Many sports enthusiasts spare no expense when purchasing state-of-the-art equipment to improve their performance. Since good vision is key to excellence in performance, eyewear should be near the top of their shopping lists.

As with any specialized equipment, selecting the right lenses for a particular sport or activity requires some time and effort. That’s because in sports eyewear, there is no such thing as an all-purpose lens. Instead, there are lens colors or treatments that are optimal for each sport. Eyecare professionals and optical retailers are ideally positioned to help either professional or recreational athletes choose lenses to suit their individual light-filtering needs. The personalized attention they can offer gives them a significant advantage over drug stores, merchandise catalogs and other non-optical outlets that sell sports eyewear.

Performance eyewear manufacturers research the visual requirements of each sport in order to develop effective lenses in both plano and prescription form. The Rx lens and dye manufacturers have also created many color and polarization alternatives to manage vision, enhancing sight as needed.

Snow Sports
The popularity of snow sports has resulted in a large selection of lens choices. Both sky and snow produce blue light. Short wavelength blue light scatters and reduces the precision of distance vision. Selective attenuation of blue light increases contrast and adds brightness. It works successfully in bright sun, flat light and haze. Generally browns, coppers and ambers will aid the wearer in observing the changing contours and textures of the snow’s surface. Oranges and reds work well on overcast days.

Reflected glare is also a problem on snow. The conventional wisdom among sports vision experts used to be that polarized lenses might not be the best choice for the skier or snow boarder because they would miss the reflections caused by ice. However, most experts now agree that ice is actually easier to spot because it appears darker than the snow when viewed through polarized lenses, which increase contrast. Avoiding the darkest polarization will further enhance the contrast of ice against snow.

Mirror coatings are also effective because they limit glare. Metallized mirrors, for example, add to the overall absorption of the lens. The denser the mirror, the more light it absorbs. This must be considered when determining the base color of the lens.
Another type of mirror, the dielectric mirror, results in reflection without absorption. This type can be applied to selectively filter certain color wavelengths to further enhance contrast.

Water Sports
Light reflecting off the water’s surface makes polarization the greatest asset for water sports. Although neutral gray polarized lenses serve general purposes for boaters, fishermen need polarized lenses in task-specific colors for different types of fishing.

For instance, contrast-enhancing lenses create the ability to determine small differences in color, enabling the wearer to spot fish in grassy, shallow water. Contrast absorptions are developed by determining the color of the object being focused on and matching the color of the lens to the object. The color of that item will become more vivid.

The other option is to use a lens color that matches the background. The color will be enhanced, so the object being located will be more apparent in its difference. Gray lenses enhance dark fish and are best for deep water fishing. Amber lenses accentuate sandy bottoms of shallow water. Brown lenses bring out grassy water bottoms. As fishing is often an all-day activity, the high-contrast polarized photochromics will respond to the changing light levels. Yellow is most effective in low light or highly overcast situations. However, the lighter the color of the polarizing film, the less the percentage of polarization there is.

Cycling and Skating
The needs of the cyclist or inline skater are quite similar to that of the skier. Reflections must be reduced, but water or oil on a road surface must be identified. While using a mirror to reduce reflections, the added benefit of reducing infra-red is gained. This will prevent the wearer from feeling some of the discomfort of heat building up behind the lens, especially in the extremely popular wrap frames. In these sports, the high-contrast browns and coppers will enhance the perception of the road or track surfaces in bright light. Again, yellow is most effective in limited light conditions and is superior in contrast enhancement.

Shooting Sports
Shooting sports require contrast lenses that increase the visibility of the targets and subdue the backgrounds. Take into account the type of shooting being done as well as the target and background. For example, hunting is often done early in the morning or during the limited light conditions of autumn or winter. The most useful colors are yellow or amber to light up the viewing area along with providing contrast. For target or skeet-shooting the color choices are extensive. Determine the color of the target and enhance it. For instance, orange will enhance a clay target against an open background, but violet will enhance a clay target against a green background. Brown always remains the best all-around choice in bright light, but particularly in open backgrounds. In rifle sports, as in all other activities, not just the color, but the density makes a difference. In lower light situations, the density of color in the lenses should be reduced, allowing more light transmission. Even polarized lenses, in a variety of colors, are available in differing densities.

Golf and Tennis
Golfers need lenses to enhance vision so they can read the green and contrast the ball against the green and the sky. Copper-colored lenses are an excellent choice because they improve depth perception and make the contours of the ground more distinct. Copper also attenuates blue so the sky and grass are muted against the ball. Violet lenses are helpful finding the ball in the rough. Steve Damon of Damon Optical in West Creek, N.J., has had great success in customizing eyewear for golfers. “I show them how the colors will affect their vision and their game,” explains Damon. “Most of them are unaware of the choices available. It requires spending a little extra time with the patient, but it’s worth it. It has created a nice referral business for us. The golfers really compare notes in the clubhouse.”

Tennis requires a different type of contrast-enhancing lens. Using a blue or green tint allows the blue wavelengths to pass through the lens, highlighting the background and enhancing the contrast with the yellow ball.

Since task-specific sunwear is designed for peak performance, darkened lenses of any type should be treated with a back surface anti-reflective (AR) coatings. Reflections off the rear surface of a tinted lens can be very distracting. AR coatings eliminate back surface reflections and maximize comfort.

Educating Patients
The process of educating patients about sport-specific colors begins in the dispensary. Plant the sport glasses seed by creating a dedicated area in the office. Use a lens display showing the variety of colors and their functions, along with frames specifically earmarked for sport use. Take advantage of point-of-purchase displays and demonstration units offered by both plano sportswear suppliers and lens manufacturers. Most companies also make available educational information for the practitioner to aid in discussion of choices with patients. It’s also a good idea to communicate with local sporting goods stores, informing them the practice specializes in both plano and prescription sports eyewear. This offers another way of sports participants being informed that eyewear can be customized.

Obviously, one pair of sunglasses is not always enough. Patients rely on the dispenser for eyewear recommendations. Discussing the patient’s outdoor activities and learning the limitations they might feel as a result of their vision gives the practitioner the chance to illustrate to the wearer sport-specific sunglasses as differentiated from general purpose sunglasses. Knowing the wearer’s interests not only defines the types of lenses they require, it also brings to light activities that don’t get pigeon holed into the traditional sports. It gives the dispenser the opportunity to be creative. Bruce Nantz of Quality Optical in Ramsey, N.J. recalls discovering a patient who was a remote control airplane enthusiast. “He told me each of the planes he builds has a distinctive stripe. We made him contrast lenses that enhanced that stripe, so his planes were always easy to spot in the sky. The way choices have expanded in tints and polarization, there really is something for everyone.” There is great opportunity for growth in the sports eyewear market. Both sports participants and practitioners can benefit from the fitting of performance enhancing lenses. 


Vicki B. Masliah is director of professional education for Hirsch Optical, an independent wholesale laboratory in Farmingdale, N.Y.