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Photochromic lenses have become increasing popular in recent years. They help the eye perform functions it does not do particularly well. In doing so, they provide comfort and clarity to the wearer. Their many benefits, in conjunction with a plethora of photochromic lens suppliers and products, and significant marketing efforts, have helped fuel this popularity.

Corning Glass began experimenting with photochromic technology in the 1940s and released its first lens in 1962 named PhotoGray. The product was a huge success because for the first time an eyeglass wearer could buy corrective lenses that adapted color density to the environment, darkening outside and lightening inside. They didn’t darken very quickly, and it took a while for them to lighten, but it satisfied a lot of buyers. The success of that product influenced the launch of others, including PhotoBrown, PhotoSun Gray, PhotoSun Brown, PhotoGray Extra, PhotoBrown Extra, PhotoSun II, PhotoGray II, Thin & Dark and Corning Photochromic Filters.

While the public liked these lenses, glass was falling out of favor after the Food and Drug Administration required glass lenses to be impact resistant in 1971. Within a few short years, plastic was the lens material of choice. In 1983, PPG developed promising dyes and partnered with Essilor to form Transitions Optical. In 1991, they commercialized the first general purpose plastic photochromic lenses. Every few years, Transitions Optical released an update of this general use photochromic, the current version of which is dubbed Transitions Signature VII lenses. Over the years, Transitions Optical introduced other products that expanded the brand and offered buyers choices, including photochromic availability in lens materials such as Trivex, polycarbonate and high index. Transitions also ventured into the prescription and plano sunglasses market.

From the beginning of the company, Transitions Optical worked with a partnership distribution model, making Transitions products available through multiple lens casters. The arrangement was that the lens caster would send its clear lenses to Transitions Optical, which added the photochromic technology and returned them to the caster. In this way, Transitions Optical developed an extensive network of partners worldwide. Nearly every large lens caster in the U.S. and globally offers Transitions brand lenses.

With such a head start on other companies, consumer marketing that has created a recognized brand, and with the support from Essilor (now the sole owner of Transitions Optical after acquiring PPG’s 51% stake in the company in 2014), the company is the leader in the photochromic lens category. The brand now includes Transitions XTRActive, a lens that gets darker outside, almost clear inside, and darkens behind the windshield of a car; and Transitions Vantage, a polarized photochromic that offers sharp vision in bright, outdoor glare. In addition, Transitions Optical offers an array of sun lenses through various partners (see table on next page).

Over the last decade, more companies have entered the photochromic lens space. (Other available photochromic lenses are featured on the following pages.) This has been made possible by companies discovering new ways to produce photochromic dyes as well as techniques for making photochromic lenses. The chart below compares the techniques currently used to create photochromic lenses. The most common is imbibing, used by Transitions. In-mass was used for the first glass photochromics, and they are still made that way, as are some plastic photochromic lenses.

Bell Bell Transitions Face Shields motorcycle helmet face shield
Dragon Dragon Transitions Adaptive Goggles snow goggle
ESS ESS Crossbow Photochromic Eyeshield ballistic level eyewear shield
Klim Klim Transitions Face Shields Motorcycle helmet face shield
Lazer Lumino Transitions Face Shields motorcycle helmet face shield
Nike Nike Max Transitions Sunglasses sports photochromic
Nike Nike Transitions Adaptive Goggles snow goggle
Oakley Oakley Transitions sunglasses sports photochromic
SHOEI Transitions adaptive Face Shields motorcycle helmet face shield
Younger Optics Transitions Drivewear sun lenses designed for driving


While The Vision Council lens shipment data indicates a growing photochromic sector, there are several trends which will likely affect the future of photochromic lenses. For one, Transitions Optical is clearly focused on growing the use of photochromic lenses worldwide. According to Catherine Rauscher, global director for lens caster partners for Transitions Optical, “There is a huge need for photochromics worldwide, and we’re dedicated to filling that need in association with our partners.”

John Ligas, senior scientific advisor for research and development for Transitions Optical, highlighted how Millennials are a key sector for Transitions Optical. “We have good usage by children, but when they become teens and young adults, the usage drops. We’re working to better understand the needs of this 18 to 35 sector and develop the right products for them. We’ve found that young wearers, for example, may care more about their look and how well the lenses adapt to light. To appeal to them, we could adjust the set of performances to match the needs of younger wearers. Color and choice may also appeal to different wearers.”

Photochromic properties will likely become part of an array of features future lenses will have. Think of the lens of the future as a composite of layers, each delivering a specific function, including digital.

Ed De Gennaro, MEd, ABOM, is editor emeritus of First Vision Media Group.


in-mass photochromic molecules are mixed throughout
the lens material
Corning PhotoGray and PhotoBrown
imbibition photochromic molecules migrated into the surface of the lens Transitions Signature VII and Transitions
XTRActive lenses in standard plastic
trans-bonding applies proprietary surface treatments in a series of layers Transitions Signature VII and Transitions
XTRActive lenses in high index material
and in polycarbonate
trans-polarizing proprietary process that enables variable polarization Transitions Vantage lenses
a photochromic film is embedded into the lens a few tenths
of a mm below the front surface; similar to a polarizing film
VISION EASE LifeRx; Younger Optics
Trivex/polycarbonate composite lens
surface coating photochromic molecules are either spun onto the lens
or the lens is dipped into them
some over-the-counter sunwear brands
HOYA Sensity
matrix bonding a 0.8mm matrix wafer layer of photochromic dye is
chemically bonded to the front surface of the lens

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