Lens Choices

Does this sound familiar:

“I just bought these lenses a few months ago and the coating is already coming off.”

“Can’t they make anti-reflective lenses that I don’t have to clean all the time?”

“I paid extra for this coating on my child’s lenses and they still scratch easily.”

It wasn’t long ago dispensers frequently heard complaints such as these. That’s because, until recently, anti-reflective (AR) and scratch-coated lenses often did not meet consumers’ expectations. Although the leading suppliers used the best technologies and testing methods available, many coated lenses still cracked, crazed, peeled and chipped when used in “real world” conditions. Sending lenses back to the lab for stripping and recoating was common practice at many dispensaries.

Fortunately, those days are just about over. In the past couple of years, manufacturers of lenses and coating equipment, often in collaboration with coating laboratories, have introduced a new generation of multicoated lenses with significantly improved performance characteristics. These lenses and the processes used to coat them—including Crizal Alize from Essilor, Carl Zeiss Foundation and AR, Super HiVision from Hoya Vision Care, Teflon EasyCare by SOLA, Definity with Gemcoat from Johnson & Johnson, Nanofilm Permaseal and numerous brands marketed by custom coating labs—combine high-performance anti-reflection and easy cleaning features with superior resistance to scratches, impact, smudging, static and, in some cases, fog.

Though these lens products are relatively new, many eyecare practitioners recognize their benefits and are recommending them to patients, with good results.

“My patients are accepting the new coatings very well,” says Robert Davis, OD, of The Eye Center in Pembroke Pines, Fla. “They are much better than in the past, especially Crizal AlizĂ©. “It’s very easy to clean, there are no smudge marks, the coating doesn’t come off and it transmits 98 percent of light.”

Optician Josh Burrow of Burrow’s and Mr. Frank’s Optical in Little Rock, Ark., is also a fan of the new multicoats, particularly Hoya’s Super HiVision AR.

“We’ve been dispensing it for about a year and patients aren’t coming back with complaints anymore,” says Burrow. “We haven’t had to send a single lens back.”

Some dispensers favor multicoated lenses developed by lens manufacturers and produced in the manufacturer’s lab or in a licensed lab under the manufacturer’s supervision as opposed to lenses coated by an independent using its own proprietary processes. The lens manufacturer’s ability to take a base lens material and engineer a total system accounting for all variations in coatings has considerable advantages, according to optician Tom Buell, owner of Tom’s Sportique Eyewear in Boulder, Colo.

“The problem independent, custom coating labs face is the technology is continually changing. The lab has to deal with different base materials, various types of coatings including factory front side coats that are thermally cured and back side coats that are often UV cured. With the variety of chemistries, it’s tough for independents to create a coating that works for everybody. The lenses we have gotten from independent labs usually weren’t as good as those designed by a manufacturer that controls the whole package.”

As a result, Buell recently switched to whathe calls “a full Zeiss system.”
“We do a lot of Zeiss progressives, so we’re going with Zeiss labs offering the Foundation hard coat, which is specifically designed to work with Zeiss AR coatings,” he explains. “We sometimes do both the front and back surface with Foundation to improve consistency.”

In addition to influencing lens performance, coatings can also affect lens cosmetics. Some of the current coatings have a visible color that can either complement or detract from a patient’s appearance. Buell particularly likes using Zeiss Gold ET coating on sunlenses, because it “softens the lens and gives it a slight gold iridescence.”

Custom coating labs can also produce high-quality lenses provided they work closely with lens manufacturers to “tweak” their coatings so they are compatible with the manufacturers’ lens materials and factory hard coatings, Buell notes.

Gold-hued coatings are not as popular at the six-office practice in the Houston metro area operated by optometrists Michael Toups and Douglas Inns, according to office manager Mark Russell.

“We’ve had some negative reactions with gold and violet coatings. The easiest ones to dispense are green or blue-green,” says Russell,” who cites Optima’s stock Resolution lenses, SOLA’s Teflon EasyCare and Johnson & Johnson’s Definity with Gemcoat as patient favorites.

Doctors and dispensers say it is usually not hard to persuade most patients to upgrade to a high-performance multicoated lens as long as the product’s benefits are clearly explained.

“We ask patients if they want a lens with or without glare,” says Dr. Davis. “They almost always say ‘without.’ So we find it very easy to get acceptance. However, it has to be brought up in the exam room. The doctor’s recommendation is important.”

ECPs may need to take time to explain to some patients the difference between a “premium” coated lens and a “standard” coated lens. “If a patient goes to another store and sees AR for half the price, they may assume we’re offering the same thing,” says Josh Burrow.

Along with the creation of multiple price points, the recent increase in the number of branded AR lenses is also providing more options for consumers. ECPs say both familiar consumer names and “industry brands” are selling well.

“People who are into cameras or binoculars know the Zeiss name,” notes Tom Buell. “It’s a strong selling point.”

SOLA is growing its premium lens business with the Teflon EasyCare brand, perhaps the best-known consumer name in the AR lens market.
“Teflon has been a big help,” confirms Mark Russell of Drs. Toups and Inns. “Their name alone has lent a lot of credibility to the durability and reliability of the product.”

Among industry brands, Crizal AlizĂ© is gaining recognition among consumers through Essilor’s high-profile advertising and public relations campaign.
Despite the improvements in coating technologies and the marketing efforts of suppliers and labs, EPCs still encounter patients who balk at upgrading their lenses with better coatings.

“Some patients have been turned off by coatings in the past that didn’t perform well,” says Dr. Davis. “We readdress the issue with them. We guarantee that we’ll replace the lens if they don’t like it.”