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These Transitions contact lenses get dark in the sun -- here's what its like to wear them
Acuvue Oasys Transitions contacts protect your eyes from UV rays, block excess light and help you squint less in the sun. And, depending on who you ask, look creepy or cool in the sunlight.
Sarah MitroffManaging Editor
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
I step outside of my office on a sunny morning and the intense bright light makes me squint. Instead of reaching for my sunglasses like I always do, I wait a few seconds for my new contact lenses to adjust to the light. Within 30 seconds, the sunlight is less intense -- almost like I am wearing sunglasses, but not quite.
Johnson & Johnson (which owns Acuvue) teamed up with Transitions Optical, the brand that created those color-changing lenses. After more than a decade of development and product testing, they debuted the contacts in the US in March. I tried them out to see how they worked.
Are they cool? Totally. Do they help you see better in the sun? Yep. Do they sometimes make me look like an alien from the X-Files and scare my friends? Definitely.
These Acuvue contacts have Transitions' "Light Intelligent Technology" -- a photochromic additive -- mixed into the soft hydrogel material that creates the lens. When this photochromic additive is exposed to UV light or blue light from screens and lightbulbs, it darkens the lens to block UV radiation and excessive light waves, just like sunglasses do.
The contacts adjust throughout your day to allow a consistent amount of light to reach your eye, whether you're in a dark theater or outside under the sun. When your eyes are exposed to UV light, the lenses take around 45 seconds to fully darken. Once you step inside, they go back to clear in about 90 seconds or less.
Throughout the day, the contacts change colors between clear and a deep, dark purple-brown. In bright, direct sunlight without sunglasses, the darkening effect is most pronounced. Most of the day, if you work in an office, you won't see much tint.
On my green-hazel colored eyes, these contacts turn a dark shade of purple-brown and entirely block out my iris's natural color. Like other soft contact lenses, these completely cover your pupil and iris, with a little overlap onto the rest of your eyeball. I have to admit, they give me a distinctly alien look that freaked out just about everyone I showed them to.
With filtered sunlight on a cloudy day, they will still adjust, just to a lighter shade of purplish brown. Even when I take them out at night, after the sun's gone down and I've been watching TV or fussing with my phone, they have a faint purple/brown tint as I put them in a case. By morning, they are nearly clear.
Who are these contacts for?
Johnson & Johnson created these lenses to help combat light sensitivity. Anyone who's gone outside on a bright day and immediately started squinting knows what that's like.
Charissa Lee, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care's director of professional education, told CNET that an Acuvue Transition lens "reduces disruption to vision due to bright light by up to 32% and continuously adapts from clear to dark and back, helping your eyes adjust to changing light better than they would on their own."
The Acuvue Transitions contacts might also benefit people who experience photophobia, which is brought on by a variety of conditions, including migraines and dry eye. For several days after I get a migraine, bright light is painful, focusing on a bright screen is hard and I'll get floaters in my vision. While these contact lenses cannot fix photophobia (which is a neurological issue), it can help make it easier to deal with the symptoms.
Do they replace sunglasses?
Even though Acuvue Oasys with Transitions lenses reach their darkest shade in sunny conditions, they are not a replacement for sunglasses. While the lenses do block UV radiation, sunglasses are important because they help protect your entire eye and the skin around it from UV damage that can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, corneal sunburn and skin cancer.
They also don't get as dark as sunglasses and don't offer polarization, which significantly reduces glare. If you already wear sunglasses regularly, these contacts will help you squint less if you step outside on a bright day without them. But you'll still want to use sunglasses to block additional light so it's easier to see. Plus, if your sunglasses block UV rays (which they should!) the contacts won't reach their full darkness, which minimizes the "alien" look.
Regardless if you wear sunglasses daily or not, you should know that, just like Transition lenses in eyeglasses, these contacts won't get darker when you're driving because car windshields block the UV rays from the sun that cause the lenses to react.
There are a few situations where I do feel like these contacts are a better alternative to sunglasses. First is the golden hour, just before the sun sets, when wearing sunglasses makes your vision too dark, but it's still too bright to not wear them at all. The same goes for overcast, foggy mornings, which are extremely common in San Francisco where I live, work and tested the lenses. With an overcast sky, the filtered sunlight is bright enough to bother my eyes, but if I put on sunglasses my vision seems too dark.
How can you try them?
If you don't already wear contacts, your first step is to get an eye exam to get a contact lens prescription. If you already have a valid prescription, ask your doctor to get a trial pair of the Acuvue Oasys with Transitions, which should be free. You can also search on Acuvue's website to find doctors in your area that already have the Transitions lenses available to try.
For this story, I called my doctor's office (which also sells contacts and glasses onsite) and they ordered me a free trial pair. I picked them up and was told if I liked the lenses and wanted to switch to them, my doctor could write me a prescription for those specific lenses. Then I could buy full boxes, either there or anywhere else that sells contacts.
Of course, every doctor's office or optometry clinic might handle this differently. I had just gotten an eye exam and a new prescription only a couple of months before this experiment, so the process was painless.
Not necessarily. Contacts vary wildly in price depending on the brand and where you buy them. Acuvue's rep told me that each doctor, optical retailer or online vision stores sets prices for the contacts they sell, so there's no one set price.
I currently wear Acuvue Oasys with Hydraclear Plus lenses, which are currently only sold in a 12 or 24 pack. Twelve-pack boxes online are priced around $35 to $70, depending on the retailer. All of these prices are out-of-pocket, without insurance.
If you're really keen to wear Acuvue Oasys with Transitions, crunch the numbers and see how their cost compares to what you currently wear. Since I can get a 12-pack of my current contacts for $34 ($2.83 per lens), I would save a lot by not making the switch.
So, will I keep wearing them?
Like my other Acuvue lenses, these Oasys with Transitions are meant to be worn daily for two weeks before you toss them for another pair. During the two weeks I tested these lenses, I felt conflicted.
I was blown away by how well they worked -- my light-sensitive eyes felt less strained and I wasn't as bothered by bright light. But, I was also discouraged by my friends' and colleagues' reaction to how the full darkened lenses looked in my eyes (when I purposely wore them outside without sunglasses). I can only be called a creepy alien so many times before the comment starts to sting.
On the last day of wearing the Transition lenses, I had concluded they weren't useful enough for me to use them going forward. That is, until the next day.
I popped in a fresh pair of my usual contacts and headed out the door. As I walked towards my bus stop, I quickly realized how much the Transition lenses helped my eyes adjust to sunlight, especially on a foggy morning. And when I got to my office -- in sunny downtown SF -- the sunlight bouncing off the buildings and through the massive window next to my desk was more blinding and less tolerable than it had been with the Transitions lenses. Even staring at a computer screen, which is tough on my eyes and gives me occasional bouts of blurry vision, was a bit better with the Transitions contacts.
As I write this, it's been one week since I ditched the Transitions and I already miss them. So much so that once I make it through my current stash of "regular" lenses, I plan to make the switch back.
Update on September 4, 2019: After using my original contact lenses for a few weeks, I ponied up the money for a year supply of the Transitions contacts. I went from being super skeptical and kind of weirded out by how they made me eyes look, to a convert who cashed out some of her FSA to get them.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.