Lens Materials

High Index Lenses

Don’t Let Your Glasses Weigh You Down — Choose High Index Lenses
High index lenses are chosen for their lightweight comfort and attractiveness. High index lens materials are lighter in weight and thinner than their regular glass or plastic counterparts. The benefit is that if you have a strong prescription, you are no longer forced into “Coke-bottle” lenses. Just about everyone can get attractive eyeglass lenses that complement their appearance, rather than detracting from it.

High index lenses are made of materials that are compressed, or denser, so the same amount of visual correction is taking place using less lens material than traditional plastic or glass requires. “High index” means that the lenses are constructed of a plastic or glass material that has a higher index of refraction. The “index of refraction” refers to the speed that light travels as it passes through the lens material.  Currently the highest index plastic lens has an index of 1.74.  Conventional plastic has an index of 1.49.

What Are Aspherics?
Just like high index lenses, aspheric lenses are also thinner than regular lenses. But the thinness is accomplished with the lens design, not just the lens material. Aspheric lenses are flatter than conventional lenses.

In plus lenses for farsighted people, the curves flatten away from the center, for a lens that doesn’t bulge out as much. It also does not magnify the eye, so the eye appears more natural. In minus lenses for nearsighted people, the curves steepen away from the center, toward the edge of the lens. This results in a thinner lens edge.

How to Get Better Looking Eyeglasses
Complicated mathematical formulas are used in conjunction with the optical prescription to determine the exact thickness of a lens in a particular frame for a particular patient. But generally, the way to make sure that the resulting lenses are as thin as possible is to use the highest index lens material available, use an aspheric lens design if appropriate, and keep the eyeglass frame as small and as round as possible.

These steps, along with applying an anti-reflective coating, will result in the best-looking prescription eyeglasses that modern science can provide. If your eye care doctor doesn’t offer all of these options to you, make a point of asking about them.

Polycarbonate Lenses

Get Tough with Polycarbonate Lenses
More durable than regular plastic, polycarbonate lenses are very lightweight and shatter-resistant. They also have the best impact resistance of any lens material, making them the lens of choice for sports eyewear, children or active lifestyles. Polycarbonate lenses are not only thinner and lighter in weight than traditional plastic eyeglass lenses, they also offer ultraviolet protection and scratch-resistance. In addition, they are very impact resistant.

Because less of the polycarbonate lens material is needed to provide the same amount of visual correction that a traditional plastic lens offers, polycarbonate lenses are thinner and lighter in weight. Polycarbonate lenses also have built-in ultraviolet (UV) protective properties. Similar to the way that sun block prevents the sun’s rays from damaging the body, UV protection shields the eyes from the same detrimental light rays. Other types of plastic lenses must be specially treated to block the same amount of UV, but polycarbonate lenses automatically offer this protection.

Polycarbonate material is manufactured differently from the way that other lens materials are fabricated. An enormous amount of pressure is used to compress the raw material. The resulting product holds up so well under impact not because it is hard and unyielding, but rather because it is flexible and gives slightly under pressure without breaking. Polycarbonate lenses are actually constructed out of material that is identical to what is called “bulletproof glass.” Poly has also been used for astronaut helmet shields and space shuttle windshields.

The flexibility or softness of the lens material dictates that a scratch resistant coating be applied to the front and back surfaces of polycarbonate lenses. Manufacturers automatically coat them, and fabrication laboratories add a scratch-resistant coating to any uncoated lens surface before sending the lens to a dispenser. So, any polycarbonate lens you buy already has built-in scratch-resistance.

Impact Resistance
Polycarbonate lenses are safer than traditional lens materials because they aren’t brittle. So they won’t usually break if they come into contact with fast-moving objects such as balls, racquets or BBs. Regular glass and plastic eyeglass lens materials shatter upon violent contact in the same way that car safety glass does. Pieces of the lens are sprayed around, which potentially can cause injury to the eye. That’s why polycarbonate lenses, which hold up better under impact, are required in sports goggles and are recommended for all children’s glasses and some safety eyewear.

Studies have been made detailing exactly what happens when an object traveling at high speed meets a polycarbonate lens versus a traditional plastic lens. Using film that is slowed down and viewed frame by frame, one investigation demonstrated that a fast-moving ball coming into contact with a plastic lens broke the lens and impacted the eye. In contrast, the same ball traveling at the same rate of speed impacted the polycarbonate lens and flexed the lens but did not break it.

Use the Proper Frame
Polycarbonate’s impact resistant nature could tempt you to forgo placing the lenses into a proper sports frame, using a regular “dress” eyeglass frame instead to play basketball, racquetball and so forth. The danger in not using a sports frame is that while the polycarbonate lenses provide eye protection, a regular eyeglass frame is not capable of holding up to the impact of a ball or racquet.

It’s dangerous to play sports in polycarbonate lenses in an eyeglass frame that is not rated for sports eyewear. This combination defeats the purpose of using polycarbonate lenses for safety. However, polycarbonate is always recommended for children’s eyewear, because kids tend to be rough at play even when they are not taking part in an organized sport.

The same is true of safety glasses. Polycarbonate lenses will protect eyes from many hazards in the workplace or at home, but if they are placed in a frame that is not safety rated, the eyeglasses cannot be considered safety glasses under the law. Legalities aside, they may not provide enough protection for the particular activity. If you need safety glasses, consult an eye care doctor who can tell you which frames are safety rated. 04/13/09

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