Lens Choices: Change is Good

Change is intrinsic to photochromic lenses. The continual cycle of
activation, fading and reactivation, triggered by sunlight, distinguish these lenses from all others. u Just as the lenses are always changing, so is the photochromic technology behind them. The latest enhancements to this product category include polycarbonate and polarized photochromics as well as photochromics with improved performance characteristics. The introduction of these new lens options presents eyecare professionals with more opportunities to dispense photochromics to a broader range of patients. 

—Andy Karp

Pushing the Performance Envelope
When asked what performance characteristics they look for in a plastic photochromic lens, most dispensers use two buzzwords—“faster” and “darker.”

“I never used to like photochromics because they didn’t darken enough,” says Richard Bohn, OD, who practices with his son Jared at Plaza Optical in Oceanside, N.Y. and Access Optical in Merrick, N.Y. While on a vacation in Mexico last year, Dr. Bohn tried the new Transitions 1.50 Next Generation lenses. He was won over by how much better the lenses perform than previous generations of photochromics.

“The lenses got as dark as sunlenses,” he recalls. “Even with a visor on, the level of darkness allowed reading on the beach. The addition of an AR coating made my vision very crisp. I could see all the outlines of everything and the contrast was perfect. The combination of the higher index and my knife-edge grinding with a titanium frame made them extremely comfortable. Also, the speed with which the lenses change is amazing,” he says, citing both the fast darkening and fading back to a clear state.

Dr. Bohn notes that although Transitions 1.50 lenses darken partially in a car, the effect is sufficient for him. However, he knows that some patients prefer a darker lens for driving. For them, he recommends Revolution, a polarized magnetic clip-on.

Sales of photochromics are climbing, Dr. Bohn says; the lenses now comprise about 20 percent of his total lens sales at both locations.Not all patients are receptive to buying photochromics, though. Dr. Bohn notes that some patients may need to be reeducated about photochromics because “they’ve been soured by the Transitions of old. Those lenses turned yellow after about a year and stayed yellow. They got exhausted. I tell them the new ones are very different. I’ve had them for almost two years and that hasn’t happened yet.”

Douglas Schroeder, OD of Sunset Eye Center in St. Louis, Mo., says Signet Armorlite SunSensors satisfy the needs of the growing number of his patients who want photochromics. “SunSensors change faster and get darker,” he observes.

Though Dr. Schroeder points out that UV-activated plastic lenses in general don’t change density as dramatically as the old glass Corning Photogray lenses, he believes their benefits far outweigh their minor limitations.

“Even though there are a few people out there who still demand Photogray, with the newer technology of SunSensors, there’s much more acceptance of photochromics in general,” he says. “Most patients who have never worn a photochromic before go right into SunSensors.”

Optician Jeffrey Bird also sees a correlation between the continuing improvements in photochromic lens performance and increased sales. “With the introduction of photochromics into a plastic lens modality, there was an obvious gain,” says Bird, owner of Parrelli Optical Shops, with locations in North Andover, Gloucester and Beverly, Mass. “We’re able to make greater inroads into that core group of people who, 10 to 15 years ago wore Photogray Extra. It’s definitely expanded the market to people who hadn’t worn photochromics before.”

Although Bird stresses the benefits of photochromics to his customers, he is realistic about their limitations. “You don’t get the full value of a sunlens with a photochromic because the efficacy of the lenses depends upon exposure to UV,” he explains. “You need to wear them in direct sunlight to get the full effect. Also, their limited response in a car also negates the value. That’s why we bill them more as a ‘comfort lens’ rather than a sunlens. The bottom line is that photochromics have certainly opened up the market, but still have a ways to go.”
However, Bird notes that some photochromics outperform others. He favors Rodenstock Colormatic lenses because “they react better than anything I’ve seen.”

Glare-fighting Photochromics
One of the newest developments in photochromics is the introduction of polarized photochromics. Availability of the lenses is limited. Presently, only one supplier—BelOptix—is manufacturing them, though the popularity of both polarized and photochromic lenses suggests there is a significant market for a product that combines the two.

Optician Bill Foreman is the owner of Professional Opticians, a three-store operation based in Waterford, Conn. Located on the Atlantic coast, the shops sell a lot of polarized lenses to fisherman, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts. Dispensing polarized photochromics is a natural extension of Foreman’s polarized sunglass business.

Foreman believes the BelOptix polarized photochromics outperform standard polarized lenses. “I have a pair of their purple lenses that I wear for golf,” he says. “In the morning, there’s a lot of moisture in the air. The polarization makes it easier for you to follow ball.”

BelOptix offers a choice of six colors, including a brown lens that is optimal for hunting and fishing. “We sponsor a fishing tournament and give away sunglasses with the BelOptix brown lens,” says Foreman. “It helps the fishermen see into the water a lot better, especially if they wear a lighter colored polarized first thing in the morning. The lenses get a little darker as day gets on. Eventually they get as dark as standard sunglasses.”

Foreman also dispenses BelOptix fashion-colored photochromics, as well as Hoya SunGray 4, Hoya Phoenix Transitions and Corning SunSensors lenses. “When dispensing any photochromic, the most important thing is to explain the benefits to the patient,” he adds.