Photochromics: Still Changing

By Brian P. Dunleavy

Trisha Beal, O.D., started wearing photochromics when she was eight years old and she remains a big believer in the product today.

“As an optometrist, I started wearing and recommending [photochromics] in 1996,” says Dr. Beal, adding that her young children now wear them as well. “My husband and I agree that for activities such as travelling, golfing, and day-to-day activities that involve varied and changing light conditions, it is extremely convenient to have lenses that automatically respond to our needs.”

Dr. Beal’s personal history with the product may be unusual, but her support of it as an eyecare professional is not. Photochromic lenses are arguably the optical industry’s best-known spectacle lens product, thanks in large part to the consumer advertising efforts of Transitions Optical, the category’s leading manufacturer (in terms of sales). The lenses have been lauded for their eye health benefits (they are effective at protecting the eyes from harmful UV light) and convenience (clear indoors and dark outdoors), but they are not without their detractors. In the past, the category – particularly its plastic product lines – was plagued with questions about darkening performance and lens durability.

“If you don’t educate patients properly about how photochromic lenses are designed to perform – they do not replace sunwear – you are not selling them honestly,” notes Trina Menoria, optician and owner of Artsee Eyewear in Victoria. Traditionally, it should be noted, manufacturers such as Transitions have marketed photochromics as an “everyday” lens and not as a sunlens. Other vendors in the category include Rodenstock (with its ColorMatic IQ photochromic lens line) and Corning (with SunSensors+ in plastic and Photogray and Photobrown in glass).

However, improvements in photochromic technology have rendered many of these performance issues a thing of the distant past – and thus expanded the potential wearer population of the category significantly. According to Dr. Beal, a partner at Brant/Paris Family Eye Care, a two-location practice in southern Ontario, nearly half of the patients visiting her practice are fitted with photochromics, including children. In fact, in 2011, Dr. Beal was recognized for her work in fitting photochromics on younger patients when she received Transitions’ “Eyecare Professional of the Year” award for Canada.

But increased sales aren’t the only change for changing lenses. Rodenstock, for example, continues to improve the “speed” of its ColorMatic IQ photochromic line, which it claims is already the fastest in the industry in terms of response to changing light conditions. At the company’s new web site (launched last spring) – called “House of Better Vision” – patients and eyecare professionals can see the product’s performance for themselves. Rodenstock’s ColorMatic IQ line is available in a wide array of lens designs and materials, in both progressive and single-vision.

And Transitions has introduced a new performance sunwear line, which features photochromic lenses that effectively change from “dark to darker”, depending on UV light exposure. Many manufacturers, including Essilor, Nikon and Carl Zeiss Vision, market a full array of single-vision and progressive plastic lenses using Transitions “everyday lens” technology.

“There are so many possible solutions for patients – from the convenience factors of photochromic lenses to superior light management control,” notes Dr. Beal. “The lenses adapt well to many lifestyles and activities. Although we don’t believe in blanket ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions, most often, for those who require prescription lenses, we find ourselves recommending [photochromics].”

And that’s quite a change for the lenses that change.