Buying eyeglasses can feel weirdly similar to buying a new car: Prices are often hidden from you, they cost more than they have any right to—and there are a whole bunch of mysterious upgrades pushed at you. Coatings. I’m talking about coatings: the anti-scratch, anti-glare stuff you can add to your lenses to make your glasses—and your vision—ever more powerful. On the surface, these sound like good sense. (As a man who once cleaned his glasses with a concrete-splatter shirt-tail that acted like sandpaper, anti-scratch coatings sound like a good idea.) But do these coatings actually work, and do you really need any of them?
This is simply a clear coat applied to the front and back of your lenses that helps protect them from scratches and scuffs as you fumble your way through your friction-filled life. Almost all modern lenses are pretty scratch-resistant in their basic form, but the word “resistant” does not mean “impervious,” so adding a little extra protection is always a good idea. If you’re given the option of adding extra scratch resistance, it’s usually worth it because it extends the useful life of your eyewear.
Recommendation: Hard yes.
This coating reduces the amount of light reflected off of your lenses. This can help improve the clarity of what you’re looking at—especially computer screens, which shoot light at your eyes—and help with night vision, especially when you’re driving. Contrary to what you might have heard, they actually won’t do much about light glare, like when someone highbeams you on the highway. Not everyone needs AR coatings, however—if you don’t do much night driving and don’t work in front of a screen much, you might never notice a need for this.
Recommendation: Depends on your lifestyle.
Ultraviolet (UV) light is the violence the sun beams down at us every day—it’s the same light ray that blesses us with sunburn and, eventually, skin cancer. So as you might imagine it’s not super good for your eyes, either, which is why most sunglasses will advertise a certain amount of UV protection. Keep in mind, though, that your standard un-coated eyeglass lens blocks most UV rays already—the coating just boosts that to 100% protection.
Recommendation: Not a bad idea, but only essential if you spend a lot of time in the sun.
This coating aims to reduce or eliminate that death-defying moment when you step out into the cold weather and your glasses immediately turn opaque with water vapor, or when you put on that facemask and your own exhalation turns against you. You can get a coating on your lenses that will fight off fogging, but it’s not always available if you have a complex prescription or other coatings on the lens—and it will only last about 1-2 years. You might be better off just using one of the many wipes, sprays, and gels available to prevent fogging, or simply dealing with the occasional inconvenience.
Recommendation: Probably skip.
All the screens we look at all day long are beaming “blue light” at us, a frequency of visible light that’s been shown to have a negative impact on our overall health. So getting a coating that filters this blue light out might sound like a good idea. But there’s actually zero evidence that a blue-light coating does you any good—most of the issues we experience with our eyes after a long day of staring at screens have nothing to do with blue light. This coating won’t do you any harm, but it probably won’t do you any good.
There are other coatings you can get, like a mirrored coating that will tint your lenses, keeping them opaque so people can’t see your eyes (but don’t block any light coming into your eyes the ways sunglasses do) or transition coatings that darken lenses in response to light, transforming your glasses into sunglasses. These coatings are just personal choice—if you want cool colored lenses or hate having separate sunglasses to switch back and forth, go for it.
In the end, you don’t need any of these coatings—your glasses will do their job just as well without them—and the only coating that’s a good choice for everyone is the anti-scratch coating. For the rest, consider how you live and how you use your glasses before shelling out for them.