regular sunglasses, polarized lenses will erase the shimmer and keep your tires on the dirt.

They’ll 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.

amber polarized sunglasses lens

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 mainly keeps your eyes safe, polarized lenses give you superior visuals 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, for one, some cheaper sunglasses companies might not invest in polarized lenses. Luckily, Sunskis are super affordable and polarized–a rare combo. There are few limitations to polarization. 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.

treeline polarized vs. non-polarized glassesSunski's Alpine Collection provides extra sun protection with side shields!

How can I tell if I have polarized sunglasses?

Sometimes, you might come across a pair of sunglasses in a thrift shop or on the ground (not unlike our founders did.) If you have a pair and you’re not sure about polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses, 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 polarized sunglasses, too. If the glare gets better when the shades are tilted, they’re polarized. If it gets worse or doesn’t change, that’s a sign you need to get yourself a pair of Sunskis. Every pair we make is polarized.

Polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses for sports

polarized vs. non-polarized sunglasses in the flowers

While polarized lenses are especially popular among fishermen, ski tourers, and road cyclists, they’re not just for athletes. They’re also an excellent option if you’re driving because they’re great at blocking the road glare from the setting or rising sun. They don’t always look sporty, either! Every single one of Sunski’s collections is polarized, and our styles range from premium sunglasses to sports sunglasses, and everything in between.