What Are Transition Lenses?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, December 3, 2020

Has your optometrist recommended transition lenses? 

Your optometrist may have referred to transition lenses as photochromic lenses, or maybe even light-adaptive lenses, or variable tint lenses. All of these names refer to the same type of lens.

Transition lenses are eyeglasses that are designed to be clear for indoor use and automatically darken when exposed to sunlight or UV light.

With their unique design, transition lenses may eliminate the need for sunglasses and are therefore convenient for those who wear glasses full time.

Transition lenses are also trusted to provide 100 percent UVA and UVB protection when they are both clear and dark.

How do transition lenses work?

When transition lenses are exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, the molecules inside the lens become activated, causing them to automatically darken. Since UV rays are able to penetrate through the clouds, not only do transition lenses darken on bright sunny days, but also when the sky is cloudy and overcast.

Transition lenses automatically adjust their color according to the light and UV intensity in the environment.

Are transition lenses right for you?

The following is a guide to help you decide if transition lenses are right for you. 


  • Convenience. Transition lenses can be worn both indoors and outdoors, and may eliminate the need for sunglasses.
  • UV protection. Overexposure to UV radiation can increase your risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration later in life. Transition lenses provide 100 percent UVA and UVB protection when they are clear and dark.
  • Blue light protection. Blue light that is emitted from unnatural sources, such as computer screens and other digital devices, is a common cause of digital eye strain.
  • Variety of lens designs. Transition lenses come in many different lens designs, including bifocals, multifocals, and high-index lenses.
  • Variety of shades and colors. While some people prefer a lighter density gray lens, others prefer the darkest brown lens possible. Transition lenses are now available in a variety of lens densities and colors, catering to the many different personal styles.
  • Sports eyewear. Transition lenses are available in polycarbonate and trivex lenses, both lens materials that are safe to wear while playing sports.
  • Lens coatings. Transition lenses can be easily coated with anti-reflective (AR) coatings to reduce glare and improve vision for night driving.

Contact an eye doctor near you to discuss how to achieve the best vision possible.

SEE RELATED: Tinted Lenses and Mirror Coatings

Find an eye doctor near you


  • Transition lenses can vary in their features:
    • Automatic darkening. Transition lenses darken as soon as they are exposed to sunlight or UV light. This can get frustrating if you would like your lens to remain clear in certain situations or environments— such as your workplace or a doctor’s office that has bright fluorescent lighting.
    • Lens color. Transition lenses are only available in grey, brown and green, and may not be what you’re looking for if you prefer a different color sunglass tint.
    • Time of adjustment. Since transition lenses darken gradually, they cannot provide instant total darkness like a regular pair of sunglasses. They also require time to adjust to indoor lighting, and therefore can take some time to become completely clear as well. This adjustment period can be inconvenient at times.
    • Temperature can affect color adjustment. Some types of transition lenses may take longer to darken, especially in cold weather.
    • Not all transition lenses darken inside the car. This is primarily because the windshield is designed with UV protection and therefore, the transition lenses may not activate in the car. Some newer transition lens designs have been designed to darken in the car, even with UV protected windshields.
  • Cost. Transition lenses are typically more expensive than regular lenses.

Although transition lenses can be beneficial in many different ways, your lifestyle, personal preference, and budget are important factors to keep in mind when deciding if these lenses are right for you.

LEARN MORE:  Optical and Contact Lenses

Schedule an appointment  with an optometrist near you to learn more about the different types of transition lenses and to discuss your options with an eye care professional.