Anti-Reflective and Anti-Glare Coatings: Pros and Cons

You’ve probably heard of an anti-glare or an anti-reflective glare coating for your new glasses. At most optical offices they can cost anywhere from $40 to $200. So what are they? Does it make a difference in your vision? Are all coatings created equal?

Anti-relfective or anti-glare coating (I will refer to them as AR coatings from here on out) is a special coating that can be applied to the front or back or both sides of a lens to help reduce the reflections of the light in your lenses and to allow for the highest amount of “good” light to enter your eye so that theoretically you can get the clearest, most natural looking vision possible. To understand what they do you need to understand how we see, and what causes glare and reflections in lenses.

When we look at an object what we are really seeing is the light that is reflected off of that object, which is why we can’t see in the absence of light, i.e. in a dark room. The light enters your eye through the cornea and hits a specific spot on the back of your eye – the retina. If you have a refractive error and need glasses it is simply because the light is not hitting your retina. Your eye may be too long – myopia,  the eye may be too short – hyperopia, or your cornea is not in the correct shape – astigmatism. There are other issues like cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes etc. but for the point of this article we’re just talking about those three refractive errors.  When you wear glasses, the lenses are bending the light so that it lands right on the retina and you can see clearly.

But some of the light that hits the lenses naturally is reflected off the lens causing a glare on that spot (figure 1). Kind of like looking at a metal object that is in direct light, you will see glare where the light is reflecting off of it. You probably notice this especially at night as little starbursts around the headlights of on-coming cars or even the street lamps. Another issue with lenses is some of the light that goes through the lenses is reflected by the BACK of the lens as well, which can disperse though the lens, again causing glare (figure 2).  The light may even reflect back to the front of the lens and then back again causing a “ghost” image on the lens where it looks like there two objects instead of one (figure 3). All of this glare causes blurriness in your vision making it difficult to see clearly and tires your eyes out as they try to filter out the “noise” from the reflections and the glare.

So how does the coating work? To put it simply it either absorbs the reflected light so that you don’t see it and/or bends the light so that it “crashes” into its reflection canceling it through destructive interference. This minimizes, and in many, cases gets rid of glare all together. Does it really make a difference? You bet. Not only do you see better through the lenses but people can actually see your eyes in the lenses without seeing glare or their own reflection. It’s not 100% perfect but the technology is always improving. People who have astigmatism, high prescriptions, are on the computer a lot, or who work in bright offices benefit the most from AR on their lenses.

So what are the cons of having AR coatings on your lenses? Well because the lenses are so clear, any smudges or dirt that you get on the lenses is going to show up like a neon sign. They are not dirtier than a pair without AR but they are more obvious because you don’t have the glare and distractions that would usually hide it.  You will find that you are cleaning your lenses more often because of it. Also since it is a coating that is usually applied to the outside of the lenses it can scratch, peel, or wear off. So unless your 6 year old has a specific need where he would benefit from the AR coating and is responsible enough to take care of them, then I would probably say wait a few years. Which brings us to our next point: Not all AR coatings are created equal. There are some AR coatings that you could put your 6 year old in without the issues normally associated with AR, but it’s going to cost a little more. In almost all cases you will get what you pay for.

There are many different types of AR coatings and a lot of optical offices have their own proprietary AR coating, so it’s hard to just give a list of what coatings to avoid and which ones are good. Usually you want to stay away from “standard AR” coatings as they are generally the thinnest possible coating that is just sprayed on to the lens and is not very durable. You want an AR coating that has at least a scratch coating on top of it to help with durability and a hydrophobic coating as well which will help repel dust, water and oils on the lenses. Ask your optical about how their AR coatings are made. Now one of the best AR treatments (it’s considered a treatment because it is bonded on a molecular level to the whole lens and not slapped or sprayed on) out there are the Crizal brand AR. They spend millions of dollars on research and are the industry leaders in AR. They have a few different types; from good to best: Crizal easy, Alizé, Avancé, and their latest and greatest: Sapphire.  They also have a Crizal SunShield that goes on polarized glasses which is an AR coating that absobs instead of reflecting UV radiation into the eye when put on the back of sunglasses. All of their ARs are designed to get rid of the 5 “enemies” of clear vision: glare, scratches, dust, water, and smudges. And they all do a really good job, with each one being substantially better than the last. Below is a embedded you tube video of what the lenses do from the official Crizal website.

Now there are other AR coatings besides Crizal out there that do a good job of getting rid of glare and reflections and that will stand up to the normal wear and tear most of us put on our glasses. In our office we have 2 that we use besides the Crizal Sapphire, and I wear one of them myself. Ask your optician questions and find out about the AR they have on their own glasses and it should give you a good idea of what will work for you. The warranty also will tell you a lot about how durable the optical believes their AR is. Compare the prices too because some coatings, like Lenscrafters in-house premium AR (which is a pretty decent durable AR) will run you about $135, while our in-house premium brand will cost you $75, and you can get Crizal’s New Sapphire most places for about $150.  I would say a reasonable price for an in-house, no-name brand, quality, premium AR with scratch coatings and hydrophobic coatings would be about $60 to $100 on top of the cost of the lenses themselves. Crizal is significantly more expensive to the optical offices (it cost us almost 3x as much as our premium AR) which in turn puts the cost up for the consumer, but if you can afford it you wont regret it.

Some care tips to help your AR coating last longer:

  • NEVER NEVER NEVER clean your lenses dry. Even if you only have water available rinse them off before you clean them so you don’t grind anything into your lenses.
  • Only use a microfiber cloth, never use your tie or shirt.
  • Put your glasses in their case at night and when you are not using them.
  • You can use an eye glasses cleaner but skip most household dish soap as most  have lotions in it that could eat the lens. Also keep alcohol and acetone away from your lenses.

– Justin

Justin is a ABO certified licensed spectacle dispenser (California’s equivalent to Licensed Optician). He has been in the optical industry for 8 years in different states and currently manages Optometry by Thanh-Vi Nguyen in La Quinta, CA.

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26 thoughts on “Anti-Reflective and Anti-Glare Coatings: Pros and Cons

  1. I would like to add a comment here regarding anti-reflective lenses. It is important to note that some people cannot wear these lenses because they simply cannot deal with the extra light coming into the lens (instead of reflecting/bouncing off the lens). I have tried to wear them two different, separate times and gave them a fair shot, but each time I did,

    I have a pretty serious case of near-sightedness and also have astigmatism. When I tried anti-reflective lenses, I had pounding headaches and eye pain/strain that would last for days even after I took them off. The strain around my eyes was so bad that I would have to stop reading for a few days to give my eyes a rest and I would spend hours keeping my eyes closed just for relief. When I wore them, it felt like I was in a too-brightly lit room and found myself closing my eyes to block out the light. Each time I bought these lenses, I had my prescription checked and double checked and determined that it was the anti-reflective coating, not a bad prescription, that was causing the headaches and eye pain. I have worn glasses for 29 years (since I was 14) and only experienced this problem when I tried the anti-reflective lenses. I have had my share of incorrect prescriptions but never even then did I experience headaches and eye strain like I did with the anti-reflective lenses. I so wish I could wear them — they make your glasses much less noticeable to others and do seem make things more clear. But they are not for me. I just want to post this because it seems that no one I’ve come across (eye doctors, opticians, friends, family, acquaintances) has ever heard of this problem with anti-reflective lenses and they think it’s odd when I tell them about my experience. I would suggest to anyone who is very sensitive to bright light to really consider whether or not you want to try these lenses.

    • Thank you for your comments. I would agree that in 10 years I have never come across anyone that sensitive either, so I appreciate you sharing your experience. I guess the idea is that because you are looking through a lens you will never (theoretically :)) get as much light into your eyes as you would if you were not wearing any glasses at all. Some light will always be lost. That having been said I know that some places like to polish the sides of the lenses when it is a high minus prescription (for near sightedness) but in my experience that is bad idea. Because now you have a shiny reflective surface not only in the front of the lens, but now with the polished lens you are being bombarded with light from everywhere: on the sides, top, and bottom! If i have a patient who does not have polished lenses in a high minus prescription then I keep it that way. I will definitely keep in mind your experience when dealing with patients who have a strong light sensitivity. Thank you again for reading our blog!

    • Wow, I’ve been dealing with similar symptoms for 2 years. Been to ENTs, Neurologist, you name it and they never find anything. Main symptoms have been tension headache and sometimes watery/twitching eyes. This all started about a month after I got my AR glasses. Been wearing glasses for over 30 yrs and this was the first time I chose to get AR. Wondering now if this is my problem as well. Going to put my old glasses on and see what happens.

      It’s been pretty debilitating at times as I find it hard to concentrate and become irritable.

      Just curious, how long after you go your glasses did this problem start?

    • I have got some AR glasses in the past year…I have noticed that I have the same problem with them…espescially when I watch tv or play games… throbbing pain in my eye…especially my right eye which is where I have a lazy eye. As soon as I take them off I feel fine 5 minutes later…and its ok when I put on my non-AR glasses with the same prescription.

  2. I have a problem with AR on my glasses from Visionworks.
    They give everything a yellowish-green tint.
    It makes blue water gray and trees a different color than natural.

    Why?
    And are there AR coatings that don’t cause this problem?

    Steve a

    • Are the glasses tinted? Or do they only have an AR coating? AR coatings by themselves should NOT change or distort colors. Looking AT the lens you may see a specific color sheen (usually blue or green but can be any color), but it should not affect the way colors look THROUGH the lens. If it is the glasses, anyone who looks through them should have the same color distortion even if they can’t see clearly (because obviously the prescription is not theirs). If no one looking though your lenses sees the same result then it may be something going on in your eyes and I would recommend seeing your eye doctor asap to find out what is happening. Otherwise I would definitely go back and see if they can redo the lenses. – Justin

  3. I’ve had AR on my glass for the past 5 sets of glasses without problem.
    With the last 2 sets I’ve seen yellow distortion. Trees look brighter and blue water looks gray/black.

    When I ask others to look through my glasses 4 see the same change of color and 6 don’t.

    Why would that be?

    • Have all 5 set been from the same place? Do they have Transitions® or photo-chromatic coatings on them (they change from clear to dark when you go outdoors)? Photo-chromatic coatings in warmer climates have a known issue that they turn yellow over time and can cause a change in the colors. Have they distorted the colors right from when you picked them up or did it happen gradually over time?

    • That sounds like chromatic abberation and low abbé value. You’re lenses are likely polycarbonate or high index. Next pair of glasses get trivex material or cr-39 (if your rx allows it). The blending of colors should improve.

  4. I’ve had the same experience with anti-reflective coatings as Cathleen. While they do make everything nice and bright, they also make my eyes feel like they are literally burning after just a few hours wearing my glasses. Even if I could get past the eye strain, the QUALITY of my vision isn’t actually as good as it is through regular CR-39 plastic or glass. High index plastic produces a lot of chromatic aberration, and in my experience, the contrast is poor in comparison to other lens materials. Of course many people may not notice the poor optics, but high index lenses generally come with an AR coating, and for that reason, high index plastic really shouldn’t be recommended for people who are highly myopic, spend lots of time in front of a computer screen and/or have a low level of pigmentation in the eye. The best option in such cases is probably regular CR-39 plastic combined with a set of small frames. CR-39 blocks out about 8% of the light and has the best optics of any lens material other than glass. A set of small frames will greatly reduce the thickness of the lenses at the edges.

    • While it is true that CR-39 provides the best optics compared to any other material except glass the reality is that MOST people will not notice a difference in the quality of the optics. At higher RXs( prescriptions) the benefit of the clearer optics would be somewhat negated by the fact that the light has to travel through a thicker material and will change the optics somewhat. Everyone is different and its important that your optician listens to your specific needs and concerns and makes a suggestion that is right for you.

  5. Hello, There are a few questions I have been wondering for a long time. I got plano Sapphire lenses and they look exactly the same as the Avance, having a green reflective hue instead of a blue hue. I’m not sure if the eyeglass place cheated on me, in which case I didn’t understand why because it was only a 10 dollar difference. I didn’t want to go to them asking about this because I don’t want to make any wrongful accusation. Also, I didn’t see any difference having them on so I returned it for half price. However, I read from this post: http://visioniconique.com/pc_dc.html, that Crizal Sapphire filters blue light emitted from electronic devices (computer screen and phones) that is harmful for your eyes. I do use computer quite a lot. Also, I had an eye surgery and I suffer from dry eyes and glare and sensitivity to bright lights. I’m not sure if having AR plano lenses would really help, or another option would be better. I also read AR coating only helps reduce the reflections caused by the lenses themselves but will not reduce the glare that already exists. Is this true?

    • The Sapphire usually has a blue tint(the Verilux/Crizal rep told me that’s why they called it Sapphire). There really is no way to tell what the coating is that’s on your lens. It could be that someone just ordered the wrong coating? The Sapphire lens does NOT filter blue light from electronic devices, however the new Crizal Prevencia does. Here is some information from the Crizal website: http://www.crizalusa.com/Crizal-Lenses/Crizal-Prevencia/Pages/default.aspx . Blue light blocking lenses are the newest industry “push”, however while in theory it seams that it is a good idea to block the blue light there is not enough evidence yet to say with any certainty that they actually benefit users. As regards to your dry eyes, unfortunately most people who undergo surgery end up have mild to severe dry eyes and there are options out there to help fight dry eyes. Talk to your optometrist about it. And yes it is correct that the AR coatings will only help with glare at night or indoors, it will not help with sunlight or glare from intense light sources. – Justin

  6. I have read that the AR coating is multiple microscopic layers of metallic oxides. I have been tested and am allergic to nickel, copper, cobalt, gold and chromium. I have had red, swollen and scaly patches above and below my eyes for 6 months. I have also been very sensitive to light for many years. Could this AR coating on my lenses be causing this allergic reaction? I am also allergic to shellac.

    • Honestly I would not be able to answer that question, as I would not know how much of those metals would be enough to cause a reaction. That would probably be a question better suited for your doctor. Thank you for reading our articles! – Justin

    • I have the identical symptoms. I have sensitivity to nickel as well. For years I have had scaly, peeling, red itchy eyes only in the area of my lenses around my eyes. I thought it was my makeup and then a food allergy but it only improved when I stopped wearing metal frames and switched to lenses without AR. This happens with every pair of glasses I have with AR coating. From day one, they make my eyes burn when I put them on. There are more of us out there with this problem than the experts think!!!

  7. I am so glad I found this artice – FINALLY someone has explained how “ghost images” are formed. I just got single vision plastic lenses with a standard A/R coating – is it the poor quality coating that’s causing the ghost images? Should I have them remake the lenses without any a/r coating? Unfortunately, getting Crizal thru my insurance is not an option. Would polycarbonate lenses cause less of this light distortion? I’m also seeing a diagonal beam of light on headlights at night. Your help is highly appreciated. I have had nothing but frustration from optometry offices and my insurance. One optometrist actually told me that I have a problem with my eyes!

    • Depending our your specific prescription and your eye health history there could be many different reasons why you are having ghosting, star-bursts and halos around lights, ect. If you have a high astigmatism (like I do) you will still see some of the effects of the light even with anti-glare but it should be cut down drastically compared to a pair that does not have anti-glare coatings. If you have ever had any kind of surgery to your eyes, then you may still see those effects from the tissue in the eye that has grown, healed, and/or scarred from the surgery. We had a patient who, after surgery from another Doctor, had to chose between getting rid of some of the ghosting images (which were actually inside his eye and caused from the surgery) or having sharp vision from his glasses. The clearer the image, the more ghosts he saw; blur back the prescription and some of the ghosting images disappeared. We had to find him a happy compromise. The anti-glare coating should not CAUSE ghosting, and while polycarbonate is the industry standard (because it is MUCH more durable, shatter resistant, and scratch resistant) CR-39 Plastic lenses actually have less visual distortion. Most people (myself included as I wear polycarbonate lenses) don’t notice/aren’t bothered by the difference but some are. Regarding your insurance, unfortunately now a lot of insurance are manufacturing the glasses themselves for their insured patients. The optical offices hands are tied and they are really just the middle men between you and the insurance, and have no control over the quality of the finished products. Even with the the basic ar coating your vision should be sharper then without it. If your optometrist says you have a problem with your eyes then I would have him/her explain what is different about your eyes that would cause that affect. He/she should be able to give you a specific answer unless he/she really has no idea and is just throwing out an option. In that case, I would probably look for a new Doctor… – Justin

      • The ghost images are not caused by my eyes. In fact I can document them by taking picture with my camera by putting the glasses in front of the camera. The insurance, the doctor, the lab, and other lab technicians are all clueless as what causes this effect. I don’t see any ghost images without glasses or glasses made from high quality materials.

  8. Hi, I have this issue reddish eyes & irritation. If i work for a long time say 3 to 4 hours at a stretch then my eyes turns red with a little irritation. I don’t know what to do. Yes, i’m into software field so i’ll be with my laptop for all most 12 -15 hours a day. Lately i’m thinking about practicing yoga/other exercise for eyes. Please suggest me a solution. Thank you

    • What you describe sounds a lot like symptoms of dry eye. I would suggest talking to your eye doctor and seeing what they can do for you. People who are on the computer suffer a lot from dry eyes because we are focusing for long periods of time and our eye blink less, meaning we re not re-coating our eyes with the necessary oils, causing our eyes to dry out. That in turn causes irritation and redness in the eye. There are a lot of options available to treat dry eye depending on the severity of it. You have simple options like re-wetting drops, or for more serious cases punctal plugs (a plug placed by your eye doctor to prevent the tears from draining from your eye thereby leaving your eyes wetter). But there is hope! You optometrist will be able to help you find a solution. For more information check out this article that my Dr wrote on Dry Eyes: http://www.laquintaeyedoc.com/#!The-Deal-With-Dry-Eyes/c7fw/302A85A2-CCBF-4022-B160-F36BA744E1C4 Thanks for reading! – Justin

    • That would be a question for the place you purchased them 🙂 Depending on how long ago you got them and their specific warranties generally if you don’t like it they can redo the lenses without it. They probably won’t refund you anything but they might redo them. Keep in mind that sometimes certain lenses might not be able to be ordered without Anti-glare coating – like some single vision lenses made out of 1.67 & 1.74 hi-Index plastic.

  9. Hi Mr. Thanh-Vi Nguyen,
    Can you give me five brands of anti-reflective coating. What are the difference between them, Pros and cons, colors available, materials available, lens design for – single vision, bifocals, and progressive, and which is the best.
    I hoping you can educate me and make a good decision.
    Thank you so much.
    Marcelino

    • That would be a question for your local optician. Alot will depend on what brand of lenses you are getting. For example if you are getting a progressive lens made by Hoya you can ONLY get an anti-glare coating made by them. As to which is best it would kind of be like asking whats better Toyota or Ford? Both make entry level cars and both make “luxury” cars and SUVs. The brand isn’t quite as important as the quality of the anti-glare itself. Ask your optician about the warranties they offer on the coatings and go from there. Color wise unless you have a preference you should not see the color looking OUT of the lens – they should look clear. The only exception is a BlueBlocker AR designed to block High Energy Blue Light will look blue from the front and give everything a light yellowish tint looking thru them from the back. – Justin

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