When they first entered the scene more than half a century ago, polycarbonate lenses were touted as the material that was to render standard eyewear lenses obsolete.
While that claim ultimately fell a bit short, there’s no denying that polycarbonate lenses possess certain properties that are both practical and extremely useful in a pair of eyeglasses. As with just about every innovation to hit the eyewear industry, polycarbonate lenses staked out a niche and remain the lens material of choice under certain conditions.
So is polycarbonate the right material for your next pair of sunglasses? The answer depends on several factors: your lifestyle, your activities, and your budget are all factors that come into play. Let’s start off by sneaking a peek at polycarbonate material and how it applies to lens usage.
Polycarbonate is a thermoplastic resin first invented by Dr. Hermann Schnelle in 1953. The outstanding property of polycarbonate is its incredible toughness; the material is not unbreakable, but it is shatterproof, and is many times more resilient than standard plastic. Because of this, polycarbonate shields, visors, and lenses quickly became popular for any sport or activity involving extreme conditions. Air craft canopies, bulletproof windows, motorcycle and football visors, and “bubble helmets” for NASA’s astronauts – a huge industry in the Sixties – are just a few of the practical applications that proved the worth and the strength of polycarbonate. It didn’t take long for the material’s popularity to infect the eyewear industry, and to this day polycarbonate is the go-to material for safety glasses or goggles.
But is polycarbonate necessary for everyday usage? It’s true that having shatterproof sunglasses gives you peace of mind, especially if you suffer from “the dropsies” or are unusually hard on your glasses. But the resilience of the material does not automatically make it perfect for every application. Polycarbonate exhibits a higher chromatic aberration rating than standard plastic, meaning visual acuity is not as precise, and it is more prone to scratches, so a scratch-resistant coating should be factored into the purchase should you decide to go with polycarbonate lenses. This coating is so necessary that it’s not always optional – many manufacturers include it as part of the polycarbonate upgrade.
Cost may also be a factor in your decision. Polycarbonate is more than double the price of standard plastic. This is rarely a deal breaker, because we’re only talking about a $10-or-so increase in the lens cost, but you do have to pay more to enjoy the benefits of polycarbonate.
Does all this mean that polycarbonate is right for you? Only you can answer that. If you’re rough on your glasses, use them for extreme sports or activities, or plan to buy them for children or young adults who might not treat their glasses with the utmost of care, polycarbonate may be a wise choice. If not, standard material may be more than adequate to provide you with a quality pair of sunglasses.
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