What Is Photochromic Eyewear?

Photochromic eyewear features lenses that automatically darken when exposed to ultraviolet light. When removed from that UV light, the lenses return to their transparent state. This “automatic lens tint” eliminates the need to carry multiple pairs of glasses and lenses.

Photochromic Safety Glasses

Photochromic lenses automatically darken when exposed to ultraviolet light.

Photochromic Eyewear In The Workplace

While extremely convenient, Photochromic Eyewear is not always a safe option on the job. Before deciding to purchase photochromic eyewear, consider the following scenarios.

  1. Photochromic lens transition time: The transition from light to dark and vice versa is not instantaneous. In fact, the darkening/lightening process can take up to 15 minutes, exposing your eyes to extra light, compromising your visibility. Jobs that require frequent trips indoors and outdoors shouldn’t use photochromic eyewear. There isn’t enough time for the lenses to adjust to the varying light conditions.
  2. Photochromic lenses are affected by temperature: If you’re in Arizona during the summer, your lenses may not darken as much as you would like. However, you may find they work exceptionally well in Alaska. Photochromic lenses darken better in cooler temperatures. The differences are not dramatic, but they are noticeable and vary with brand/model. Take time to assess your particular climate situation to ensure photochromic eyewear will perform to your expectations.
  3. Photochromic lenses and automobiles don’t mix: Photochromic lenses won’t work in a vehicle because the windshield blocks the necessary UV light. Since the lenses won’t darken, this presents a problem if you want to wear sunglasses while driving. Some brands, like the Bullhead Swordfish, use pre-tinted lenses. These “pre-tinted” lenses provide some extra sunlight relief in their “neutral” state.
  4. Photochromic lenses are often approved for outdoor use only: Most workplaces won’t allow photochromic lenses for jobs requiring frequent trips indoors and outdoors. This means they may only be authorized for jobs that are exclusively outside. Check with your safety coordinator before purchasing photochromic lenses to make sure you’ll be allowed to wear them on the job.
  5. Photochromic lenses don’t get as dark as traditional sunglasses. Photochromic lenses may not get as dark as regular sunglasses, especially in hot temperatures. If you’re outside on a hot, bright day, traditional safety sunglasses are a better option than most photochromic lenses.
SmartLens Photochromic Safety Glasses

3M SmartLens Photochromic Lenses shown in a split image in both light and darkened states.

How Do You Decide Whether Photochromic Eyewear Is Right For You? 

I recommend you consider what you do 90% of the time while on the job. If you spend most of your time outside and don’t require dark lenses, photochromic eyewear may be a good fit. Don’t overlook the convenience provided by photochromic lenses. Eliminating the need to carry multiple safety glasses is a great feature when you’re constantly on the move.

Remember, photochromic eyewear isn’t cheap. You should always check with your safety coordinator before making a purchase.

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