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Brian Dunleavy   
15 February 2012
Ophthalmology Times

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Sunwear au courant? The lenses have it; Manufacturers roll out customizable lenses to help meet almost every performance need

When it comes to sunwear, frames get most of the attention. Designer brand names and celebrity endorsements tend to do that.

Industry experts, however, agree that the most exciting innovations in sunwearnow and for the foreseeable futureare happening in the lens arena. And just as with the newest clear progressive and single-vision lens designs, eye-care professionals need to stay on top of the new technology in order to recommend the best options for their patients' visual needs.

"What the lens technology can do now [in sunwear] is truly amazing," noted Susan Blaine, optical manager at Eye Clinic of Wisconsin, a six-location practice in northern and central Wisconsin. "We have so many patients come in and say, 'I never wear sunglasses. I never thought of it.' We're changing a lot of patients' minds about sunwear."

Indeed, the visual benefits offered by sun lenses in general have long been known. Clinical studies have demonstrated the ocular health benefits of blocking ultraviolet (UV) rays from the eye surface. Glare reduction has been shown to improve visual performance. Studies have linked the use of sunglasses to a reduced risk for the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. Anecdotally, many feel wearing sunglasses delays the development of "crow's feet" around the eyes because wearers aren't squinting to compensate for glare from the sun.

With all of these obvious benefits, manufacturers have attempted to expand the availability of prescription sun lens products to meet the needs of a wide variety of potential wearers. As with clear single-vision and progressive lenses, manufacturers are releasing sun lens designs (in both progressive in single-vision) that incorporate free-form technology.

Through customized backside surfacing processes, free-form lenses can be personalized to fit the unique prescription, wearing habits, and visual behaviors of individual patients. In addition, several manufacturers have developed prescription sun lenses in 8-base curves for fitting in popular "wrap" sunglass frames, like the Attitude polarized lens from Shamir. Wrap styles are particularly popular among wearers who enjoy outdoor sports activities.

New offerings 

Several lens manufacturers have rolled out new prescription sun lens product lines. Costa del Mar, for example, released its popular 580 polarized lens, which had been available in plano for a number of years, in prescription form. Costa sells complete eyewear, which means it uses its own proprietary process to prepare the lenses, which are designed to fit only their frames. The productavailable in a prescription range of 5 to +3 D, in an 8-base wrapcan only be ordered directly from Costa.

In addition, photochromic lens manufacturer Transitions Optical continued to expand its offerings in its line of performance sunwear, which incorporates its unique photochromic technology. In essence, these lenses change from "dark" to "darker" when exposed to UV light, as opposed to conventional Transitions photochromics, which go from clear to dark when exposed to UV light.

Available prescription-ready styles include:

* Autumn Gold Transitions SOLFX and Autumn Gold glass contrast-enhancing lenses from X-Cel Optical Company, designed for hunting and shooting and changes from a yellow to amber shade;

* Bell Transitions SOLFX shield for motorcycle helmets, which changes from clear to gray;

* DEFINITY FAIRWAY Transitions SOLFX lens, available from Essilor, designed for golfers and changes from amber to dark brown;

* Drivewear Transitions SOLFX lenses, equipped with a polarized filter from Younger Optics, designed for driving and changes from green/yellow to copper to dark reddish-brown in response to light;

* NEOX Transitions SOLFX lenses, available through the wholesale labs Walman and Soderberg, designed for golfers and changes from G22 green to a darker green;

* Oakley Transitions adaptive sun lenses for runners, cyclists, and golfers, which is available in a variety of colors; and 

* Xperio Transitions adaptive polarized sun lens for runners/hikers and water-sports enthusiasts, which is available from Essilor in either ash gray/dark gray or caramel/dark brown.

Also, Transitions recently launched its new Vantage lens. Though positioned as an "everyday lens"as opposed to a sun lensthe Vantage does feature variable polarization.

Blaine, who works with most of the Transitions sun lenses, as well as products from Maui Jim and others, said the proliferation of new products in the performance sun lens market has enabled her to increase the emphasis on sunglass sales in her optical dispensary.

Over the past year, the practice has been purchasing exhibit booth space at golf outings and fishing tournaments to promote its sun lens offerings and even had putting greens installed in each of its dispensaries.

"With all of these new products, we can recommend a lens for any number of patient needs, from golfers to [people interested in fishing] to [those] who spend a lot of time driving," Blaine said. "And now we can demonstrate the benefits of these lenses to patients right here in the optical [dispensary]. Sales aren't where I want them to be yet, but they are way ahead of where we were 5 years ago, and growing. It's been great for our business."