Is It Worth It to Pay Extra for Fancy Sunglasses?

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When it comes to your shades, the highest price doesn't translate into the highest quality. Here's what you need to look for.

It’s the dog days of summer. Perfect for heading to the beach or pool and gazing at the world through the coolest sunglasses of the season. For some, the designer brand on their shades is just as important as the one on their bathing suit, and the eyewear may even cost more.

The primary functions of sunglasses, regardless, is to shield your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays, to boost visibility by eliminating glare and to provide an optimal level of comfort. Some people insist on sporting the most stylish and expensive pair of frames. But is the quality of designer shades truly superior, or are you simply paying for the logo?

Identical manufacturers

If you think buying on the high end means your frames receive some form of royal treatment during the production phase, think again. In fact, Luxottica, an Italian-based company, manufactures shades for a number of brands all over the price spectrum, including the $500 kind.

The list of brands on the company’s website includes: Anne Klein, Arnette, Bulgari, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, Oakley, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical, Tiffany, Versace and Vogue. That’s right, Target and Tiffany are made by the same company.

Luxottica handles the design and marketing, as well as the manufacturing, of the sunglasses it makes, according to a Wall Street Journal report:

The cost of a new pair of glasses will of course reflect materials and labor. But the price will also reflect brand values and marketing — and how much consumers will pay. Luxottica says it makes a gross profit of 64 cents on each dollar of sales. Even after deducting sales and advertising costs, overhead and brand licensing royalties it’s still making 52 cents. That’s some margin!

What matters to your eyes

That is not to say that all sunglasses are exactly the same — just that logo or no logo, you should be looking at the following features to determine whether they are worth buying:

Ultraviolet ray absorption

The most important thing is that your sunglasses protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays — which include both UVA and UVB — that can lead to cataracts and growths, including cancers. The Foundation of the American Academy of Opthalmology says:

Look for sunglasses that block 99 percent or 100 percent of all UV light. Some manufacturers’ labels say “UV absorption up to 400nm.” This is the same thing as 100 percent UV absorption.


This is helpful because it reduces glare reflected from flat surfaces like pavement or pools of water, which can affect your visibility while you’re driving, the foundation says. But it is important to know that polarization has nothing to do with protecting your eyes from harmful rays — it does not substitute for UV absorption. It can sometimes make it more difficult to see illuminated screens, such as on smartphones, so you might want to check your phone with the glasses in the store and make sure there won’t be problems.

The quality control test

To determine if nonprescription lenses are made well, the Foundation of the American Academy of Opthalmology recommends that you:

Fix your eyes on a tile or other object with a rectangular pattern.

Cover one eye. Hold the glasses away from your face.

Slowly move the glasses up and down and side to side.

If the lines in the rectangular pattern remain straight during the test, the lenses are fine. If they don’t, the lenses are likely made of cheap pressed plastic.

Frame design

No matter how good the lenses, UV light can still leak around the edges of the frames. Large-framed wraparound sunglasses — which seem to go in and out of style every few years — can protect your eyes from all angles.

The next best choice is a big lens that provides good coverage, WebMD says. The site also recommends that you get glasses that sit close to your face so that UV rays don’t leak over the top. As a bonus, a bigger lens also offers better protection from sand and allergens.

Lens color

Just because the lens is dark doesn’t mean it’s actually blocking the UV rays. WebMD notes that a darker color without the UV protection could work against you, since it will force your pupil to open wider and let more of the damaging UV light into your eye.

So, are the designer shades really worth the cost, or can you tolerate a more affordable pair? They are likely both made by the same company, and as far as your eyes are concerned, the UV protection is the only thing that matters. You could opt for the logo and the high price — maybe style is worth the money to you, but for the same money you could instead buy several less-expensive pairs that protect your eyes just as well (and maybe a hat too). That way, if you lose a pair, you have a backup.

Are your sunglasses closer to the Target end or the Tiffany end? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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