strat investigates

Do Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses Actually Do Anything?

Photo: Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images

Update: A few of you have written to ask whether there were more stylish options than the Uvex blue-light glasses we recommended when we first published this post in April. We’ve refreshed this story with a few more aesthetically pleasing options.

If you’ve ever suffered from itchy, dry, and red eyes after a long day of staring at your computer, you’ve probably been tempted to purchase a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses, which filter out the active blue light — a.k.a. the kind that promotes wakefulness — before it reaches our eyeballs. If so, you’re certainly not alone. According to the Vision Council, a group that represents eyeglasses manufacturers, about 60 percent of Americans surveyed experience some symptoms of digital eyestrain due to extended time in front of the screen, and with that fear, a cottage industry of blue-light-filtering glasses has emerged over the last few years.

But according to Rahul Khurana, an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, digital eyestrain and the negative effects of blue light on your eyes are two separate concerns. “We keep on thinking about blue lights from our computers and smartphones, but the reality is we get more exposure from blue light from the sunlight.” It’s not the blue light that’s making your eyes feel bad after a day of staring at the computer — it’s staring at a screen for hours without breaks. That’s why he doesn’t recommend any special eyewear for daily computer use. “Ultimately, I’m not really sure how it’s going to help with digital eyestrain, which really is what’s bothering people,” says Dr. Khurana.

The digital eyestrain that bothers most people can occur “whenever you focus on anything, from reading a book, looking at a screen, or watching TV,” says Dr. Khurana, and it can be alleviated by shifting your eyes every 20 minutes or so onto something that’s 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. If that doesn’t help, Dr. Khurana recommends artificial tears to help lubricate dry eyes.

When blue-light glasses can be useful, though, is at night, when blue light from screens can disrupt natural sleep patterns. Our bodies associate blue light with daytime, so being exposed to it when you’re trying to go to bed “pushes our internal clock later so that it’s harder to fall asleep and harder to wake up in the morning,” says Cathy Goldstein, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center.

In a perfect world, you’d start to avoid blue-enriched light from screens four hours before bedtime. “That is hard for a lot of people to swallow,” admits Goldstein, “so we do sometimes recommend blue light-blocking glasses at that time.” And there’s a growing body of research to back up the claim that blocking blue light before bed can help you sleep better. In one study, from 2009, volunteers who wore blue-light-blocking glasses three hours before bedtime reported better sleep quality and mood than those who didn’t. A more recent study of teenage boys found similar results.

If you want to use the same blue-light-blocking glasses they do in the lab, go for Uvex. “They’re usually less than $10, and these have been used in studies,” says Goldstein. “It’s shown when you use these, the light doesn’t suppress your melatonin, and it prevents a phase-shift and it can improve sleep.” They’re not as nice-looking as some of the other blue-light-filtering glasses out there, but since the best time to use them is right before bed, and not at the office, there’s no reason to be embarrassed.

However, if style is important to you when you’re using your blue-light-blocking glasses in bed or after dark, you have plenty of options at a range of price points.

If you don’t mind the tinted lenses of the Uvex, but want a pair of glasses that looks less like sports goggles, you could try these highly-rated glasses from Gunnar Optiks. With their plastic frame, they’re reminiscent of Wayfarers, but the amber-tinted glass is decidedly more tech-y than retro.

Gunnar Optiks also makes this surprisingly stylish set of round, wire-framed glasses.

If you’re looking for even more subtle-looking blue-light-blocking glasses, there are quite a few companies making versions with nearly transparent lenses and stylish frames. There’s Felix Gray, of course, which arguably helped popularize the idea of wearing blue-light-blocking glasses at their office. According to their website, their daytime computer glasses filter 40 percent of blue light.

If you’re more interested in wearing blue-light-blocking glasses at night, right before bed, Felix Gray also makes sleep-specific blue-light-filtering glasses in many of the same styles as their computer glasses. These have a slightly more yellow tint, but they also filter out more blue light. (We also did a more comprehensive review of these Felix Gray glasses, and a couple other sleep-specific shades, if you’d like to read more.)

Another brand that we like, and have written about before, is Look Optic, a direct-to-consumer brand with a design team made up of Oliver Peoples alums that makes handsome reading glasses. They sell screen readers with blue-light protection in some of their most popular styles, either with magnification or without, depending on your eyesight.

The Australian eyewear brand Quay has started blue-light-blocking glasses, with sunglasses-inspired designs, like these cat-eye glasses.

What’s important to reiterate is that even though there are these more stylish blue-light-blocking glasses, they’re not necessarily more effective than the $10 set from Uvex. You also really don’t need to be wearing these glasses at the office during the day — only at night, when your circadian rhythm will be disturbed by the blue light — so don’t feel any pressure to spend a lot of money on them to look cool if it’s outside of your budget.

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Do Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses Actually Do Anything?