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Fashion or Function: When It Comes to Your Glasses, What’s More Important?

When it’s time to start shopping for new glasses, you will rarely hear someone get excited about those super cute new lenses that are popping up in Vogue and being gushed over on all of the fashion blogs. Frames are what people notice and comment on, and if they do notice your lenses, you probably need to update them. Whether you fall in love with chunky tortoise shell with vibrant turquoise hues, sleek aviators framed in gold metal, or the angular, geometric shapes that are starting to gain admirers, the fact is that frames are fashionable and are going to be what attracts you to a certain pair of glasses.

That being said, your glasses are sitting on your head for one primary reason—to help you see. All other fashion factors and ego-boosting reasons are secondary to good eye health and clear vision. So before you get your heart set on those vintage cat eye frames you saw a designer sporting on Project Runway, take a little time to educate yourself on the importance of lenses and the features out there that can help your vision.

First up is material. Although lenses for glasses used to all be made out of glass, it’s heavy and breaks easily, which prompted the industry to focus on plastic in the 1960s, and then transition to safer and lightweight polycarbonate lenses in the 1970s. Today, most lenses are made of polycarbonate, with high-index plastic lenses being the lightest and thinnest out there. Another description you might hear when shopping for lenses is “refractive index.” This refers to the how efficiently the material bends light. The higher the refractive index, the thinner the lens.  Your optician can recommend the material with the best index of refraction for your prescription.

The “Abbe number” is another new term to learn and it refers to how light is dispersed through a lens. When a lens has a low Abbe value, it produces chromatic aberrations. Glass lenses have the highest Abbe value, but for most prescriptions chromatic aberration is virtually impossible to detect in any lens material, so the benefits of polycarbonate outweigh the difference in abbe value compared to glass.

Additionally, and probably the most importantly from a style and coolness perspective, is that new lenses sport aspheric design. Remember that kid in your 3rd grade class that had such rounded and magnifying lenses that they looked like an owl? Well, the latest aspheric lens technology has been able to flatten them out without hurting optical performance, allowing for less magnification of the wearer’s eyes.  Likewise, there’s no need to wear “Coke-bottle” glasses if you are near sighted.  With today’s digitally designed lenses, lenses are getting thinner for all prescription types!

And for those of us who are growing older, an innovative technology to check out is the progressive lens. Progressive lenses offer a smoother transition from near to intermediate vision and are well worth the investment—no need to get the eye straining and fashion-killing bifocal feature anymore, plus you can stop carrying around a special pair of reading glasses.

A few other features to be aware of are the various treatments available. Anti-scratch coating will help protect the softer plastics and polycarbonate used for modern lenses from the scrapes and nicks of everyday life, and is a standard feature on most lenses today. Reflections on the lenses become more noticeable if you get high-index lenses, so an anti-reflective coating is essential to get rid of reflections that are extra-apparent at night, and will even make the lenses almost disappear within your frames.

Follow these tips and, after you pick the perfect new lenses for your lifestyle, you can be confident that the sweet new frames you choose will still be on-trend without having to compromise your vision. Your friends can focus on your superb style, and won’t have a clue about all of the time and thought you put into getting the latest and greatest in optics.