WHAT’S HOT THIS SUMMER - Advances in Polarized Lenses

By Liz Martinez, ABOC, NCLC
Forget global warming: The forecast for this season is a high heat level brought about by the latest innovations in polarized sunwear. The days of the old CR-39 laminated polarized lenses that cracked in the edger or split when mounted are history.

Thanks to new technology and fresh applications of existing technology, the polarized market is offering labs an untapped potential for profitability. Like all sunwear categories, the growth potential for polarized has long been neglected. The key to increasing sales is recognition of where the market stands, coupled with familiarity with new product availability, education and training—from lab to ECP and from ECP to patient.

MARKET EXPANSION

According to Essilor of America, polarized lenses make up only about 6 percent of lens sales —and that rate has been very flat, with no increase in percentage. But lens manufacturers are hopeful. According to Transitions Optical, there is great potential with the new sun lenses.

Transitions’ figures show that the general eyewear market has been growing at a low- to mid-single digit average annual rate, but the sunglass segment has been climbing at a mid-single digit rate—more than twice as fast as the rest of the market. And premium products are at the head of the pack, with premium sunwear accounting for around $4 billion in sales.

ECPs fail to promote sun lenses for a variety of reasons, but labs can help rekindle their excitement by familiarizing dispensers and doctors with the latest products. This task will be made easier because the latest polarized options are not just recycled technology or expanded lens parameters, but truly thrilling new sunlenses.

SOLFX TECHNOLOGY

One sensational new development is Transitions Optical’s SOLFX (pronounced SOUL-eff-ex) lenses. Traditional Transitions lenses are photochromics for indoor-outdoor wear that go from clear indoors and at, night to sunglass-dark in the sun. In contrast, SOLFX products are sunwear that goes from dark to darker. They start off with an initial tint, then automatically adjust with the sun, changing their level of darkness—and sometimes color, as well—according to the intensity of sunlight, thus eliminating the need for wearers to put on and take off sunglasses as light conditions change.

Grady Lenski, director of Transitions Sunwear, points out the problem with traditional sunlenses: “Because traditional sunglasses are static and have only one level of darkness, consumers are often left with sunglasses that are too dark in low-light conditions or not dark enough in bright light,” he says. “SOLFX sunlenses shift seamlessly to offer the correct amount of darkness for outdoor activity to help improve consumers’ ability to see.” SOLFX lenses debuted with an initial focus on three categories: sports, style and specialty.

PHOTOCHROMIC POLARIZED LENSES

SOLFX lenses replace Drivewear and Oakley Activated by Transitions lenses. In 2006, Transitions and Younger Optics introduced Drivewear lenses, which are now known as Drivewear Transitions SOLFX. These sunlenses are the first polarized photochromic lenses to activate behind the windshield of a car, which removes a long-standing objection by patients to the use of photochromic lenses for driving.

Drivewear lenses go from a green/yellow color in low light, which helps minimize glare and maximize contrast in overcast or dusk/dawn conditions, to a copper color in brighter light conditions. In outdoor conditions, they become a dark reddish-brown color. The lenses are also polarized, which reduces glare and increases visual comfort, and their photochromic properties allow them to change behind the windshield. Oakley sunglasses are available with SOLFX to give athletes the advantage of having one pair of sunglasses that work well from dawn to dusk, and at high noon and during cloudy periods as well.

SOLFX is also available through a partnership between Specialty Lens Corporation and Transitions Optical in the iRx Polaroid lenses. The iRx Polaroid Transitions SOLFX lenses are available in single vision 1.50 plastic in an Rx range of -7.00D to +6.00D, and in two colors. The ash gray-to-darker gray lens works well in bright light and heavy glare situations, including activities such as fishing, running, rock climbing and reading outdoors. The caramel brown-to-darker brown lens improves contrast and depth perception and is good for activities including motorcycling, fishing, golfing, hiking and mountain biking.

KBco has its own polarized photochromic sunlenses called Light & Day, which are available in plano finished blanks only. Light & Day is a polarized polycarbonate lens that comes in 6D and 8D base curves, and in both gray and brown colors. The lenses change from Grey or Brown B (or 2) to Grey or Brown C (or 3), respectively.

TRADITIONAL POLARIZED LENSES

KBco also offers a full range of traditional polarized lenses in CR-39, polycarbonate, 1.67 and glass materials, available in single vision and multifocal designs in a variety of base curves. Younger Optics continues to provide its NuPolar lenses in grey, brown and G-15 colors, in CR-39, polycarbonate and 1.67 materials, and in finished plano, single vision, and multifocals, including PALs.

Kaenon Polarized offers lenses in its own SR-91 material. SR-91 features an ABBE value of 40, high mass impact resistance and lightweight properties. It is available in plano and semi-finished blanks with base curves of 1D, 2D, 4.25D, 6.25D, 8.25D.

Kaenon also offers SR-91 FreeForm Freestyle Progressive designs in 6D and 8D base curves. Complete plano sunglasses are also available. According to the company, these lenses are well-suited for athletes, as they offer a variety of tints with particular light transmission levels to ensure maximum visual comfort.

Essilor of America has launched its Xperio brand of polarized lenses, which are available from Essilor, KBco and Specialty Lens Corp. Xperio offers 47 lens styles and material offerings in a wide range. It also features a new film technology—the Dichroic film process—which allows for color matching so that both lenses in a pair are consistent. Both grey and brown Xperio lenses are available, as are the Ultra Litestyle reduced-center thickness lenses. Xperio is also available with SOLFX polarized photochromic lenses.

THE FROSTING ON THE CAKE

Polarized lenses inherently reduce glare and improve contrast. With the photochromic feature, they offer unparalleled convenience and usability for wearers. However, lens manufacturers agree that even these gems can be enhanced through the use of backside AR and hydrophobic coatings and hardcoats.

Labs can get their share of the polarized pie by educating their ECP clients about the products and encouraging them to offer the lenses. Lens manufacturers offer a variety of support. Transitions Optical, for example, provides marketing and point-of-sale materials through its partners, including Essilor, Oakley, Specialty Lens Corporation and Younger Optics. Labs and eye care professionals can also sign up to receive product and marketing updates through the “In The Know” section of the Transitions SOLFX Web site at www.Transitions.com/sunwear.

Kaenon Polarized founder and president, Steve Rosenberg, stresses “education, education, education and training, training, training” of ECPs by lab sales reps and customer service teams. Seeing is believing: “ECPs must see for themselves how these products work, their advantages against other lenses, as well as their applications in specific frames for specific lifestyle uses,” Rosenberg says. Rosenberg adds, “Education on every level is so important. ECPs need to learn to order the correct product for the patient, and the customer service rep at the lab can assist with that in order to achieve overall satisfaction on the first go-round.”

CURRENT ISSUE


May/June LabTalk 2017