A Buyer’s Guide to What to Look for When Buying Glasses

Glasses are one of the most common medical devices needed by both adults and children worldwide. Estimates show that approximately 75% of American adults need assistance for visual impairments, either in the form of glasses or contact lenses. Still, despite how widespread this need is, many people are still clueless when it comes to knowing how to buy glasses at all. (Source: The Vision Council)

To buy yourself a pair of glasses, there are several things you need to look for. First, you should consider the price to determine where you want to buy them (from the optometrist, an online shop, or chain store?). Then, look for the most important functional and aesthetic elements like lens coatings and materials, frame color and shape, etc.

This is a lot to think about when buying glasses for the first time or replacing your existing pair. It’s easy to simply throw in the towel and select the cheapest, most straightforward option. Though this may seem like a viable solution, in the long run, it could mean disaster for your eyesight. To relieve some of the stress that comes with this buying process, use the guide below to shop for your new spectacles.

Identifying Convenience vs. Quality

Approximately one-third (31%) of consumers buy their prescription glasses at large discount stores, namely Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Target. Why? Eye care can be expensive. At times, the glasses you’re prescribed after an optometry appointment can add several hundred dollars to your overall bill. 

A recent survey showed that almost 40% of glasses-wearers buy from either independent shops or directly from the optometrist’s office. Here, prices can get up to $400, about 2-3 times more expensive than the average discount or online store. Some of the most popular alternatives included (Source: Consumer Reports):

  • Online eyewear stores: Online shops like Zenni Optical sell their own brand of eyeglasses, often with perks like progressive lens upgrades at only a fraction of the typical optometrist’s price. The average Zenni buyer spends only $69 for a fully optimized and functional pair of glasses and frames with a 30-day warranty.
  • Discount stores: As mentioned above, chain stores like Costco and Walmart are very popular among glasses-wearers. Not only can you buy cheap glasses and frames at these locations, you can also get a full eye evaluation for an updated prescription and glasses fitting. The most budget-friendly progressive lenses are normally about $79 while single-lenses are $29.
    • Note: All Costco lenses have anti-reflective coating. So, if that is a priority, this may be the store for you. 

While these are excellent alternatives for buyers working with modest budgets, cheaper doesn’t always mean better. Health experts warn against getting too attached to low prices without considering the risks of buying corrective eyewear from budget shops. For example, those with higher astigmatism or a similar condition would benefit from buying from a professional instead of a chain store. (Source: Harvard Health Publishing)

Additional Concerns About Buying Cheap Glasses

When you opt to buy cheap eyeglasses, you must understand that you are taking a risk. Choosing to take your eye care into your own hands leaves you stuck with some of the most commonly overlooked aspects of buying glasses, such as measuring the distance between your pupils, the height of the spot you are looking through, or the angle of the lenses in front of your eyes. 

Optometrists say doing this without professional help is akin to cutting your own hair (something that most people assume is easy, yet DIY efforts yield disappointing results almost every time). Plus, a professional consultation can alert you to the unique needs of each eye, as some conditions require a different prescriptions.

Thus, attempting to select a pair of glasses at a cheap shop with only financial convenience in mind may end up costing you more in the end, as your condition is likely to worsen due to inadequate visual aids. With all this in mind, you want to look for both a reasonable price and quality at the same time when buying a new pair of glasses. (Source: American Association of Retired Persons)

Make Sure the Vendor Respects Your Rights

Not many people consider their legal rights when buying a pair of eyeglasses, but this is a crucial step in ensuring that you do not get taken advantage of when addressing your optical health. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandates and enforces two primary things (Source: Federal Trade Commission):

  • You have the right to receive a prescription from your optometrist at no additional fee. This law applies whether you ask for a prescription or not. 
  • You have the right to use that prescription to purchase glasses from any vendor you like, whether they operate at physical locations only, online, or both. 

It should be an immediate red flag to you if a vendor claims that they cannot accept your prescription. For example, you might offer to provide your prescription to an online store so you can buy a pair of glasses that meets your specific needs. Yet, the store might require that you schedule a virtual eye exam as well, based on the justification that they cannot accept others’ prescriptions. 

Such a request should immediately alert you that this vendor does not respect your basic rights and federal law. If this is the case, you should choose another store right away. Odds are, they’re taking shortcuts in other aspects of business as well, which may likely be disadvantageous for your overall eye health. 

Although in a local store it just might be a good point to check your eyes again. You need to understand the results of your RX can differ depending on how your eyes get measured. In some cases the optometrist or optician can see abnormal spots on your eyes where a check up would benefit you in the long run. But of course with the decision to stay with a certain prescription this option will not be available to you.

Understand the Terminology for Lenses, Frames, Etc. 

There is a lot to learn when it comes to the “language” of glasses shopping. Optometrists and sales associates might throw around terms like “single-vision,” “anti-reflective coating,” “multifocal,” and more, and you should be able to keep up in order to know what you’re buying. 

Here are some of the most essential terms to understand before diving too deep into the buying process (Source: American Academy of Ophthalmology):

  • Single-vision lenses: These types of lenses are most often prescribed for people with nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia, this might also cause difficulty with seeing nearby objects at times, too). You can also find these lenses as reading glasses, which are meant for older people’s eyes as they naturally lose their near vision over time (presbyopia). 
  • Multifocal lenses: Lenses in this category are specially designed to aid in distance vision and presbyopia simultaneously. You can recognize these lenses by the split prescriptions. Usually, the top half of the lens helps to focus objects at a distance, while the bottom half makes things up-close much clearer. Glasses like this are known as “bifocals.”
    • Note: In addition to bifocals, there are also trifocals, progressive lenses, and computer glasses. The first features an intermediate division in the lens between the near and far parts, and the second functions similarly to both bi- and trifocals with a slight design difference. The last is specialized to reduce neck strain from an unnatural position when progressive lenses are used in front of a PC over a few hours.
  • Anti-reflective coating: This can apply to either multifocal or single-vision lenses. It is a layer added to the lens, specializing in reducing eye strain and glare from screens or lights. This coating also increases the amount of light that passes through your lenses, enhancing the clarity and detail with which you can see small symbols like letters.
    • Note: There are other coatings available for various lens types, including UV (ultraviolet) coating. As its name suggests, an added UV coating will defend your eyes against the harshness of the sun’s radiation. Some plastic lenses don’t need this, though, as they are naturally UV-resistant.

Understand these terms and look for them in the glasses’ description before committing to a purchase. The design perks and characteristics are just as important as the prescription. Focusing too much on the latter without considering any of the options above will do little to help your vision and could possibly make it worse. 

Pay Attention to the Lens Material

The lens material is another crucial factor in how advantageous your glasses can be for your vision and comfort. However, unlike most of the other features you should look for when shopping for glasses, you shouldn’t decide on this factor merely by preference alone. Your lifestyle is a strong influence on which lens material will work best for you. 

For example, imagine that you are an outdoors person and spend lots of time in the sun. You’re going to need a lens material that is highly resistant to UV rays and efficient at deflecting bright light. People who spend lots of time indoors aren’t devoid of the need for specialized lens materials, either.

For example, there are blue light blocking lenses. That should protect your eyes from the PC screens and the display of your smartphone. But that is a whole another topic and if you want to read my view on that I have this article here for you.

Another feature to consider is the lens’s weight. Some manufacturers craft their lenses to be lightweight, making them easy to wear and a breeze to keep in place. Others have to be heavier, though, to support shock and impact resistance. Despite these advantages, heavier lenses are a bit tougher on the wearer, as they’re prone to sliding down the nose or putting pressure on the bridge and ears.  

All these benefits and more are available through various lens materials. Yet, you can’t have them all in one pair of eyeglasses. You’ll need to know how to differentiate each component’s advantages and drawbacks and how to determine which is most necessary for your prescription. Below you’ll find more detailed insight on resources used to make your eyeglasses and use recommendations. 

Determine Which Advantages You Need from Each Lens Type

It’s challenging to decide which lens material will be the most useful for you. After all, many of their benefits overlap, especially when it comes to excess light refraction and reducing eye strain. Fortunately, added bonuses such as lightweight plastic or exception scratch resistance can help push you closer to a definitive choice. 

The table below is an example of how to think through the available material choices (Source: Very Well Health)

Lens MaterialDescriptionWho’s It For?
PolycarbonateThese lenses are made of impact-resistant plastic. They’re also thin and lightweight, leading some to consider them as a type of higher-index plastic and naturally UV-resistant.Outdoors people and athletes. The UV resistance makes them perfect for being active in the sun. The optical quality is lower compared to other materials which makes color fringes more likely.
TrivexLenses containing this material are great for enhancing vision clarity, thanks to the exceptionally high-quality optics. They’re also very rigid, making them an excellent choice for rimless or drill mount frames.People with high prescriptions. You may need a bit of extra help with clearing up your vision. Trivex lenses’ are oftentimes the better option compared to polycarbonate lenses.
High-indexThe higher the index of your lens material the thinner the lenses will be.People with a prescription higher than two diopters start two benefit from a higher index material.
AsphericLenses in this category are unique in that they feature flatter curvatures on the peripherals than most alternatives. This prevents the “bug-eye” look and the lens from bulging out of the frame. Aside from aesthetics, these lightweight lenses also help to reduce visual distortions.People who want to avoid the “bug-eye” look of thick lenses. This is most applicable to those with high prescriptions. You don’t want massive lenses that barely fit the frames, nor do you want distortion going in or out. These lenses are perfect for both purposes. Hyperopic eyes benefit most from this option.
PhotochromaticThese are the famous “transition” glasses. They are made with a unique chemical that enables the lenses to turn from light to dark, depending on the lighting conditions.People who want to combine prescription glasses with sunglasses. These are multifunctional glasses that can save you the hassle (and money) needed to buy a pair of prescription sunglasses along with your normal eyeglasses. 

Look for Special Design Options for Lenses

In addition to the coatings mentioned earlier, there are some bonus design features for lenses that can make them more suitable for your sight. For example, imagine that you’ve already settled on single-vision glasses with polycarbonate lenses. Though you’ve covered the basics of what you need out of your eyeglasses, you’re not entirely done yet. 

Now that you know where your priorities lie in terms of buying decisions, you’ll need to consider whether you need any additional perks before finalizing your purchase. Referring to the previously mentioned example, you might also need impact or scratch protection from your selected lenses, in addition to the specialized impact- and UV-resistance. 

In this case, you might want to order a pair of lenses with an added scratch-resistant coating. The manufacturers have scratch-resistant coatings that are different in terms of their scratch resistance. In addition to this design feature, optometrists and glasses shops typically offer the following options (Source: Web MD):

  • Polarization: This option is ideal for those who want a bit of added protection from the sun’s glare. A popular option is to have a vertically polarized lens, which reduces the impact of light reflected by horizontal surfaces.
  • Mirror coating: This is more of an aesthetic design choice than functional. With this coating, you can essentially “hide” your eyes from others, as the lens will reflect the onlooker’s image instead of seeing through the lenses to your eyes. Sunglasses with silver, gold, or blue reflective lenses are the best examples of this. 
  • Tinting: Adding a tint on your glasses is a very minor way to help clarify your vision in bright light conditions. It doesn’t make too much of a difference, and the specific advantage depends on the tint’s color. For example, yellow tints can increase contrast, darker shades can combat excess light, and lighter hues can hide wrinkles and blemishes around the eyes. But depending on the right tint contrast can be much higher. This can help people with a reduced visual acuity to identify steps or a dent in the front of them.
  • Position of wear parameters built-in: With those parameters, the optician exactly knows how the lenses will sit in front of your eyes. Therefore he measures different angles and distances. Think about it. In the testing frame, the lenses have another position compared to the real glasses you will end up with. But especially with higher prescriptions, it will be beneficial to factor those parameters in because the actual prescription oftentimes changes with a slight change in the tilt of the lenses.

Determine the Shape of Frames You Want

Now that you’ve ironed out all the lens details, it’s time to move onto the frame. You might have heard by now that specific frame shapes can either compliment or hide your facial features. Although this is often discussed as only an aesthetic concern, the frame’s shape also determines how easily and comfortably your new glasses will fit on your face. 

Here are a few guidelines on how to match the frame’s shape to that of your face:

Face ShapeHow Do You Know You Have This Face Shape?Frame Choice
RoundYour face is equally wide and long, without strong cheekbones to add pronounced angularity. Square or rectangular frames are perfect for people with rounded features. These tend to be quite wide, thus making your face appear longer and narrower because of their broad profile.
OvalExperts say that oval faces have the best balance of proportions among facial features. Your jawline is gently curved and narrower than your forehead.The best frames for these types of faces should have a very strong, pronounced bridge. They should also have a distinct geometric design and be wider than the widest part of your face.
SquareYou have a notably wide jawline and forehead.Oval or circular frames can soften the hard angles and draw the attention away from your face’s “edges.” Any other shape would accentuate the “angular features,” making you look bulkier.
DiamondYou have several angular features, primarily the jawline and cheekbones. Your forehead is also relatively narrow.Those with a diamond-shaped face can enjoy some of the most fashionable frame designs, like the cat eyes and oval options. These work to enhance your narrower features like the cheekbones.
PearYou have a broad jaw and chin, with a narrow forehead and very modest cheekbones.These lucky ducks are perfectly suited to rock aviator glasses, as these and similar frame shapes provide balance for the narrower forehead by accentuating the brow line.
HeartYou have a broad forehead and strong cheekbones, and your face essentially comes to a “point” at the bottom, due to the chin’s narrowness. Frames for these faces should prioritize emphasizing the width of the face, particularly near the temples. Round or square frames are best to draw the eyes away from the broad forehead.

Pick Your Frame’s Color

The frame’s color is just as important in accentuating or hiding certain facial features as the shape. Now, this aspect of buying glasses clearly does not hold as much weight on the glasses functionality as the factors discussed thus far. You won’t necessarily have a harder time seeing out of glasses with dark-colored frames as you would with lighter colored ones.

Still, this doesn’t mean that you have to pay less attention to your preferred hue. After all, you’ll most likely be wearing these things every day – the least you can do is make sure you enjoy it! There are a few strategies you can use to pick the perfect frame color for your face, all discussed below.

Base the Color on Your Skin Tone 

Researchers have discovered that skin tone significantly influences what glasses wearers consider to be suitable frame colors. People with light skin tones tend to choose darker frames, presumably for the contrast and how it compliments certain facial features. (Source: Research Gate)

If you need help deciding, try categorizing your skin tone into one of the following categories to choose appropriately:

  • Warm skin tones: People with yellow, bronze, or gold undertones have a “warm” tone. Pastels or other light colors are not suitable for these complexions, as they are not flattering at all. Black and white won’t work either. Instead, you want your frames to somewhat match your skin. Shades of brown, gold, beige, and olive green are best.
  • Cool skin tones: Those with pink or blue undertones have “cool” complexions. The best choices for these faces are black, purple, mauve, silver, blue, gray. Just be careful when using those colors. Choosing the wrong shade, especially pastels, will wash you out and make you look pale. 

Base it on the Color of Your Eyes

Picking your frames is the perfect opportunity to make your eye color stand out. Electric blue or gorgeous green eyes are great examples of colors that you can easily highlight with the right frame color choice. However, you can also choose to neutralize your look and create a calmer, more subdued aesthetic. Consider these guidelines to make an informed choice using this strategy:

  • Neutral, earthy eye colors like brown, amber, and hazel are perfect for creating a soft, subtle aesthetic. The perfect frames for these are brown, beige, or black. 
  • Bright, bold irises that are green or blue will do well with eye-catching colors like orange, gold, purple, and blue. 
  • Gray-colored eyes are the most versatile. Since they are already quite striking, any frame color would work well. 

Some people will have a tough time choosing their frame color based on their eyes since their eyes might change according to the season. This happens the most in individuals with hazel eyes. Their irises may be somewhat dark green in the warmer, summer months, but as temperatures cool and the sun shines less frequently, their eyes may take on a yellow hue instead. 

If this is the case for you, try to pick a color that compliments both of your main eye colors. The last thing you want to do is get stuck with a color that only looks good for half the year. 

Base Your Frame Color Choice on Your Hair 

Have you dyed your hair recently? Great! This is the perfect opportunity to make a fashionable choice regarding your glasses frames. You can create a cohesive look with trendy hair colors like blue and red by opting for frames that match your chosen shade or go with your natural hue for a more long-term selection. 

Just like if you were to choose your frames based on skin tone, make sure you pay attention to your hair’s undertones. For instance, brown hair can have red undertones, blonde hair can be dark or platinum, and so on. Be mindful in selecting your color so that you don’t accidentally pick frames that clash with your look. 

In Conclusion

There are so many points to consider when shopping for a brand-new pair of glasses. First, you must decide where you want to purchase them. Each of the many options is distinguished by their average pricing and accessibility. 

For instance, buying from an optometrist provides the most assurance that the glasses will improve your sight, especially for those with astigmatism. However, cheap glasses are easier to get, as they are less expensive and don’t always require an evaluation beforehand. On that note, you’ll also need to ensure that your chosen vendor respects your rights and will accept your updated prescription. 

Once you’ve determined all this, you can proceed with buying your glasses. Make sure to consider the lenses’ materials, applications, and add-ons, as well as the frame’s color and shape, before committing to a purchase to ensure they’re right for you. One of the easiest ways to get your perfect glasses is to visit a good optician or optometrist. Usually, within a few minutes, he or she will tell you exactly what to look out for and present you with a selection of frames.

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