Why don’t my transition lenses work when driving?

Not all transition lenses actually work the same way in the car as they do anywhere else – they darken in reaction to the presence of ultraviolet (UV) light. The problem stems from the fact that most modern car windscreens already filter out harmful UV rays.

Why don't transition lenses work in the car?

Your windscreen is normally quite different from the rest of your glass, in that it’s two pieces of glass laminated with a layer of plastic – vinyl – in between.

You then have a triple-layer system which contains UV inhibitors that protect the plastic and as a result also protect any transmission of UV through it. So, a windscreen with laminated glass blocks 98 to 99 percent of all UV.

Ultraviolet light operates below the visible spectrum and is invisible to the human eye. Its presence and effect have nothing to do with the brightness of sunlight; that is why you can still get sunburnt if you lay out on a cloudy day.

This sometimes leads to confusion over the effectiveness of transition lenses, and questions like;

“If bright sunlight is entering my car (and my eyes!), why aren’t my photochromic lenses darkening to compensate? Are they defective?”

No, your transition lenses are working just fine.

They simply just can’t react to a light source that is not present, and in a vehicle, most of that UV light has already been taken out of the equation.

My transition lenses don't get dark enough

You may notice some darkening of your lenses while in your car; this is because, in typical cars, only the windscreen blocks a high percentage of UV light. Side and rear glass are rarely laminated, so while it has some UV-blocking properties, it also lets a good deal of ultraviolet light spill through.

Of course, open windows allow some ambient UV light, sometimes enough for your Transitions to react.

So how to combat this effect? If your prescription photochromic lenses do not sufficiently darken to your comfort level while in the car, you have options:

Transitions Optical has recently developed and marketed a series of eyewear called Transitions® XTRActiveTM which does darken behind the windscreen of a car.

What are Transitions® XTRActiveTM lenses?

Transitions® XTRActiveTM lenses are the darkest Transitions® lenses available for everyday use. These lenses are designed for people who are in sunny conditions and who want an everyday use lens that provides extra dark tint in all temperatures.

Like their “sister” lens (Transitions Signature), the Transitions®XTRActiveTM lenses offer the convenience of wearing the same pair of glasses both indoors and outdoors and they provide automatic ultraviolet and glare protection.

They are not meant to replace sunglasses, but rather are designed as everyday wear lenses.

How do photochromic lenses work?

Transitions®XTRActiveTM lenses are also activated in the lower spectrum of visible light in addition to being activated by ultraviolet light. Therefore, they will darken somewhat behind car windscreens.

72% of consumers were satisfied with the darkness of the Transitions®XTRActiveTM lenses while driving a car in very sunny conditions.

The lenses reach 90% tint at 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23° C) and 80% tint at 95°F (35°C). As with other transition lenses, the colder the temperature, the darker the lenses become when activated by sunlight.

Unlike Transitions Signature, Transitions® XTRActiveTM lenses have a slight tint even indoors.

The lenses have an 83% transmission of light while indoors (without anti-reflective coating). The lenses have a grey or brown tint with a slight green undertone to differentiate from Transitions Signature.

They are available in the finest lens materials including polycarbonate, Trivex and 1.67 high index lenses and are available in single vision and progressive lens design.

Transition lenses vs sunglasses

Choosing the right solution for your eyesight and lifestyle needs may seem a little overwhelming, but luckily help is on hand!

If you are struggling to decide whether you should use transition lenses or prescription sunglasses, chat to your local independent optician who will be able to run through your options and choose your perfect pair.


Search for your local optician and make an appointment today.

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