The Today Show Got It Wrong: 3 Reasons Expensive Sunglasses Are Worth The Money

Jul 18, 2016
5 min read

The Today Show recently did a segment entitled, “Are designer sunglasses really worth hundreds of dollars?”

The segment concluded that cheap sunglasses have the same amount of UV protection as designer glasses, and the average consumer couldn’t notice a difference in style. As optometrists, we know that there are other factors that make quality sunglasses superior to drug store sunglasses including lenses, frame, and treatments.

Do your patients ever complain about headaches from drug store sunglasses?

It might be due to the poor quality of the lens or the fit of the frame.

Here are 3 reasons The Today Show got it wrong, and why you should splurge on quality sunglasses and recommend them to your patients.

1) Lens Quality

The average consumer believes sunglass lenses are sunglass lenses.

This is not entirely true.

Lenses that come in cheap sunglasses are obviously made of cheap lens materials. It is a fact, that you will see better out of certain lens materials. It is our job to educate that lenses aren’t actually made of glass.

Some materials are shatter-proof and increase the patient’s safety, others increase optical clarity due to their indices of refraction. This becomes important if you are using your sunglasses for high risk activities or sports where you desire extreme clarity like the golf course, and some materials are lighter weight which is extremely important for a frame that sits on your nose for hours.

2) Frame + Treatment Quality and Fashion

In the Today Show report, street “consumers” were unable to tell the difference between the cheap ones and the designer ones.

This may be true with licensed eyewear like Rayban and Chanel, but the difference is apparent in true luxury eyewear brands.

From the fit of the frame on the face, to the feel of the frame in your hands,  frames made from Titanium or Acetate made from cotton have a distinguishable difference to any consumer.

From polarization to anti-glare, there is a difference in treatments.

Cheap polarized lenses may only cut 10% of reflected light. Quality polarized lenses can cut a much higher percentage and virtually eliminate all glare. Additionally, cheap polarized lenses can be made by layering polarization which induces more distortion.

The diagram shows the process by which high quality polarized lenses are created.

3) UV Protection

Do your patients ask you what type of UV protection is necessary?

The FDA doesn’t require that sunglasses have a certain level of UV protection! We aren’t sure as consumers what we are getting unless we buy from a reputable source.1

  1. UVA
  • Make up a majority of our sun exposure
  • Causes skin aging and skin cancer
  • Affects the dermis layer
  1. UVB
  • Most harmful type of UV
  • Penetrates the epidermis
  • Melanoma is most strongly associated with severe UVB burns before age 20
  • More intense during summer, higher altitudes, and closer to equator
  1. UVC- blocked by the ozone2

Take Home Point: All sunglasses must block UV radiation of up to 400 nanometers.1

Make sure your patients know that there is no correlation between the degree of tint and degree of UV protection! Tinted lenses without UV protection can be more harmful than not wearing sunglasses. Tinted lenses cause the pupil to dilate allowing in more sun.2

Eye Pathologies Due to UV Exposure

  1. Cataracts
  2. Macular Degeneration
  3. Cancers of the Eyelids
  4. Photokeratitis1
  5. Pingueculas and Pterygiums
  6. Melanoma

The incidence of Ocular Melanoma is 6 per million and is the second most common type of Melanoma.4

It’s not worth the risk.

Children’s Sunglasses

  • Children under 6 months should never be in the sun.
  • Until age 10, the lens inside the eye is completely clear, allowing more UV penetration and making children more susceptible to sun damage.
  • Make sure lenses are polycarbonate (impact-resistant).
  • Wrap arounds are better for more protection of skin around the eyes.3

The question you should ask yourself is how much is my vision worth? How well do I want to see? 


  1. Alderman, Lesley. “Let the Sunshine In, but Not the Harmful Rays.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Jan. 2011. Web. 16 May 2016. <>.
  2. 2. Society, Canadian Cancer. “Types of Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) – Canadian Cancer Society.” Canadian Cancer Society, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016. <>.
  3. 3. “Skin Cancer Foundation.” Choosing Sunglasses For Your Kids. Skin Cancer Foundation, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 May 2016. <>.
  4. Jovanovic, Predrag, Marija Mihajlovic, Jasmina Djordjevic-Jocic, Slobodan Vlajkovic, Sonja Cekic, and Vladisav Stefanovic. “Ocular Melanoma: An Overview of the Current Status.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Pathology. E-Century Publishing Corporation, 15 June 2013. Web. 20 May 2016. <>.
About Courtney Dryer, OD

Courtney Dryer is a 2011 graduate of SCO. She opened 4 Eyes Optometry in her hometown of Charlotte, NC in February of 2013. After 5 years, the practice name was changed to Autarchic Spec Shop to renew the practice's commitment …

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