Picture of an example of anti-reflective lenses, in a pair of eyeglasses.

Anti Reflective Glasses Coating Pros and Cons

Anti reflective lenses have found their way into most optical applications over the past two decades.  They’ve become widely available, affordable, and notably more durable.

However, they’re still somewhat fragile, and thus, easy to scratch, and some people experience eye strain and fatigue when wearing them.  But whatever drawbacks these lens coatings present, have not dissuaded us from ordering this coating on every pair of glasses purchased since 1988.

Picture of an example of anti-reflective lenses, in a pair of eyeglasses.
Example of anti-reflective lenses, in a pair of eyeglasses.

Advantages, Benefits, and Pros

Improve vision   and picture contrast and overall clarity, by significantly reducing internal reflections within the lens.  These anti reflective (AR) coatings often benefit folks who experience headaches and eye fatigue due to all the “filtering out” of this noise light that their brains must perform, in order to make the best sense out of the images their eyes are picking up, through their eyeglasses.  It improves night driving especially, as well as daytime driving on those very clear, low humidity days, when the sun is a blazing in a dark blue sky.

Reduces Halo Effect.  Particularly in high-plus lenses like ours, since the front of the convex lens is shaped very much like a bowl, reflections within the lens are actually directed and focused into the eye, and fall onto the exact spots on the retina that the desired image does.  In effect, the non treated lenses become like a parabolic dish reflector, and thus, intensifying a halo effect, that surrounds objects in the desired vision.  With the reduced reflections provided by these anti reflective coatings, comes much reduced visual halo effect.  This not only improves night vision, but also reduces the blurred vision that can sometimes result from working too many hours at the computer screen.  Contrast between text and background colors is improved as well as the finer details of the letters.

Aid Detailed Work.  Without these coatings, problems of haze, glare, and seeing “double vision” intensify. This can interfere with the performance of finely detailed work, such as manipulating small screws and mechanical parts, and reading the really fine print on printed circuit boards, et al.

Improve Eye Contact.  Often a person’s eyes cannot easily be seen if they’re wearing eyeglasses.  However, anti reflective lenses increase visibility of the eyes behind those eyeglasses, by dimming the mirror effect that all smooth glass and plastics exhibit.  Thus, since solid eye contact is essential for best non verbal communications, anti reflective lenses probably enhance a person’s abilities to fully participate in and enjoy social situations.  People like seeing our eyes.

Can be Replaced without Replacing Entire Lens.  Not all eyeglasses manufactures will do this.  However, we’ve had ours redone from time to time.  They are able to strip off the failed anti reflective properties, polish any small scratches out of the lens itself, and then apply a fresh coating of anti glare.  It’s much cheaper, if a faulty anti reflective coating is all that’s wrong with a pair of glasses, to replace just that coating, rather than buying a whole new pair.

Now Feature Anti Scratch Coatings.  Some of the better anti reflective coatings now feature an anti scratch coating, on top of the anti glare coating.  This adds cost to the lens, for sure.  But it also significantly enhances durability.  We always opt for anti scratch on our specs nowadays.

Proper Cleaning Chemicals are Inexpensive.  We’ve used basic dish soap at the kitchen sink to clean our anti reflective lenses for decades without problems.  However, avoid using soaps that contain lotions, strong fragrances, or that boast of being able to soften your hands.  You want a very gentle detergent that quickly rinses clean, and leaves absolutely no deposits behind.

Disadvantages, Problems, Limitations, and Cons

Easily Damaged.  These coatings tend to be quite thin, and this makes them very easily rubbed off, scratched, or otherwise damaged by even modest levels of abuse.

Smudges Show Up More.  The anti reflective properties are seriously hindered by fingerprints, water, or most any other liquid.  So they produce much more glare when wet or oily.  So clean your eyeglasses and anti reflective camera lenses very often, to keep them consistently performing at top levels.

Too Much Cleaning Ruins Them Fast.  However, excessively frequent cleaning of so-coated lenses can also impact glare reduction.  We recommend cleaning them no more than once per day.  Se our   How To Clean Anti Reflective Eyeglasses   article, for hints and tips on keeping your specs and camera lenses in shipshape, and performing like new, for years.

Expensive.  Lens manufactures still charge significantly for these glare reducing coatings.  Our last pair of specs cost an additional $80 for the coating.  In fact, prices for this light diverting application have steadily risen over the years in our experience; not fallen.  We hope however, that eventually, that this advance in optics design would eventually be incorporated into all eyeglasses by default, as it seems to have little or no negative impacts on actual lens performance.

Not Yet Found in Contact Lenses.  Unfortunately, anti reflective surfaces are not yet available for contact lenses due to the fact that these coatings work most effectively when applied to the outer surfaces of lenses, and contact lenses are always kept wet by eye tears while worn.

Must Be Applied to Both Sides of Lenses.  To be most effective, coatings must be applied to both sides of lenses.  Particularly on the eye-side of eyeglasses lenses, where lenses are on the thicker side, eyelashes and eyebrows often touch the lenses and leave behind sebum and other skin oils.  These, as noted, affect how well the coating tones down pesky glare.

Not Well Suited for Young Children.  Children who wear glasses from toddlerhood can destroy anti reflective coatings quickly with how roughly they can play.  So, to avoid needless replacement expenses, it’s probably best not to give them glasses with this feature until they’ve demonstrated that they value and take care of their eyeglasses.

Special Cleaning Cloths Required.  In our experience, it’s best to use only a microfiber lens cleaning cloths to clean your anti reflective eyeglasses.  These can be had for a few dollars at most vision shops and optometrists offices.  Many will give you a couple if you buy your eyeglasses from them.  These lenses are too delicate to survive very many repeated dry cleanings, with rougher cloth materials such as found in clothing, facial tissues, paper towels, and napkins.  So, it’s best to clean only with very soft microfiber materials, that are lint-free.

May Irritate Eyes of Sensitive Individuals.  Depending on the design strategy of the particular anti reflective lens, some of them actually route more light into the eye; the light that would have otherwise been reflected away by the outer surfaces of the lens.  Have never found this to cause us eyestrain or headaches though.  But a small degree of neutral density (gray) shading can be added to anti reflective lenses, to darken the lens a bit, and thus, compensate for this additional light into the eyes effect.  We feel that the reduced halo effect light offered by the anti reflex treatments more than balances out this added light.

Added Weight.  Well, these coatings are so thin, that any additional mass they impart to the lenses (milligrams at the max) is miniscule in our opinions.  Not a major concern.

In Summary

This is a very solid and helpful technology in the vast majority of situations, and thus, we highly recommend it to anyone who wears spectacles daily, or takes lots of advanced photography.  Its advantages far out balance its problems.


Revision History

  • 2015-11-16: Added appropriate tags.
  • 2014-12-10: Added picture and more whitespace for clarity.