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What exactly are you paying for when you purchase name-brand sunglasses? Is it additional protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation? Do prescription sunglasses provide more UV protection than non-prescription pairs? Do cheap sunglasses offer any UV protection at all?
Let’s explore the answers to these frequently asked questions:
Do all sunglasses have UV protection?
The glaring truth is that not all sunglasses offer the same level of protection from the sun. Namely, cheaper sunglasses brands can offer a lower level of UV protection.
However, the price tag isn’t necessarily a red flag for improper UV protection. For example, some clip-on sunglasses brands are under $20 but offer UV 400, the maximum level of protection.
That being said, cheap sunglasses usually do offer some kind of UV protection — it’s just a matter of how much.
How do I know if my sunglasses provide UV protection?
If you already have sunglasses and aren’t sure what level of UV protection they provide, take them to your local optical shop and ask to have them tested in a photometer. The test should take less than a minute and shouldn’t cost much, if anything.
If you’re shopping for new sunglasses online, it’s usually easy to tell if a certain pair offers UV protection because it will say as much in the product description. More than likely, the description will offer the level of UV protection, where UV 400 is the highest level — it’s the equivalent of blocking 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
If you walk into a store that specifically sells sunglasses like Ray-Ban or Oakley, then you should be able to ask an attendant about the UV protection for any pair.
However, knowing the UV protection for a pair of sunglasses can sometimes be a little tricky. If you’re purchasing sunglasses from a gas station, drugstore or another location that doesn’t specialize in selling sunglasses, then that information may not be readily apparent.
You should be able to tell if sunglasses are UV protected by inspecting stickers on the lenses. If they don’t tout “100% UV protection,” then consider purchasing another pair.
Do cheap sunglasses protect your eyes?
Cheap sunglasses can certainly protect your eyes from the glaring rays of the sun, but only to a certain extent. Some inexpensive sunglasses offer exceptional UV protection for your eyes while others don’t offer nearly enough.
What are the best sunglasses to protect your eyes?
When shopping for sunglasses, look for:
- Maximum UV protection (listed as UV 400, 100% protection against UVA and UVB rays, or something similar)
- Glare protection (polarization)
- Well-fitting, comfortable frames
- Visibility through the lenses (if the tint is too dark, you may have trouble seeing through them)
- Scratch-resistant coating
While some of these qualities aren’t directly responsible for protecting your eyes, they all work to make your sunglasses more effective.
How to protect your eyes from UV damage
Wearing sunglasses with the proper amount of UV protection is a great first step in shielding your eyes from sun damage.
In addition to wearing sunglasses, you can protect your eyes from the sun by wearing brimmed hats outside, utilizing your car visor while you’re driving and staying in the shade.
If you’re planning to play outdoor sports or expecting to be in an area that doesn’t offer shade, you can also wear discreet foundation or concealer around your eyes to reflect the light. (Surprise! Sun damage doesn’t care about gender norms!)
- After a recent round of testing, we’ve found new Wayfarer-style sunglasses that we love, as well as the thinnest sunglasses around.
Choosing a pair of sunglasses is about more than protecting your eyes from the sun—it’s also an opportunity to showcase your style. After testing 29 pairs over the past two years, we’ve found 11 affordable, UV-blocking, and polarized sunglasses in a variety of styles for fashion and safety. The group includes aviators, round sunglasses, cat-eye sunglasses, and Wayfarer-style sunglasses, as well as a skinny pair of sunglasses for traveling.
Comfortable, sturdy aviators: J+S Classic Aviator
The J+S Classic Aviator sunglasses are easy to wear for long periods of time and fit snugly on most faces thanks to their sturdy metal build.$17 from Amazon
Why they’re great: Of all the types of sunglasses we tested, aviators were the toughest to differentiate because their shape is so similar. Still, our panelists all liked the $17 J+S Classic Aviator sunglasses—during testing they were universally comfortable, and they protect against UV. We’ve worn them for the past couple of years, and their metal build has proved to be well made and sturdy. They come with a one-year warranty.
We were impressed by how comfortably the J+S Classic Aviator pair fit our testers. Senior staff writer Nick Guy, senior editor Marguerite Preston, and audience development manager Sasha VanHoven—three people with very differently shaped heads—all agreed that these aviators were the most comfortable they tried. These sunglasses are lightweight, they provide lots of coverage, and as with most of the aviators we tested, the nose pads are adjustable, so the glasses can better fit your face. The only aviators our panelists liked more than the J+S Classic Aviator pair were the Kent Wang sunglasses, our upgrade pick, which cost three times as much.
The J+S sunglasses have a sturdy metal build, and their spring hinges produce a satisfying click when you open and close the arms. These sunglasses feel well made, and we never worried about them falling apart—a good sign, especially at this price.
You can choose from a variety of colors for the J+S Classic Aviator pair, from classic to flashy, all of which complement the traditional shape. They come with a case and a cloth for cleaning the lenses, which is a nice touch for such cheap glasses. A one-year warranty covers the frame and lenses.
This style is available with 58 mm (medium) or 62 mm (large) lenses, with the latter version having an overall 152 mm frame width, the largest of any sunglasses we tested. To find the best fit, try comparing that size with another pair of sunglasses that fits you well. Look for a string of three numbers on the inside of the arm: The first number is the horizontal width of the lenses.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Though we haven’t encountered any issues during two years of long-term testing, Amazon reviews mention a wide variety of problems with the J+S Classic Aviator pair, including crookedness, breaking after a short period of time, and lenses falling out within the first couple of weeks. These sunglasses have a one-year warranty for the frame and lenses; otherwise you have 30 days to return them. Most people who bought these sunglasses on Amazon and opted to return them within the first month described the process as being smooth and quick.
Frame width: medium (140 mm), large (152 mm)
Warranty: one year
Return policy: within 30 days
A premium pair: Kent Wang Sunglasses Aviator
Kent Wang’s aviators cost more than the J+S aviator pair, but they’re especially comfortable and notably compact, and they come with a great two-year warranty.$55 from Kent Wang
Why they’re great: Although they cost $55 at this writing, a fair chunk more than the J+S Classic Aviator pair, Kent Wang’s Aviator sunglasses stand out from the other aviators we tested thanks to their smaller, more rectangular steel frames and their high quality.
Two staff members noted that the Kent Wang aviators had a more defined shape than other aviators, as well as a small frame—the sunglasses are just 130 mm in total width. Even with this smaller size, they weren’t tight around the temple or the ears. One of our testers, who is Asian, found the Kent Wang pair especially good-looking and comfortable on her low-bridge nose.
The Kent Wang pair’s steel frame feels noticeably sturdy compared with the “metallic alloy” of the cheaper J+S Classic Aviator pair—the Kent Wang sunglasses have been strong and resilient over the two-plus years we’ve worn them. Kent Wang offers three frame colors to choose from—gold, gunmetal, and silver—and the lenses on each are the same dark shade. The colors are classic but not as exciting as the wackier variety of color options available on the J+S aviators we also recommend.
In 2021 Kent Wang increased its return-period policy to 60 days (up from 30 days) and added a two-year warranty. These improvements bump the glasses from a good purchase to a fantastic one. In addition, Kent Wang offers notably good customer service: We’ve even spotted Kent Wang (the person, not the brand) on social platforms like Reddit, helping customers.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Kent Wang aviators aren’t traditional-looking aviators because of their smaller, more angular frames. If you’d prefer a bigger, more standard-looking aviator frame but with higher build quality than the J+S pair offers, we love the EyeBuyDirect Good Vibrations sunglasses, too.
Frame width: one size (130 mm)
Warranty: two years
Return policy: within 60 days
Our favorite round pair: Sungait Vintage Round Sunglasses
The Sungait glasses were the most comfortable and sturdy of the affordable round sunglasses we tested. Plus, they come with a lifetime warranty and money-back guarantee.$16 from Amazon
Why they’re great: In a sea of cheap sunglasses, the Sungait Vintage Round Sunglasses are the most comfortable and the sturdiest round sunglasses we’ve found. They look good on a variety of faces, evoking the popular Ray-Ban Erika for a fraction of the cost. They also come with a lifetime warranty that even covers you if you break them, which is shockingly great for their price.
Over two years of testing and wear, we still think the Sungait sunglasses fit more people better than similarly priced alternatives. On our testers, the Sungaits sat comfortably thanks in part to their keyhole nose bridge, in contrast to other glasses we tried, which felt too tight or awkward.
Sturdy metal arms reinforce the Sungait pair’s plastic frame, which reassured our testers about the glasses’ durability. In fact, many testers noted that the metal arms felt strong and resilient, unlike the delicate-feeling arms on the Thomas James LA Fame sunglasses we tested. Sungait provides a mini screwdriver, too, in case you need to adjust the hinges; it’s a welcome surprise for a pair of sunglasses that costs less than $20.
The Sungait sunglasses look and feel classic: They’re logo-free and unisex, and for a timeless style, we recommend buying them in black with gray lenses. If you want a punchier look, 20 color combinations are available at this writing. In addition to the mini screwdriver, the Sungaits come with a bag and a cloth for cleaning your lenses.
The Sungait Vintage Round Sunglasses have a lifetime warranty, which is a great perk for a pair of sub-$20 sunglasses.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: During testing, we had no complaints about the Sungait round pair. Comments on Amazon, however, mention a variety of problems: The sunglasses broke within their first day of use, the lenses were too dark to see through, or their lenses began to bubble. If you experience such problems, take advantage of the company’s lifetime warranty.
Only some of the Sungait variants on Amazon have polarized lenses, so double-check before you buy.
Frame width: one size (140 mm)
Polarized: yes (Amazon sells other Sungait colorways that aren’t polarized; be sure to read the description for the lens color you’re buying)
Warranty: lifetime warranty
Return policy: lifetime money-back guarantee
Higher-quality round frames: Kent Wang Sunglasses Keyhole
The pricier Kent Wang Keyhole pair is made from cellulose acetate, which is a little more durable than the plastic of the Sungait pair. We think these sunglasses look as good as luxury pairs twice their price.$55 from Kent Wang
Why they’re great: Though the Kent Wang Keyhole sunglasses are more than three times the price of the Sungait pair, they’re the most comfortable round sunglasses we tested, with a lightweight but solid build, as well as replaceable lenses. If you want to buy “nice” sunglasses but can’t spend $300, this brand offers high-quality frames for a fraction of the price of most designer sunglasses. For just over 50 bucks, the Keyhole glasses offer a distinctive, stylish look and the same UV protection as on the Sungait glasses. We’ve been recommending this pair since late 2017, and we haven’t had a single issue with them.
Whereas the Sungait round sunglasses have plastic frames with metal arms, these Kent Wang sunglasses are made from cellulose acetate, which is more lightweight and flexible than basic plastic frames. Despite being bulkier than the Sungait pair, the Kent Wang sunglasses weigh about the same. The Keyhole glasses come in various shades of vibrant acetate or horn (though the latter costs $95 more), and both versions are distinct and striking. For our testers, the glasses have garnered compliments from friends and acquaintances, as well as “Where are those from?” questions, for years. The frame has no external branding, but it does have a small, gold-foil Kent Wang logo on the inside of the left arm; the logo is tasteful and attractive, and it’s impossible to see while the sunglasses are on your face.
All of our panelists found the Kent Wang Keyhole sunglasses comfortable, and they were the ones I kept reaching for even after testing finished. One of our testers, who is Asian, found that the Keyholes were especially comfortable and good-looking on her low-bridge nose. The glasses are also solidly constructed, with flexible spring hinges that produce a satisfying click when you fold and unfold the arms. The spring hinges on the Keyhole sunglasses allow a wider range of movement in the arms than the screw-bolt hinges on the cheaper Sungait pair (or any other round sunglasses we tested, all of which weren’t as flexible). And the Keyhole pair’s lightweight acetate body made these sunglasses easy to wear for even longer periods of time, too.
I’ve been wearing them for years, and I haven’t noticed any scratches or signs of wear (though we have babied them a little due to their price).
These sunglasses don’t come with a storage pouch, but if you want to return them, you have an above-average 60 days. Kent Wang recently added a two-year warranty to its sunglasses, double the protection that much of the competition offers.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The thicker acetate frame can trap sweat against your skin on hot days, which for us was annoying but never reached the stage of being uncomfortable.
Frame width: small (135 mm), standard (142 mm)
Warranty: two years
Return policy: within 60 days
The slimmest sunglasses: Nooz Optics Cruz
*At the time of publishing, the price was $60.
Why they’re great: The Nooz Optics Cruz sunglasses are a traveler’s dream: lightweight, flat, and flexible. They weigh just 0.4 ounce, and when folded shut, they’re just 0.4 inch thick (even in their case, they measure only 0.5 inch). They’re so flat that they’re barely noticeable in a pocket. Nooz Optics backs its sunglasses with a two-year warranty, though the policy doesn’t cover loss or normal wear and tear.
At $60, the Nooz Optics Cruz sunglasses are more expensive than some others we recommend—nearly four times as much as the Sungait Vintage Round Sunglasses—but the price isn’t absurd, and we think they’re worth it. Despite their petite frame, they don’t look cramped or undersized on the face, and they fit all of our testers well. Though they appear logoless, they have a whisper of branding—an “N” is emblazoned on the rightmost corner of the right-eye lens, and a small “NOOZ” is embellished at the very end of the temple tips.
The Nooz Optics Cruz sunglasses are comfortable, but not quite as much as the Kent Wang Keyhole pair: Their thinner arms feel a bit tighter against the temples, though they do have some give. They’re made from flexible steel, and the frames feel durable and long-lasting. I never worried how they would hold up to regular use.
We tested the Nooz Optics Cruz sunglasses in tortoise and honey; they’re also available in six other colors (from pink to green to black). The sunglasses come with a translucent case and a two-year warranty. You simply won’t find a better pair of thin, portable sunglasses—in a variety of colors—at this price. ThinOptics, for instance, sells sunglasses that hit the same marks as the Nooz Optics Cruz, but they cost twice as much and come in only two colorways, and their case feels bulky and antiquated compared with Nooz Optics’s transparent slide-in.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Nooz Optics Cruz’s steel arms were snugger than those of other frames we tested, and I could sometimes feel them slightly digging into the sides of my temples (though the effect wasn’t enough to be annoying). The tiny nose pads make it a little more difficult to find the perfect spot to rest the glasses on your nose, too. Nooz Optics doesn’t include a cleaning cloth; although it’s a small touch, we’ve come to expect a cleaning cloth alongside a good pair of sunglasses, especially at this price.
Frame width: one size (118 mm)
Warranty: two years
Return policy: within 30 days
Oversize cat-eye sunglasses: Sunski Camina
The comfortable Sunski Camina sunglasses have tall, wide lenses and pinched edges that add a dramatic flourish to your face.$58* from Sunski
*At the time of publishing, the price was $60.
Why they’re great: This is the “Holly Golightly eating a croissant while looking in the window of Tiffany’s” realness we’re looking for. The Sunski Camina glasses—with their overwhelmingly large lenses and their feline upsweep at the frame’s outer edges—embody the look that Audrey Hepburn made popular in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like all of the sunglasses we tested, the Camina sunglasses offer UV protection and polarization, but at around $60, they’re not as cheap as some of our favorites in other styles.
The Camina sunglasses are comfortable, with durable, robust-feeling hinges. They also offer a perk unlike anything we’ve seen from other sunglasses we recommend: Sunski uses recycled plastic, which is a nice step toward being slightly more eco-friendly.
“I like how big these frames are; they cover the space above and below my eyes, so I don’t have to worry about revealing the bags under them,” my mother said with a laugh while wearing the Caminas. The sunglasses measure 139 mm wide in total; each lens is approximately 53 mm. As my mom was one of my few in-person human contacts during the quarantine of spring 2020, her opinion on our sunglasses test group was vital—and the Camina pair was a hit. “They’re unusually shaped in how deep and wide they are, but I like them,” she said.
The Sunski Camina sunglasses come with a storage pouch, a sticker, and a lens-care booklet. As with most other sunglasses we recommend, the package supplies neither a case nor a cleaning cloth. Sunski covers the frames with a 60-day return policy and a lifetime warranty, though.
If you want to buy something more eye-catching than a classic black frame, the Camina sunglasses also come in pink, translucent brown, and translucent white.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Sunski Camina sunglasses cost around $60, but we think the price is justified by their expansive lifetime warranty, which includes breakage. If you encounter any manufacturer defects, or if the sunglasses break under normal use, Sunski will repair or replace them for you. (Sunski says that although this warranty doesn’t cover lost frames, you can reach out to the company and “maybe we can get you a deal,” which seems like a pretty generous, humane policy.)
Frame width: one size (139 mm)
Return policy: within 60 days
A more subtle cat-eye pair: EyeBuyDirect Cartel
The EyeBuyDirect Cartel sunglasses were a standout in comfort and fit. If you have a petite face, or if you don’t want glasses that will dominate your look, these cat-eye frames may suit you best.$22 from EyeBuyDirect
30% off w/code WC30
Why they’re great: The comfortable EyeBuyDirect Cartel sunglasses fit all of our panelists well, and many of our testers thought the shape was a better fit for a smaller face than the Sunski Camina pair. Note that although the Cartel sunglasses provide UV protection, you have to spend $30 more for polarization.
Most of our panelists found the Cartel pair’s plastic construction comfortable and sturdy enough for everyday wear. And after wearing them for the past couple of years, I agree. Sasha VanHoven, Wirecutter’s audience development manager for content strategy at the time of our testing, blessed these shades with the highest of compliments: “They actually look nice and they don’t feel cheap at all” compared with some of the other, similarly priced options.
“The EyeBuyDirect Cartel sunglasses have a pretty, classic shape, and they weren’t overwhelmingly large,” said Wirecutter staff writer Dorie Chevlen, who also noted the glasses’ good-looking tortoiseshell pattern. At this writing, EyeBuyDirect offers the Cartel frames in clear brown and tortoiseshell, but the company seems to cycle colors regularly.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Our biggest issue with the EyeBuyDirect sunglasses is the add-on fees. The Cartel sunglasses would be decently priced at their base cost of $22, but polarization is an additional $30. (All prices are at the time of publication.)
For a total cost a little over $50, EyeBuyDirect offers only a short, 14-day return policy for fit and style but thankfully adds a year-long warranty covering materials and workmanship. It isn’t as comprehensive a return policy or warranty as Sunski’s, but it should be okay for most people.
EyeBuyDirect rotates colors on many of its sunglasses, so act fast if you have your heart set on a particular shade.
Frame width: one size (127 mm)
Warranty: one year, covering defects in materials and workmanship
Return policy: within 14 days
Our favorite Wayfarer-style sunglasses: Goodr The OGs
These Wayfarer knockoffs looked good on just about all of our panelists. Plus, they stay put when you’re active—something worth considering if your workout routine has moved outside.$25 from REI$25 from Goodr
Why they’re great: Goodr’s The OGs are versatile, unisex sunglasses that work on almost any face, regardless of size or shape, and they were the most universally loved Wayfarer-style sunglasses we tested. For $25, Goodr offers a solid value in a comfortable shape that feels built to last. Goodr offers only a 30-day return window, but the glasses have a year-long warranty.
Our panelists loved the Goodr pair’s pleasant, soft matte feel, which helps the pair stay on your face even as you’re running around. Wirecutter senior editor Marguerite Preston and staff writer Dorie Chevlen both said The OGs were the most comfortable Wayfarer-style sunglasses they tried.
Some of our panelists said The OGs felt well made for their price, with sturdy, solid hinges that easily opened and closed. We had no issues with their understated design, although there is a small “goodr” logo written in white on the sides of the arms. Dorie added that the very dark look is classic and goes with just about anything. We’ve worn Goodr’s The OGs since we first made this recommendation more than two years ago, and they’ve held up well.
All of the frames Goodr sells as “The OGs” are Wayfarer-style glasses, just in different frame and lens color combinations, and all should be equally good. The OGs come in a pouch that doubles as a microfiber cleaning cloth.
If you have difficulty finding sunglasses that are big enough, Goodr sells a variant of The OGs called BFGs. Per Goodr, these glasses have “wider frames, longer arms, and bigger lenses than our OGs,” with an overall frame width of 146 mm and a temple length of 155 mm, notably longer than anything else we looked at. Although we didn’t test this version of The OGs, we still think it would be a good option for someone who has a larger head and is looking for a Wayfarer-style pair of sunglasses.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Goodr has a short return window and a dreadful naming scheme—the matte black colorway, for example, is called “A Ginger’s Soul,” which seems a lame and unnecessary dig.
Frame width: one size (139 mm)
Warranty: one year
Return policy: within 30 days
A colorful Wayfarer-style pair: Blenders Sydney
Though this pair is more expensive than other Wayfarer-style glasses we like, the Blenders Sydneys stand out due to their vibrant style, interesting squarish shape, and premium look and feel, all of which they offer without sacrificing comfort.$49* from Blenders
*At the time of publishing, the price was $50.
Why they’re great: As soon as I saw the $50 Blenders Sydney sunglasses, I felt a twinge of excitement at their vibrant frames. Their honey-colored arms and light-brown polarized lenses looked optimistic, especially after a particularly rough year. Blenders’s line of sunglasses includes seven bright frame-and-lens combinations—a deep honey, a light amber, a transparent frame with highlighter-yellow lenses—that are sure to lift spirits. (The line also offers one pair of black frames, if your spirits are fine where they are.) The sunglasses also stand out from other Wayfarer-style pairs we’ve tested thanks to their unusually tall lenses and keyhole nose bridge, both of which look distinctive and great. Unlike Goodr’s The OGs, these Blenders sunglasses have no aggressive branding, and their construction feels notably more luxurious than that of the cheaper Wayfarer-style pairs we’ve tried.
Beyond their striking colors, the Sydney sunglasses’s interesting design sets them apart from other Wayfarer-style pairs. Their lenses and frames are more square-shaped and angular than the soft round edges of the cheaper Goodr sunglasses we recommend. And unlike most other Wayfarer-style sunglasses, they have a keyhole nose bridge, which helps make them look visually lighter and less overwhelming on the face. The translucent frames show off the internal structure—you can see the wires running through the arms—which is a cool touch. We also appreciate the Sydney design’s minimal branding: two, white slanted stripes on their arms that are easy to miss unless you’re looking for them.
Looks aside, these Blenders sunglasses feel high-quality, lightweight, and comfortable. They’re made of a polycarbonate frame (with triacetate cellulose lenses) that feels stronger and better constructed than the simple plastic you often see on cheap sunglasses like the Knockaround Premiums we tried. For example, the Sydney’s arms open and close smoothly, while those of the cheaper competition feel stiff and mechanical.
The Blenders Sydney sunglasses come with a microfiber pouch to keep them safe—though we would’ve preferred a hard case, it’s better than nothing.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Although Blenders has a pretty good 45-day return policy, the company’s warranty is an identical length. That’s far less protection than on most sunglasses we recommend, which typically have one- or two-year warranties.
A final note because I’m finicky: The Sydney sunglasses don’t sit perfectly flat on a table when they’re folded.
Frame width: one size (142 mm)
Warranty: within 45 days
Return policy: within 45 days
Our favorite prescription sunglasses
The EyeBuyDirect Taylor sunglasses are perfectly comfortable, cute on just about every face, and easily filled with prescription lenses.$19* from EyeBuyDirect
*At the time of publishing, the price was $20.
The EyeBuyDirect Nevada sunglasses are as comfortable as Goodr’s The OGs, and they’re made from acetate, which gives them a more premium look and feel.$39* from EyeBuyDirect
30% off w/code WC30
*At the time of publishing, the price was $40.
If you’re looking for a great pair of prescription sunglasses, we recommend EyeBuyDirect. In the past three years, we’ve done more than 100 hours of research in the category of prescription glasses—and tested dozens of comparable frame-and-lens pairings from 10 retailers—and we’ve found that EyeBuyDirect offers an extensive variety of high-quality frames, reliable customer assistance, and affordable prices in comparison with competitors.
In our testing for this guide, we liked the Wayfarer-style EyeBuyDirect Nevada and the round EyeBuyDirect Taylor (as well as the cat-eye Cartel pair that we recommend) because they’re comfortable, attractive, relatively inexpensive sunglasses. Adding a prescription costs around $20 in addition to the price of the frame, and polarized lenses are $30 more on top of that.
You can find tons more options on the EyeBuyDirect website, too, in all shapes and sizes. For $70 to $135 (depending on the frame and lens options), you can buy a pair of single-vision, polarized prescription sunglasses with a 14-day, no-questions-asked full refund policy and a one-year warranty. And as we found in our research for our guide to the best prescription sunglasses, the company began offering an unmatched no- or low-cost two-day shipping option for a wide variety of frames in 2020.
Why you should trust us
To find out how people should be protecting their eyes, we interviewed several experts for this guide, including three ophthalmologists: Ravi D. Goel, MD, a clinical instructor at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology; Suzann Pershing, MD, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine, who also serves as chief of ophthalmology for the VA Palo Alto Health Care System; and Ellen Koo, MD, an ophthalmologist and faculty member of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami who specializes in corneal and external diseases and LASIK.
About UV protection
Ultraviolet rays are short rays (or wavelengths) of light that aren’t visible to the human eye. “There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC,” Pershing told us. Goel explained that although UVA rays accounted for about 95% of UV radiation, UVB rays were more likely to penetrate your eyes on an overcast day, at higher altitudes, or near highly reflective surfaces such as snow and ice. The atmosphere filters out UVC rays, so people don’t have to worry about those.
The level of UV radiation entering the eye in the early morning and the late afternoon was nearly double that at midday.
It’s important to protect against UV rays because they can cause and accelerate “many eye diseases associated with aging, including cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and solar damage to the eye surface,” Pershing said. “You’re also at risk for eye cancer and more immediate structural damage to the retina at the back of the eye.”
Although it sounds counterintuitive, Goel told us that the level of UV radiation entering the eye in the early morning (between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.) and the late afternoon (2 p.m. to 4 p.m.) was nearly double that at midday. He also told us that UV rays generally increased between the months of April and October throughout the continental United States, although the overall level of solar radiation depends on your location.
If you want to check how strong the solar radiation is in your particular area at any given time, you can consult online resources such as AccuWeather’s UV Index Forecast. The site provides a rating for your area from 0 to 10; the higher the number, the more dangerous the sun’s UV emissions are, and the more precautions you should take to protect your eyes.
How we picked
We focused on affordable sunglasses with full UV protection and polarization for people who need a protective, comfortable pair of shades they can use and abuse without feeling guilty. After initially researching more than 142 affordable pairs of sunglasses from trusted retailers, as well as popular pairs of sunglasses on Amazon, we found 37 models that we wanted to test from suppliers such as EyeBuyDirect, Goodr, Kent Wang, Sunglass Warehouse, Sunski, and ZeroUV. We used the following criteria for consideration:
- UV protection: As Ravi D. Goel, MD, told us, when you use lenses without UV protection, you end up allowing more damaging UV rays to enter your eyes than if you were wearing no sunglasses at all, and you leave your eyes vulnerable to a slew of nasty ailments (more on that in the UV protection section). When you shop for sunglasses, always make sure to choose lenses with 99% or 100% UV protection or UV400 labeling (“UV400” means that the glasses block all light rays with wavelengths shorter than 400 nanometers, which is the cutoff for UV light).
- Price and value: After speaking to people who tended to break or lose their sunglasses, we decided that a good pair of cheap sunglasses should meet all our other criteria for less than $30. Some people are willing to take good care of their shades and pay more for style, excellent build quality, or other bonuses, so we also tested some higher-quality pairs, and for those we set our price cap at $70.
- Comfort: Although comfort is hard to evaluate because people’s faces and tolerance for glasses vary widely, we sought frames that were lightweight and pleasant to wear for long periods of time on a variety of face shapes and sizes.
- Build quality: Even cheap sunglasses should feel solidly constructed and be able to withstand your throwing them into a backpack or onto the backseat of a car. In our testing, we found that full-metal hinges helped—the hinges made arms easier to fold and unfold—but we considered models that had plastic hinges, too.
- Design: An unsightly logo or brand name emblazoned on your sunglasses can ruin an otherwise great pair of shades (paging the previous design of the Gamma Ray Cheaters, which Gamma Ray has since corrected), so we looked for pairs with a minimal design. Models that offered a variety of color combinations to suit more people’s preferences were great, but we didn’t eliminate glasses that lacked such options. If you’re trying to decide what frames might fit your face, check the inside arm of a pair you already like. If you see three numbers there, the first number is the horizontal width of the lens in millimeters.
- Lenses: Lens color is primarily a matter of style and preference. But as Ellen Koo, MD, told us, “Different color tints can serve different types of advantages. Gray-tinted lenses offer better overall protection and help reduce glare, especially off water and pavement surfaces. Amber or brown lenses improve contrast and enhance depth perception. Green lenses transmit all color evenly, meaning color perception is even. These also offer good contrast in dim or low-light conditions.”
- Polarization: All of our picks are polarized, since polarized lenses eliminate glare and increase contrast, and thus decrease eyestrain. Since it’s so much nicer to look through polarized lenses, and they’re available on some sunglasses that are as cheap as non-polarized options, there’s no reason to skip this feature. You may have trouble looking at certain LCD screens through polarized lenses, however.
How we tested
In 2019, I judged 37 pairs of sunglasses over the course of a week, walking around Manhattan, reading outside coffee shops, and taking the subway. During my first round of testing, I was able to cut the list of contenders by a third, to 25 pairs. To ensure that we evaluated the fit and look of these sunglasses on a wide variety of faces, I then tested those 25 pairs with a panel of 13 people across gender and race at The New York Times building.
In 2020, things operated differently: I tested 22 pairs of sunglasses across four categories over a month during the coronavirus pandemic in May 2020. During walks in Brooklyn—from Prospect Park to McCarren Park—to meetings with real estate agents as I searched for a new apartment (at the most inopportune time), I was able to test each pair’s comfort and design. I also tested their durability and scratch resistance by throwing them into my backpack as I headed on biweekly excursions to the grocery store and to say hi to friends in other boroughs (from 6 feet away). After I completed these preliminary tests, I collected opinions from co-workers and family members by sharing photos and videos of myself wearing the prospective picks over Slack and text messages, as well as in person with my parents.
In 2021, I tested another seven pairs of sunglasses with the assistance of staff writer Dorie Chevlen.
The main reason polarized lenses are so much better than non-polarized versions is that they reduce glare—if you were to compare the two types of lenses side by side, you’d never go with non-polarized lenses again. We tested the polarization of the sunglasses by lining up two pairs of each model of sunglasses, turning one gradually at a 90-degree angle to the other, and seeing whether the overlapped portion of the lenses became opaque. That test works because polarization limits the amount of light coming in horizontally while still letting light through vertically, and therefore two of the same lenses stacked at 90-degree angles should block out all light. You can view just how we did it—and how to try this test yourself with your own sunglasses—in the animation below.We tested the polarization of each pair of sunglasses at home. Video: Rozette Rago
Other good cheap sunglasses
The EyeBuyDirect Good Vibrations sunglasses are a great choice if you’re looking for an aviator shape that’s even more classic than that of our top pick. Unlike the boxy Kent Wang aviator pair, our upgrade pick, the Good Vibrations frames are rounder, reminiscent of classic pilot’s glasses. But at $70, the Good Vibrations sunglasses cost $15 more than the Kent Wangs, and you don’t need to spend that much for a great pair of aviators.
The Knockaround Mount Evans pair is good, but its price puts it in a strange position—not in competition with the cheaper J+S Classic Aviator pair but also not a contender against the more comfortable, resilient Kent Wang aviators. These sunglasses had thinner, more wiry arms than the other aviators we tested.
The EyeBuyDirect Lulu sunglasses were a previous pick among cat-eye styles, and though we still like them, the gold-tone bar in the center of the Lulus made them a more contentious choice than the Sunski Camina and EyeBuyDirect Cartel pairs we now recommend.
The ZeroUV C822 and ZeroUV C828 cat-eye sunglasses are a good buy for the price; they were pretty comfortable, and they seemed well made. Even so, the design on both was a little outlandish for most of our panel testers.
The EyeBuyDirect Taylor sunglasses (without a prescription) were comfortable and cute—though their matte coloring dulled them—and they come with useful anti-scratch coating. Unfortunately, they simply cannot compete with the Kent Wang Keyhole sunglasses, which I will have buried with me. Not only do the Keyholes have a more interesting design, but they also come with Kent Wang’s 60-day return policy and two-year warranty, in contrast to EyeBuyDirect’s 14-day return policy and one-year warranty.
It’s unfair to call the Kent Wang Knox a pair of Wayfarer-style sunglasses. They actually exist more as a pair of tiny sunglasses. Although they might not look like it from the product photos, they’re extremely short, and though they’re well built like other Kent Wang sunglasses, because of their shape they seem like a throwaway pair rather than the fashion statement that they’re intended to be.
The Sunski Headland sunglasses are a previous pick, and they look good. We still like them, and we appreciate Sunski’s mission to create less waste by choosing recycled plastic to make its sunglasses. For the price, however, the Sunski Headland pair is not as compelling a purchase as the Blenders Sydney or the EyeBuyDirect Nevada glasses, both of which genuinely excited me to hold and wear.
We eliminated the $50 Blenders Midnight Zone sunglasses because of their ugly labeling (“BLENDERS” is printed across the sides of the arms in a large font) and tacky marble design. Although the bright aesthetic of the Blenders Sydney pair works for Wayfarer-style sunglasses, it looks strange on a pair of aviators.
The retro ZeroUV 6119 sunglasses have huge plastic arms and thick frames reminiscent of something out of a college frat party. And unlike every other aviator pair we tested, these ZeroUV sunglasses don’t have any padding around the nose, so they’re less comfortable to wear.
Everyone who tested the Knockaround Mile Highs said the lenses drooped too low and made them look as if they were trying to cover bags under their eyes. Another panelist noted that the arms felt loose. Although I personally liked the look (because I am constantly trying to hide the bags under my eyes), we agreed that for most people, the J+S Classic Aviator pair or the Kent Wang Aviator sunglasses offer a better look and better construction.
Of all the sunglasses we tested, the polarized Luenx Aviator Sunglasses felt the cheapest (while actually being on the pricier side), and we worried about breaking them after just a bit of light use. They come with a number of accessories, though, namely a chunky, soft-shell case plus a cleaning cloth and a storage pouch.
For the most part, the Sunglass Warehouse Vista sunglasses look like every other pair of aviators we tested. But reviewers on Sunglass Warehouse’s site comment that the shades scratch easily—something that we noticed during testing, too. And one lens has “POLARIZED” printed on it, which is hideous.
Thomas James LA’s Cruise sunglasses were a little too large on my face—and I have a big face—and they felt like they would break easily. Although their color pattern was interesting (black and darker black on the lenses, and a silver coating on the frame), that wasn’t enough of a reason for this expensive pair of sunglasses to earn a recommendation.
The Sungait Oversized Vintage Polarized Cat Eye Sunglasses looked peculiar compared with the more traditionally shaped Sunski Camina sunglasses that we recommend for cat-eye wearers. Staff writer Dorie Chevlen put it best, saying they were much too big for serious consideration.
The Sunglass Warehouse Petra sunglasses were too small and wide, with lenses so dark that they were difficult to see through.
EyeBuyDirect’s Calypso pair was a little too delicate compared with its cat-eye competition. These sunglasses lacked the angles, points, and curves of the others we tested and loved.
The Thomas James LA Tart and Thomas James LA JJ sunglasses felt smooth against our ears, and they seemed properly constructed. But their thick frames were much more pronounced than those of our other cat-eye picks, and they’re less appealing overall than the EyeBuyDirect Cartel and Lulu sunglasses.
We tested the Quay Blueprint sunglasses in the hope of unearthing why Quay’s advertisements kept targeting us. Unfortunately, the ads were doing the heavy lifting. In testing, the Blueprint sunglasses felt cheap; their arms were stiff and extremely difficult to pull apart. The plastic felt light and hollow. The company’s website is also confusing. On one page, Quay says that its warranty for manufacturing defects is three months long; on another page, it claims that its warranty for manufacturing defects is 12 months. Finally, Quay seems intent on telling you how Australian it is. But its sunglasses’ arms say “Made in China.”
The Goodr Circle Gs are a matte option that we liked during testing. But they were tight around my face and sat higher on my nose than other round sunglasses I tested, so they were not as comfortable or as attractive as the round-sunglasses competition.
Similar to the Goodr Circle Gs, the Sunglass Warehouse Cash sunglasses were tight around my temples, and we all found this pair to be uncomfortable in the few weeks we spent testing them. The Cash’s arms were stiff, too, and we didn’t like the black and tortoise design, which starts as black on top and then fades into a tortoiseshell pattern.
The Sunski Dipsea sunglasses have good lenses, but overall they’re not as good as the Kent Wang Keyhole sunglasses we recommend. On the outside of the arms, the Dipsea pair features unsubtle white circles containing the brand name. Although we like the idea behind Sunski’s recycled plastic, the Dipsea pair we tested was uncomfortable, and we preferred the Keyhole’s cellulose acetate material instead.
The Hawkers Black Gradient Moma sunglasses were a little small for our faces, so even though they may protect your eyes from the sun, you’ll look like a beetle in the process.
In our panel testing, the Knockaround Mai Tais earned perfectly average marks. Senior staff writer Nick Guy said they were “nice and light, with an attractive shape and good plastic quality.” Nick continued: “The tapering makes them look like cat-eye sunglasses—which I wouldn’t wear—although they’re not quite there.” We ultimately decided that the Sungait glasses were a better buy for anyone who wants a round pair.
Sunglass Warehouse’s Phillips is a fine pair of UV-protected, polarized sunglasses, but it didn’t look as good on our faces as other options. The metal bridge across the nose has a few distinctive ridges that draw attention away from the shades; we preferred the Sungait and Kent Wang round frames instead.
Like the Phillips pair, the Sunglass Warehouse Potrero sunglasses were acceptable, but we didn’t like how glossy the frames were.
The gold frames on the Thomas James LA Fame sunglasses looked cheap compared with the frames on the other sunglasses we tested, and the glasses felt less sturdy than the competition.
The ZeroUV 6105 sunglasses sat higher on our faces than other Wayfarer-style pairs; they covered our eyebrows, which honestly just made us look stupid. We also had more difficulty opening and closing the arms.
Like the ZeroUV 6105 pair, the Sunglass Warehouse Drifter sunglasses had arms that were difficult to open and close and that often got stuck in place. Although the Drifter glasses looked good in our testing, the coloring was closer to an angry red tortoiseshell than the traditional orange color you may be used to in tortoiseshell patterns. The Drifter sunglasses do not come with a case or a warranty, either.
We decided not to give a nod to the Shady Rays Classic Original sunglasses in polarized tortoiseshell mostly because of their branding: The name of the company is written in all caps on the glasses’ arms, and the right-eye lens has an “S|R” (for “Shady Rays”) imprint. The constant written reminder of the company’s name feels juvenile, and we wouldn’t want to wear these sunglasses anywhere nice. The company has a lovely mission: When you buy a pair of its sunglasses, Shady Rays donates 10 meals to fight hunger in the US. But we can’t get past the branding.
Foster Grant’s Hugo sunglasses are a bit wider than the others in this category and a little shorter in height. Although they are UV-protected and polarized, we don’t think they are big enough to cover most people’s faces comfortably.
Goodr’s BFGs frames are thicker than the company’s Wayfarer-style The OGs. If you’re looking for a bigger pair of sunglasses, with a glossier, grayer coloring, the BFGs are a great choice, but we think most people will like Goodr’s The OGs better.
The Knockaround Premiums have plastic hinges, and we worried about breaking them when extending the arms outward to test the glasses’ flexibility. This pair was also less comfortable than our picks in testing. Although these glasses are nice to look at, they didn’t perform as well as our top picks in practice. However, Knockaround has a wide variety of sunglasses to choose from, and you can even build your own sunglasses—exactly how you like them—which is extremely cool.
The Polarspex Polarized Classic Sunglasses were squeaky to open and close despite their metal hinges. We easily scratched the sunglasses during durability testing, and they came bundled with a fabric case that was heavier and stiffer than the included microfiber cases for most other pairs.