Dispensing Solutions: Photochromic lenses
By Arthur De Gennaro

Variable Tint Lenses

Photochromics have come a long way, baby!
Use today’s photochromic lenses to help boost your sales.
In the world of ophthalmic lenses, there are two types of tinted lenses—those that do
not vary in color and those that do. Opticians often refer to variable-tint lenses as
“photochromics,” which is the correct technical name because the lenses change color
when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) or visible light.

Photochromic lenses are far from new. The first photochromic products were introduced
in 1966—Corning’s PhotoGray and later PhotoBrown lenses, made of glass. Due perhaps
to the uniqueness of the lenses or a pent up demand for the product, the Corning
products were extremely popular with consumers hoping to avoid the expense of
purchasing dedicated prescription sunglasses.

Dispensing ophthalmologists and their opticians, however, quickly became aware of the
product’s shortcomings. Patients returned, saying the lenses were heavy, did not get as
dark as traditional sunglasses, did not darken quickly, took a long time to lighten, and
did not lighten completely. In addition, the lens’ depth of color decreased at
temperatures above 80º F. Most important, the lenses did not darken completely while
the wearer was driving.

Plastic photochromics
Over the years, manufacturers have risen to the challenge of overcoming the drawbacks
of photochromic lenses. After some significant failures by other companies, in 1990
Transitions Optical, Inc. became the first company to successfully market a plastic
photochromic lens – Transitions® lenses. Being made of plastic helped the Transitions
lens overcome the weight problem of its predecessors.

Over the years, manufacturers have developed improved ways of manufacturing
photochromic lenses, each hoping to eliminate or minimize one or more of the problems
mentioned above. Those technologies include:

Imbibing In this patented process a dye containing photochromic molecules penetrates
the lens surface deeply enough to become a permanent part of it. That makes the
photochromic material impervious to scratches on the lens surface.

In-Mass Photosensitive chemicals are mixed uniformly throughout the lens material
during manufacture.

Coating A layer of photochromic dye is applied to the lens and bonded using heat or a
chemical process. The dye can also be applied using spin coating technology.

Photochromics then and now

The performance of contemporary photochromic lenses is dramatically better than their
early counterparts. Proof of this is the sixth generation of the Transitions product, aptly
named Transitions® VI, which was released in February. According to the company,
these lenses become as dark as non-variable sunglasses (88% dark at 73º F), darken more
quickly, and lighten more quickly than previous generations of the lens. Transitions VI
lenses become as clear as regular clear lenses indoors and at night and are less sensitive
to temperatures above 80º F (73% dark at 95º F).

Dispensing ophthalmologists will want to know that 15ERMADG% of all eyeglass
wearers in the United States purchase photochromic lenses. That number is higher in
ophthalmology dispensaries and private optometry practices, perhaps because of the
demographics of those patients. Among my clients, best-in-class sales performances
exceed 35ERMADG%.

It should not be surprising to learn that photochromic lenses are now available in mid-
index and hi-index lens materials. Photochromics are being made in an ever-increasing
range of lens styles as well. Of greater importance to younger consumers and those baby
boomers who are beginning to be seen by ophthalmologists, photochromics are now
available in a wide variety of fashion colors, not just the traditional gray and brown.

The final frontier

The last hurdle for traditional photochromic lenses to overcome has been the inability
to change while the wearer is driving. However, another new product has come to
market—Drivewear® lenses(Younger Optics). Drivewear, created primarily for daylight
driving and outdoor use, is the first lens to combine polarization with photochromic
capabilities in one lens. That technology enables the lens to be activated not only by UV
light, but also by visible light in conditions such as behind the windshield of a car and
intense light outdoors.

Things you can do

If your dispensary’s sales of photochromic lenses are below the best-in-class sales figure:

Make sure that your dispensary staff is aware of the newest photochromic lens products
and that they are being made available to your patients.
Learn about the features, advantages, benefits, and limitations of the various
photochromic lenses currently on the market.
Recommend photochromic lenses to all appropriate patients.OT




Photo provided by Transitions Optical Inc.