Do Prescription Glasses Protect From UV Rays? What The Research Says

Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Ash Salleh

For anyone who spends a good deal of time outdoors, the harmful effects of UV rays on the skin are well-known. But did you know that UV rays can also pose risks to your eyes? Sunburned eyes or photokeratitis, cataracts, and other serious eye conditions can result from prolonged UV exposure. That brings us to an important question: Do prescription glasses protect your eyes from these harmful UV rays?

UV Rays and the Eyes: A Quick Primer

Before diving into the research, let’s get some background. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is divided into three types based on wavelength:

  • UVA: The longest wavelength and can potentially harm the central vision by damaging the macula, a part of the retina at the back of the eye.
  • UVB: Mostly absorbed by the cornea and lens. Overexposure can lead to cataracts and even corneal sunburn.
  • UVC: These are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere and don’t reach our eyes.

The danger lies in the fact that these damages accumulate over time, so even small, daily exposures can have long-term effects.

The Role of Prescription Glasses

Now, to the heart of the matter: Do prescription glasses offer any defense against these harmful rays?

The Research

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, not all eyeglasses and contact lenses protect against UV rays. The protection offered depends on the material of the lens and any additional coatings that may be applied.

Polycarbonate lenses, often used in prescription eyeglasses, inherently block most UV rays. However, not all prescription lenses are made of this material. The good news? Many etailers, like us, now offer UV protection coatings for a variety of lens materials.

A study published in the journal Ophthalmology indicated that prolonged UV exposure could increase the risk of cataracts. This makes UV protection even more essential, especially for those already wearing glasses for vision correction.

Another study from the University of Georgia found that most clear prescription eyeglasses offer at least some UV protection. However, the degree of protection varied widely, with some lenses blocking as little as 10% of UV rays.

Added Protection

For those who want to ensure maximum protection:

  1. UV-blocking coatings: When purchasing glasses from an etailer like ours, it’s essential to opt for a UV-blocking coating, especially if the lenses aren’t made of polycarbonate.
  2. Wraparound frames: These can protect your eyes from UV rays that come from the side.
  3. Photochromic lenses: These lenses darken automatically outdoors and block 100% of the sun’s UV rays without the need for an added coating.

What About Contacts? – How Much UV is Blocked by a Typical UV-Blocking Contact Lens

For contact lens wearers, many brands offer lenses with UV protection. They can provide an added layer of defense, but it’s essential to note that they don’t cover the entire eye area. Combining UV-blocking contacts with UV-blocking eyeglasses or sunglasses can give comprehensive protection.

When it comes to protecting the eyes from harmful UV rays, sunglasses are usually the first solution that comes to mind. But did you know that certain contact lenses can also provide UV protection? Let’s explore how effective they are.

The Science Behind UV-Blocking Contacts

Modern UV-blocking contact lenses are designed with materials that absorb a portion of the UV rays before they reach the eye. These contacts can be categorized into two classes based on the standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI):

  1. Class I lenses: Block more than 90% of UVA (316-380 nm) and 99% of UVB (280-315 nm) rays.
  2. Class II lenses: Block more than 70% of UVA and 95% of UVB rays.

The Real-World Benefits

While it sounds impressive, it’s essential to remember that contact lenses, regardless of their UV-blocking capabilities, only protect the part of the eye they cover – the cornea. This means that large portions of the eye and the surrounding skin remain exposed to potential UV damage.

Thus, UV-blocking contact lenses should not be viewed as a replacement for UV-blocking sunglasses but rather as a complementary form of protection. When used in tandem, they offer more comprehensive protection against UV exposure, especially for those with heightened sensitivity or those spending extended periods in high UV environments, such as at the beach or snow.

Choosing the Right Contacts for UV Protection

When purchasing contact lenses, always check the product specifications or consult with your optometrist to understand their UV-blocking capabilities. Not all contact lenses offer UV protection, and among those that do, the protection levels can vary.

If UV protection is a priority for you, aim for Class I lenses. While they might be slightly more expensive, the added protection can be invaluable in the long run, particularly if you spend a lot of time outdoors.

How Does the UV-Blocking Ability of Contacts Compare to Glasses Equipped with UV-Blocking Lenses?

In the world of ocular protection, both contact lenses and glasses have made strides in offering UV protection. But how do they stack up against each other? Here’s a comparative analysis of the UV-blocking abilities of contacts versus glasses with UV-blocking lenses.

Coverage Area

  1. Contact Lenses: Contact lenses primarily cover and protect the cornea, which means only a portion of the eye benefits from the UV shield. The surrounding areas like the sclera (the white part of the eye) and eyelids remain exposed to UV radiation.
  2. Glasses with UV-Blocking Lenses: Glasses, especially those with larger or wraparound frames, can protect a more significant portion of the eye and the surrounding areas. They shield not just the cornea but also the sclera, eyelids, and often parts of the surrounding skin.

Protection Level

  1. Contact Lenses: As previously mentioned, UV-blocking contacts fall into two classes—Class I and Class II. Class I lenses block more than 90% of UVA and 99% of UVB rays, while Class II lenses block more than 70% of UVA and 95% of UVB rays.
  2. Glasses with UV-Blocking Lenses: Prescription glasses with polycarbonate lenses inherently block 100% of UV rays. For lenses made from other materials, UV protection can vary, but many come with coatings that offer up to 100% UV blockage. This makes glasses a potent protective tool against UV radiation.


  1. Contact Lenses: The advantage of contacts is that they provide UV protection regardless of the lighting condition. Whether you’re indoors near a window or outside on a cloudy day, contacts continuously shield the cornea from UV radiation.
  2. Glasses with UV-Blocking Lenses: Glasses can be more versatile in terms of design and customization. Beyond standard UV coatings, one can opt for photochromic lenses, which darken automatically in sunlight, providing both UV protection and comfort in varying lighting conditions.

Concluding Thoughts

While many prescription glasses do offer some level of UV protection, it varies widely based on the material and any additional coatings. If UV protection is a concern, especially for those who spend considerable time outdoors, ensure that your lenses come with a UV-blocking coating. Pairing this with other protective measures, like wraparound frames and UV-protective sunglasses, can offer comprehensive defense against harmful UV rays.

When buying your next pair of glasses or contacts from our store, look out for the UV protection features, and prioritize your eye health as much as you would your skin’s health.