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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Sunglasses
  2. Sunglasses Reviews: Performance, Fit, and Comfort
  3. UV Protection, Warranties, and Durability
  4. Polarized and Tinted Sunglasses, Lens Materials and Coatings
  5. Sunglasses Deals
  6. Discount Sunglasses Features Comparison Table

Sunglasses Lenses

Even on a budget, you can find sunglasses with features such as polarized lenses that help you see clearly in a variety of conditions.

Lens Materials.

There are a few materials typically used to make sunglasses lenses: CR-39, polycarbonate, and glass. CR-39 is a hard-resin plastic that's commonly found in eyeglasses and prescription sunglasses.
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Glass is very durable but heavy, and not well suited for those fashionable outsize or wrap-around sunglasses you might covet. How Stuff Works notes that both glass and polycarbonate lenses are free of distortion, meaning that visual perception is true and unmarred by waves, wiggles, or bulges. Polycarbonate is a lightweight synthetic plastic that's very durable and absorbs 100 percent of UV rays. Its impact resistance makes it a good choice for sport sunglasses. Polycarbonate is the material of choice for the best budget sunglasses and is also used in many mid-range and high-end sunglasses. Our top picks all feature lenses made from polycarbonate plastic, as do sunglasses made by Kenneth Cole (ranging in price from $15 to $90), which are more fashion-oriented than the sport sunglasses that make up much of our list.

Other lens materials occasionally show up in non-prescription sunglasses. Adi Designs sunglasses are made from lightweight plastic. We did not find information on the clarity or durability of this material, but a buying guide from outdoor retailer REI notes that cheaper alternatives to polycarbonate, such as acrylic, are more prone to image distortion and cracking or breaking. Oakley sunglasses (ranging in price from $70 to $1,500) feature specialty lenses made of a proprietary material called Plutonite, which is advertised as providing the best possible clarity and high-impact protection.

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Polarized Sunglasses.

Whether you're driving, skiing, snowboarding, or taking part in any other outdoor activity, your vision could be affected by glare from the sun. Glare typically comes from light that reflects off horizontal surfaces such as wet roads, and that reflected light is said to be "polarized." How Stuff Works explains that, because most of this glare comes from horizontally polarized light, the chemical film on polarized sunglasses lenses is oriented vertically to filter it out. The most inexpensive sunglasses lack polarized lenses, but some products in our price range, including select models from Sunbelt, JiMarti, Black Flys, and Nike, are polarized sunglasses.

Tinted Sunglasses.

Tinted sunglasses also helps reduce glare. The various tint choices not only appeal to fashion-conscious shoppers but also affect what you see in different ways. An optometrist at All About Vision recommends a gray tint, or a combination of gray and green, to reduce overall brightness without distorting colors. Amber and brown tints are also make good all-purpose choices because they block higher-frequency colors (e.g., blue and violet) and improve clarity -- although they do tend to make a mush of color perception. Yellow-tinted sunglasses likewise mangle colors, but they're especially useful in reducing blue light, which causes the most glare (think of snow on a sunny day), and they make everything look vivid. Purple or rose tints enhance the contrast against blue or green backgrounds, while green tinted sunglasses provide the best contrast of all and reduce glare by filtering out some blue light.

JiMarti sunglasses including the JM01 come in a variety of tints: gray, brown, blue, and yellow. The Halo women's sunglasses from Sunbelt come in brown and gray tints, while the brand's Rock sunglasses (starting at $22) come in brown, gray, and yellow tints. One reviewer commenting on the Sunbelt Rock sunglasses on Amazon appreciates that the tints available for this model greatly improve the wearer's depth and detail perception in extremely bright sunlight. Another consumer relies on them for driving in fog and rain and notes that they don't reflect light or create a glare. The Black Flys Micro Fly sunglasses are available with brown and grey tints (and a variety of frames). A snowboarder posting at Overstock comments that the tinted sunglasses provide welcome relief from the sun's glare on the snow (but doesn't specify the color of the tint). Nike Defiant tinted sunglasses are available in grey and brown.

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Lens Coatings.

Several extra coating options for budget sunglasses enhance the quality of the product and the clarity of your vision. These features generally cost more and are found primarily in higher-end sunglasses, but we did find some cheaper sunglasses with one or two special coatings.

Gradient coating refers to tinting that's darker at the top and lighter at the bottom of the lens. This pattern blocks more light at the top and less at the bottom, which is useful for activities such as driving: Your eyes are shielded from the sun's light from above but you can clearly see things inside the car, like the dashboard. None of the brands on our list offer tinted sunglasses with gradient coating. If you insist on this feature, Kenneth Cole's Reaction line includes sunglasses with the fadeout or gradient coating.

Anti-reflective coating is a thin, hard layer applied to both sides of the lens to prevent light from hitting the back of the lens and bouncing into your eyes. Like polarized sunglasses, lenses with anti-reflective coating reduce glare. Select JiMarti sunglasses, including the JM01 model, feature an anti-reflective coating.

Mirrored coating is a thin metallic layer on the lens that keeps even more light out of your eyes by reflecting it away. Mirrored or reflective lenses save you from squinting but don't protect against UV rays. They also hide your eyes from others. Many Adi Designs sunglasses on Overstock have a mirrored coating.

Scratch-resistant coating is a nice extra because plastic and polycarbonate sunglasses are easily scratched. To protect the lens, manufacturers apply a coating made with materials such as diamond-like carbon or a type of synthetic diamond. Some cheap JiMarti sunglasses, such as the JiMarti AV5 aviators (starting at $13), have an anti-scratch coating. While reviewers posting on Amazon don't comment directly on the coating, many call these sunglasses durable and extremely high-quality, especially given the low price. On the other hand, reviewers commenting on the Sunbelt Halo sunglasses on Amazon notice the lack of scratch-resistant coating. They report that the durability is there, but if you drop them or just toss them in a purse, they can and will get scratched. However, this seems to be the case with all sunglasses that lack this special coating, no matter what the price tag. Users overall are impressed with the Sunbelt brand and are willing to buy the sunglasses again if they get scratched.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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