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Photochromic lens

Photochromic lenses have millions of molecules of substances such as

silver chloride or silver halide embedded in them. The molecules are
transparent to visible light in the absence of UV light, which is normal for
artificial lighting. But when exposed to UV rays, as in direct sunlight, the
molecules undergo a chemical process that causes them to change shape. The
new molecular structure absorbs portions of the visible light, causing the
lenses to darken. The number of molecules that change shape varies with the
intensity of the UV rays.
These are optical lenses that darken on exposure to specific types of light
of sufficient intensity specially for ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In the absence of
activating light the lenses return to their clear state. Photochromic lenses may
be made of glass, polycarbonate, or another plastic. They are principally used
in eyeglasses that are dark in bright sunlight, but clear in low ambient light
conditions. They darken significantly within about a minute of exposure to
bright light, and take somewhat longer to clear. A range of clear and dark
transmittances are available.
In one sort of technology, molecules of silver chloride or another
silver halide are embedded in photochromatic lenses. They are transparent to
visible light without significant ultraviolet component, which is normal for
artificial lighting. In another sort of technology, organic photochromic
molecules, when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays as in direct sunlight, undergo
a chemical process that causes them to change shape and absorb a significant
percentage of the visible light, i.e., they darken. These processes are reversible;
once the lens is removed from strong sources of UV rays the photochromic
compounds return to their transparent state
Photochromic lenses were developed by Roger Araujo at
the Corning Glass Works Inc. in the 1960s, and the process was used in the
first mass-produced variable tint lenses, and further popularized
by Transitions (a company). In fact, because of the extreme popularity of the
Transitions brand, these lenses are usually referred to as transition lenses.
The glass version of these lenses achieve their photochromic properties
through the embedding of microcrystalline silver halides (usually silver
chloride) in a glass substrate. Plastic photochromic lenses use organic
photochromic molecules to achieve the reversible darkening effect. These lenses
darken when exposed to ultraviolet light of the intensity present in sunlight,
but not in artificial light.
With the photochromic material dispersed in the glass substrate, the
degree of darkening depends on the thickness of glass, which poses problems
with variable-thickness lenses in prescription glasses. With plastic lenses, the
material is typically embedded into the surface layer of the plastic in a uniform
thickness of up to 150 m.
Typically, photochromic lenses darken substantially in response to UV
light in less than one minute, and continue to darken a little more over the
next fifteen minutes. The lenses begin to clear in the absence of UV light, and
will be noticeably lighter within two minutes, mostly clear within five minutes,
and fully back to their non-exposed state in about fifteen minutes. A report by
the Institute of Ophthalmology at the University College London suggested that
at their clearest photochromic lenses can absorb up to 20% of ambient light.[2]
Because photochromic compounds fade back to their clear state by a
thermal process, the higher the temperature, the less dark photochromic
lenses will be. This thermal effect is called "temperature dependency" and
prevents these devices from achieving true sunglass darkness in very hot
weather. Conversely, photochromic lenses will get very dark in cold weather
conditions. Once inside, away from the triggering UV light, the cold lenses take
longer to regain their transparency than warm lenses.