The next generation of ophthalmic lens material

April 15, 2008

This year will be a challenging one for retail optical dispensaries. Doldrums in the ophthalmic lens market during 2007 include the market for ophthalmic lenses being flat; lens sales grew by just 0.1%.

Ways exist to maintain or grow the profitability of your dispensary, however. In 2008, differentiation of products and the education of your patients will be the hallmarks of profitable optical retailers.

The patient as a consumer is uneducated about the choices, terminology, and availability of optical lenses. By repositioning your premium lens packages, you will differentiate your optical shop from the major chains. Repositioning premium lenses not only will create differentiation but also will sow long-term growth for practices willing to take a cutting-edge stance.

The competitive edge

Excite your patients with the most recent entry in the lens material derby, a urethane-based pre-polymer (Trivex, PPG Industries). Because this material is designed to deliver a unique trifecta of superior optics and impact resistance in an ultra-light lens, ophthalmologists and their patients no longer need to sacrifice one lens characteristic for another.

The pre-polymer material is less sensitive to heat generated during drilling than other lens materials, so holes can be drilled cleanly with no distortion, melting, or fracturing. Lenses made from the material do not chip, flake, or develop "spider cracks" around the rim of the holes. Because of its durability, lens holes retain their size and shape over time with normal wear, making lenses of this pre-polymer well matched for rimless and metal frames. The material also is chemically resistant, making it compatible with adhesives and cleaning materials often used in assembling eyewear.

The blend of desirable attributes makes the pre-polymer lenses well suited for children's eyewear, active adults, emerging presbyopes, patients with monovision, and overall performance.

Because the qualities of this material make it an appealing choice for a variety of patients, the growth in demand for these pre-polymer lenses around the world has been exceptional. Although the overall growth last year in the ophthalmic lens market was stagnant, use of these pre-polymer lenses grew by about 50% in the U.S. market. Most of that growth occurred among dispensing ophthalmologists and middle-to-high end private practice optometrists.

Rapid acceptance is a testimony to the material's versatile properties. Patients are experiencing the benefits, the ophthalmic properties of the material, and eye-care professionals (ECPs) have discovered that they can rely on it.

Lens material specs

Once you understand how the technical features of pre-polymer lens material provide superior benefits to your patients, you will appreciate why lenses made of this material represent a practical choice for many of your patients.

The pre-polymer originally was developed by PPG as "visual armor" for the military. In 2001, PPG refined and repurposed it for use as an ophthalmic lens material. Lenses made from this material are cast in molds and then thermally cured. The tri-performance properties of the material provide crisp and clear, strong and safe, light and thin lenses when compared with other materials currently available. The technical advantages of this material:

Internal stress-free lenses. Lenses made from the pre-polymer material are manufactured in a chemicals process that virtually eliminates internal stress. Internal stress in a lens can promote breakage and create a double-refraction phenomenon known as "birefringence," which also can blur vision.

The only place stress may be noticeable on pre-polymer lenses is around the mounting or eyewire screws that hold the lenses in place in a drill mount. That stress is normal in all lenses because of the pressure delivered by the mounting/eyewire hardware.