Light sensitivity can make something as simple as going for a walk unpleasant — and it can even trigger migraines in people who experience light sensitivity (also known as photophobia). If you’ve struggled to find a pair of the best sunglasses for light-sensitive eyes, you already know that all lenses are definitely not created equal. What you may not know is that sunglasses fall into numbered categories based on the amount of visible light transmission (VLT) they allow. Knowing the difference will help you find the right shades for you.
Below is a quick breakdown of the different VLT categories:
- Category 0: Blocks 0 to 20% of light; sunglasses in this category are typically more style-forward glasses that allow almost all, if not all, light through.
- Category 1: Blocks 20 to 57% of light; these shades have a slight lens tint and are okay for wear when the sunlight is of very low intensity.
- Category 2: Blocks 57 to 82% of light; available with darker lens tints, a category 2 shade can be worn in average light.
- Category 3: Blocks 82 to 92% of light; these sunglasses have very good light-blocking abilities and do a great job blocking intense sunlight and even glare.
- Category 4: Blocks 92 to 97% of light; if you're looking for the most light-blocking sunglasses, lenses in this range allow the least amount of light through.
The best sunglasses for light-sensitive eyes will offer either a Category 3 or Category 4 lens. A Category 3 lens is the darkest pair you can get that will let you safely drive — but if you’re not hopping behind the wheel, a Category 4 lens blocks the most visible light and may be more comfortable for you.
The 411 On Other Lens Types
While standard lenses reduce the overall intensity of visible light, polarized lenses take it one step further to reduce glare and make it easier for you to see by boosting color and contrast — so polarization is another smart feature to look for if you have sensitive eyes. On the other hand, photochromic sunglasses (which you might know as transition lenses) might seem like a good idea — but even the best pairs can take up to a minute to adjust and they may not get dark enough for truly light sensitive. If you’re ultra photophobic or prone to migraines, you might even want to splurge on a specialty pair of glasses calibrated for wearing indoors. And it goes without saying that no matter what lens type you choose, it should offer 100% UV protection, also called UV400.
Although not every product listed here indicates its lens categories, I thoroughly researched to ensure that all pairs hit the sweet spot for light transmission (or lack thereof). From serious wraparound shades with Category 4 lenses to extra dark pairs of fashionable sunglasses, there's a pair for you below.
1. Some Industrial-Strength Sunglasses For When Substance Beats Style
These extra-dark sunglasses have Category 4 lenses designed for wear in "extreme sunshine," and are so dark, in fact, they're not to be worn for road use. The lenses are made from shatter-resistant polycarbonate, and you also get a carrying pouch for extra protection when they're stored away. The wraparound style ensures that even your peripheral vision is protected, and the spring hinges offer lightweight hold for a comfortable fit. Plus, the TR-90 frame is ultra-flexible for durable wear, and you get complete UV protection. "I suffer from Photophobia and cannot handle bright sunlight. I have tried numerous sunglasses to ease the situation, and these are the best by far," one reviewer remarked.
2. These Iconic Aviator Sunglasses That Block 85% Of Visible Light
Equipped with Category 3 polarized lenses, these extra dark aviator sunglasses block out 85% of visible light and 100% of UV rays. The scratch-resistant glass lenses offer crystal-clear visibility and are set in a luxe metal frame with soft nonslip nose pads and low-profile clear cushioning on the arms for comfort. RayBan’s green G-15 lenses (featured here) are specifically calibrated to filter out that percentage and even block blue light from devices; however, other RayBan lens colors are not. With that in mind, you may also want to consider this lens in the iconic Wayfarer style. You can also choose from three different lens widths for a pair that really fits your face shape.
3. Some Polarized Category 4 Sunglasses With Shields For Outdoor Sports
These extra-dark sunglasses were built to weather the extreme, with considerations that sensitive eyes might appreciate at all altitudes. They have Category 4 lenses that only let in 5% of visible light and are polarized to further reduce glare (plus they offer complete UV protection). The Julbo Explorers also feature removable side guards to protect your peripheral vision (or leave them off entirely for a less athletic look) and you can move the temples in every direction — a feature that was meant to accommodate a helmet on extreme sports, but also lends to custom comfort. Choose from five sporty colors.
4. These Dark Designer Shades That Marry Style & Utility
If you're after a pair of the darkest fashionable sunglasses you can find, the Michael Kors Adrianna III couples a smokey Category 3 lens with an oversized round cat-eye frame that's crafted in Italy to keep your eyes shielded in style. The sleek composite frame and UV400 lenses are lightweight enough to wear all day but still feel luxurious, according to a reviewer: "They feel very premium and have a decent bit of heft to them. They aren't too heavy that it bugs me but they don't feel cheap or flimsy at all." The reviewer added, "These are very high quality sunglasses at a very reasonable price compared to other designer glasses of the same quality. They come with a decent button up case and very soft cleaning cloth."
5. Some Budget-Friendly Polarized Shades That Look High-End
Perhaps some dark, budget-friendly sunglasses are more your speed. In that case, these UV400 SOJOS sunglasses tick all the boxes: dark Category 3 lenses that you can drive in, polarized multilayer TAC lenses that are impact-resistant yet lightweight, and non-slip silicone nose pads that keep your pair in the upright and locked position. You can adjust the fit via the two screw hinges on each temple, too. "These were a great investment," one shopper noted. "They don’t feel cheap, the colors are absolutely beautiful and they block out the sun really well. So well that you might need to get used to how dark they actually make everything look." Choose from nine wearable frame colors.
Also Nice: A Pair Of Migraine Glasses For Wearing Indoors That Are Worth The Splurge
If even indoor light sets off alarm bells, a pair of FL-41 lenses could measurably improve your quality of life. These lenses feature a raspberry tint calibrated to reduce strain from fluorescent lighting and block out light from screens — they’ll shield against 80% of blue light that triggers sensitivity. This pair of indoor glasses for light sensitivity by TheraSpecs is built from weightless polycarbonate so not even the pressure of wearing them will contribute to sensitivity. Despite their semitranslucent lenses, they also offer UV400 protection.
Also Consider: A Pair Of Blackout Sunglasses That Let Just 1% Of Light Through
These blackout sunglasses seriously screen out a full 99% of visible light. They were designed with sleep in mind, so the frame is soft and comfortable and doesn't grip tightly while still feeling secure. "I loved them so much I bought a pair for my sister to use on her flight from LA to NY that she does several times a year," one fan raved. "They are lightweight and you can wear them for hours without feeling annoying on your face. She's never been able to sleep on a plane before these."