Photochromic lens innovations fuel consumer demand

January 15, 2010

The latest generation of photochromic lenses is designed to deliver a combination of high performance and compatibility with all premium lens materials.

The latest generation of photochromic lenses is designed to deliver a combination of high performance and compatibility with all premium lens materials. The improved performance and wider availability of these lenses are creating an increased demand, said Brad Main, manager, training and technical resources, Hoya Vision Care, Lewisville, TX.

According to a recent survey by The Vision Council, Alexandria, VA, photochromic lenses account for about 18% of lenses sold in the United States.

Innovations coupled with greater availability through mass merchandisers have revitalized the sector over the past few years, he added.

Advances improve performance

Hauser described the company's latest generation of photochromic lenses (Transitions VI) as "a marriage of the seven desirable photochromic properties." Of those properties-indoor and nighttime clarity, darkness of the lens, speed of change indoors and outdoors, color uniformity, and temperature independence-clarity and darkness are consistently the two of most concern to patients, he said.

According to company data, the performance of the newest photochromic lens is as clear indoors as a clear lens and it fades to clear 30% to 40% faster than previously available lenses.

"This is the first generation to work uniformly across all lens materials," he added. The lens reportedly gets 10% to 15% darker in hotter temperatures compared with the previous generation (Transitions V), and it is darker in moderate temperatures than previous generations.

These properties are enhanced when photochromics are combined with an anti-reflective (AR) coating. With the addition of AR coating, lenses fade back to clear 30% faster and are 6% clearer indoors and at night, according to the company.

Vision health benefits

A growing number of ECPs are recommending photochromic lenses because of their vision health benefits, Main said.

"Photochromic lenses provide 100% ultraviolet light protection, reduce eye fatigue, and create higher contrast for better acuity," he said. "We could argue that everyone who wears glasses is a candidate for a photochromic lens, but the greatest advantages are for anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors."

Because of their contrast-enhancing effect, photochromic lenses are able to replicate the controlled conditions of the vision examination room, Main added.

"It's not uncommon for patients to be disappointed with their new glasses because their vision isn't as good as it was in the exam room," he said. "Photochromic lenses provide total light control that replicates the black-on-white effect that patients experience during their examination."

Patient satisfaction with the newest photochromic lenses is high, according to Transitions. In a recent company survey, 78% of lens wearers preferred a photochromic lens to a clear lens, Hauser said.

New products segment the market

One innovation in photochromic technology, Main said, has been lenses that wed photochromics with polarization.

"By combining the two technologies, lenses can address the issue of disabling glare, classified as 10,000 lumens or greater," he said.

Drivewear lenses, by Torrance, CA-based Younger Optics in partnership with Transitions, are designed to sense and respond to varying light conditions both outside and behind a car windshield. Polarization provides glare protection, and photochromics aim to enhance and protect vision.

Other products currently available under the Transitions SOLFX brand include DEFINITY Fairway Transitions SOLFX sun lenses from Essilor; iRx Xperio Transitions SOLFX sun lenses in two colors from Specialty Lens Corp.; several Transitions SOLFX products from Oakley Inc.; and the SHIELD Tech Transitions SOLFX motorcycle visor. Designed for golfers of all levels, Fairway lenses combine a progressive design with photochromic technology and a gradient-mirrored exterior.

Drivewear and Fairway signal the start of what Main said he expects will be segment-specific growth in the photochromic market.

"We expect more products to be developed that target specific needs, such as industrial safety eyewear or sports-specific lenses," Main added.