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Should I Buy Glass or Plastic Lenses?

Plastic lenses are much lighter than glass lenses, and are less likely to shatter.
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2014
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When purchasing glasses today, there are a wide variety of choices. The most basic choice is between traditional glass lenses and newer plastic lenses, such as those made from polycarbonate. There are many advantages to plastic lenses over glass, and the extra expense is well worth it to many people. Plastic lenses are far lighter than glass, making them less likely to slip down your nose, especially in stronger prescriptions. Heavy glass lenses also leave indentations on the nose, while plastic lenses sit much more lightly.

Plastic lenses are impact resistant, making them a better choice for children, active adults, sportswear, and safety wear. It takes a far greater force to break a plastic lens than a comparable glass lens, and while glass shatters, plastic will more likely dent, or if the force is great enough, crack without shattering. Perhaps the most appreciated feature of plastic lenses is that they can be thinner than glass lenses. Those with strong prescriptions know how thick glass lenses can distort the face.

Thick nearsighted lenses significantly reduce the size of the eyes, detracting from the natural appearance of the wearer. A nearsighted lens is also wider at the edges than in the middle, making the edges noticeable in fashionable wire frames or frameless glasses. A thick farsighted lens is wider in the middle and narrow at the edges. The wide middle magnifies the eyes, resulting in an “owlish” look.

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For people with strong prescriptions, high index plastic lenses are a great choice. These plastic lenses can be thinner, because they bend more light than glass or normal plastic. High index plastic lenses can virtually serve the strongest prescriptions without distorting the face, and they look attractive in any frame. No one will ever guess how strong your prescription really is!

High index plastic lenses are the most expensive lenses available, but to those who benefit, they are worth every penny. If you have struggled with “coke bottle glasses” or have forgone glasses in certain situations, embarrassed by how they made you look, you will likely loves these lenses. For those with little correction, normal plastic lenses will deliver all of the benefits of plastic at a lower cost than high index lenses.

Special coatings make plastic lenses scratch-resistant, and an optional anti-reflective coating makes the lenses more transparent than glass, passing over 99% of all light. Plastic lenses can also be anti-glare, and they reduce harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays better than glass.

High index glass lenses are also available, but the material is heavier than normal glass, so even though the lenses are thinner, they are not significantly lighter. These might be a good choice for inactive adults or seniors with strong prescriptions who would like to improve their appearance but do not wish for a lighter or more durable lens. If your prescription is weak and you are not active, traditional glass lenses will be less expensive than their plastic counterparts. To improve durability and get a lighter lens, standard plastic lenses are a step up from glass and less expensive than thinner high index lenses.

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anon959068
Post 63

I used to use glass lenses in Fiji and they lasted for a long time. Now opticians don't sell glass lenses and they say that the plastic lens are coated, etc. --just like this article says. But my plastic lenses always get scratched and I have to change them every year or two years.

I wished someone sold glass lenses in Fiji. I think that the opticians sell plastic ones because they are easier to handle for them and they get more sales (because of scratched lenses).

anon944034
Post 62

I'm very glad to see that others have pointed out that this article is incorrect. One of the main advantages of glass is that glass lenses are much thinner than plastic lenses, (although they are heavier). This article says the opposite. Glass has a higher refractive index and thus is thinner and looks better in the frames and the world looks better through them, especially at night.

They also last forever instead of less than a year and they are usually cheaper because they don't require any coatings to be totally UV and scratch resistant and photo-gray works three times better with glass. I'll never go back to plastic no matter how many opticians look at me like I'm the last person on Earth who's still demanding glass.

anon942323
Post 61

Micro thin glass lenses are the way to go. I love mine. The last time I bought plastic lenses in the U.S., it cost me over 700 dollars. I need a strong prescription and my lenses are line free bifocals, with all the special anti-scratch coatings and anti-reflective coatings. Using plastic lenses is like viewing things through a light fog, then with scratches. Things get much worse and they scratch up no matter how you care for them. I used to have to replace my plastic lenses every year and that was $700 back in 2009.

Now, my micro-thin glass lenses which I bought in 2009 are great. They are almost impossible to scratch. I've gotten a couple scratches in five years but they are really minor. Micro thin glass lenses with frames are more expensive (1100 dollars) but I am still going strong with the same lenses. Now I am looking for a new pair of frames to fit my lenses, since the frame arms are wearing out. I am convinced that the laws preventing micro thin glass lenses from being sold in the US are scams, just so the eyeglass shops can sell us garbage plastic lenses every year.

anon359588
Post 60

I am sick and tired of trying to see through scratches all the time. I am determined my next lenses are glass ones. The last good optical office said there is a a safety issue in wearing glass lenses. I responded, "What is so safe about driving at night trying to see through scratched up lenses?" And yes, I follow all the instructions on lens care.

Only plastic lenses in the past eight years or so have been this bad, and I attribute it to the fact that one of my medications causes excessive sweat, which inevitably gets on my glasses, and probably erodes the scratch resistance. Plastic stinks big time!

anon334129
Post 57

Obviously, your prescriptions aren't that strong. Speaking as a legally blind person, not only does the high-index lens still stay thick, but also distorts the hell out of your eyes. Being farsighted, I get beady eyes. It's terrible.

anon320782
Post 56

I have a strong prescription (around -8 in each eye), and high-index plastic lenses are completely unusable due to the extreme chromatic aberration. High-index glass has much less aberration, but almost no one makes prescription lenses out of high-index glass. For now, I have to wear contacts, which I hate.

anon314188
Post 55

I've worn spectacles since I was 11. I am now in my 40s. My first glasses were glass lenses and okay, although ugly looking. When I was in my twenties, my specs, which were ugly frames with glass in them, were very heavy. In fact, they were so heavy, I struggled to breathe out of my nose. Contact lenses have been a revelation for me and Daily Disposables even more so. Clear vision without the need to wear glasses.

My glasses are anti-scratch/glare high index 1.74 lenses which are very lightweight. Yes, you do get micro scratches on them but the alternative is heavy, glass lenses. The only problems I suffered with glasses came from a pair of screwless frames which developed a a tiny chip in the corner with a few weeks of wear. I couldn't get on with the frames and ditched them for non wraparound ones which have lasted just three years.

I cannot have a laser eye operation because of the size of my pupil and is hardly worth having now anyway because the people I've known who've had it done have been back with glasses within 10 years anyway. My advice is: look at all your options and find something you get on with and what your lifestyle is.

anon298040
Post 54

@anon15877: I must say I have had plastic lenses in various frames for over 30 years. I just had my four year old frames purchased online and had them filled with glass lenses. They are perfect! In addition, the lenses and photo grey were less than $150! Plastic stinks.

I had designer D&G purchased from LensCrafters two years ago and the anti-reflective coating was coming off around the edges. Not to mention the scratches incurred over two years. I didn't always carry the special cloth needed to clean the lenses. Who remembers to carry that all the time? The A/R coating doesn't even come with glass lenses. Neither does any of the other stuff like tint or anti scratch coating.

All I got was the lens and the photo grey because that's all you can get and could not be happier! Don't believe that glass doesn't exist because it does. One of the best purchases of my life!

anon287197
Post 52

I'm a UK Specsavers customer. After needing a new prescription, I was advised plastic lenses had come a long way - so agreed to pay the £200 for new plastic lens specs. I noticed the distortion immediately, but figured it was the stronger prescription. After 12 hours wearing them for PC, driving, reading etc., I decided they were inferior.

The optician tested them for script accuracy, said they were perfect and then he asked "have you ever had plastic lenses before?" I said 'no.' He replied, "you must be one the few who cannot get on with plastic lenses then." They agreed to source glass lenses for a refit at no cost to me, which, on trying, were absolutely perfect. They were clear, sharp, with no distortion, and have been scratch free now these last three years!

I will insist on glass in future, but I am dreading the day, if by then they are unavailable!

anon276421
Post 51

I have had a pair of military-issued glasses for thirty years and they have held up amazingly well. These glasses survived boot camp and six years of military service. The actual heavy plastic frames have cracked under one of the lenses until it finally fell out. These glass lenses have no scratches on them and have never cracked! There is something to say about real glass lenses.

anon274463
Post 50

They don't make glass lenses is the lie they tell you. Simple plastic is cheap and profitable. The machine can grind and fit the plastic in a fraction of the time. They always try to talk me into plastic, and even say well most people mean Polycarbonate when they say glass. These are lies!

To make sure you have glass just hold the lens against your cheek. The glass has a cool feel even at room temperature, while the plastic feels warm almost immediately. Don't let them lie and pass plastic off as glass. They are charging you full price.

anon267344
Post 49

I have never had glass lenses before and I have been wearing glasses for 26 years. I am all excited to receive my first pair of glass lensed specs tomorrow, especially after reading all these posts.

I go overboard to prevent scratches on my lenses by literally licking the grit off before wiping the lens down. This may sound gross, but it works pretty good. Anyhow, I still get scratches. Hearing about the better vision is cool too.

It seams like all products these days are garbage. Everything is built to break. A disposable society.

anon267293
Post 48

About a year and half ago I decided to get Nikon lenses (1.6 index) for my prescription eyeglasses, from Hakim Optical in Toronto, Canada.

I had been satisfied with the glasses (half rim) until a few weeks ago when I dropped them for the first time on the kitchen tile floor. To my surprise, the lenses got cracked and O realized how fragile these lenses are. Then later, accidentally my daughter knocked my glasses off my face, again in the kitchen. The lens exposed corner broke off!

Before getting the Nikon I had been using regular polycarbonate lenses for several years and, who knows how many time I dropped them, but never had a problem with cracks.

Maybe I am missing a point, I thought that being made from "plastic," the Nikon lenses would have similar impact resistance as the polycarbonate ones. Comments are appreciated.

bbm714
Post 47

Can anyone tell me any opticians who do lenses in glass? I have been using specsavers for years and now they say that they cannot do my prescription in glass because it has been altered.

anon254088
Post 46

Polycarb lenses are fine. If you like glass get it. I've worn glasses since I was a baby and have had three eye surgeries. People complain too much. Your lenses get scratched? Get over it. You'll get used to it. Too heavy? Just wear them.

anon236007
Post 45

@anon60584, post 6: Surely this is nonsense. Distortion of the face is purely determined by your prescription (the amount that light has to be bent for you to see correctly). Plastic versus glass has nothing to do with this.

This is far too complicated to discuss here, but high index lenses can indeed make a large difference to the 'magnification' of a lens. There is a difference between lens power, and lens mag.

anon224621
Post 44

They push plastic, because it is way cheaper to manufacture. Also the equipment is far cheaper and requires less skilled labour.

anon220956
Post 43

Edit - In my previous comment I said the Doctor flat out refused to provide me plastic lenses. I meant to say he flat out refused to provide me *glass* lenses.

anon220801
Post 42

I never understood why there was such a dramatic difference in my night vision wearing my glasses versus my contacts. This was the first pair of glasses I bought when I was 17, and the doctor flat out refused to provide me plastic lenses.

Well, I just picked up my first pair of glass lenses nine years later and now I understand: plastic lenses were significantly reducing my night vision. It seems dangerous to not inform consumers about the significant distortion caused by plastic, especially at night, while driving.

anon215161
Post 41

Glass lenses are best for me. Heavier-yes, better vision-yes, more expensive-yes.

First plastic lenses were bought approximately eight years ago, and just got some new ones. They are horrid.

Going to replace with glass very soon and stay with glass from now on.

anon195510
Post 40

I was talked into plastic after 45 years because "they don't make glass lenses and plastic is cheaper and lighter." Scratched them with a deep gouge within a week at work, kind of normal wear and tear for me. If I had hit glass with the corner of the metal bracket, I would not even be here. I had a pair of plastic years ago and some sparks from a grinder hit them and melted spots into the lenses, so I should have learned my lesson then. No matter the price, glass always. It will pay off in the long run.

anon174451
Post 39

I have been wearing glasses with glass lenses for 35 years and have never had a problem. Six months ago, I was talked into getting plastic lenses with a scratch resistant coating. Within two weeks, scratches appeared. I had them replaced and again scratches appeared. I am very, very careful with the plastic lenses and never just wipe them. I first run them under water to wash away any grit and then clean them.

The scratches are caused by my eyebrows so there's not much I can do. Shortly I will go back to glass and never bother with plastic again. I believe that plastic lenses are being promoted as they need to be replaced more often which increases business

anon165812
Post 38

I am 53 years old and have had glasses since I was 13. I had one pair of plastic, and I got the scratch resistant option, but it did me no good the plastic was scratched in two weeks. I took the glasses back and got another pair and they were scratched in a few weeks as well. Oh well, I was just out of luck.

I now insist on glass lenses. Walmart sells glass and Sears sells glass, also. I will never bother with useless plastic again. We are all getting so spoiled. If glass is too heavy for you then take the glasses off and get a dog!

anon161431
Post 37

Thank you everyone for commenting. I read the article then the comments and for me the latter were more useful and has more real life experience info. and I will go with the majority when I choose my lenses and get glass.

anon156317
Post 36

To the person who mentioned the pineal gland.

Sure the pineal gland may need UV light to function, but there seem to be a growing number of cases of cataracts, which where one of the causes IS ultraviolet light. So in conclusion, is it really more beneficial to stare at the sun?

anon148082
Post 35

Been a photographer for 30 years and I know a thing or two about optics and lens materials. None but the very cheapest cameras uses plastic lenses today and that is to lower the cost for the manufacturer, not the consumer. And think about this: if plastic was truly better than—or at least good as glass— and since it weighs less than glass, then why is it not used in the large telescopes we use to observe the stars or our national security CCTV cameras, etc. If good seeing is your goal buy glass.

anon146684
Post 34

All the talk about plastic being better because it filters out "harmful" U.V. light is completely bogus. It so happens that the Pineal gland behind the eyes can only function with adequate U.V. light and it is responsible for a vast array of health issues. Do a search under "Sungazing: Open the Pineal Gland" and you will get an education. We are just being fed a marketing ploy for the inferior plastic stuff.

anon145797
Post 33

I actually just started working in an eyewear store and I had this exact subject come up with a client. I was disappointed with my manager's answer(he's strictly polycarbonate/acetate/zyl/etc) after researching it on my own and finding this page.

I've never needed glasses myself, and I think I would go mad if I had to look through something less than clear. I can't even wear my sunglasses if there is a small print on it.

anon144392
Post 32

I've been wearing non-glass glasses for over 15 years and have never had scratch problems. Maybe people should just be more careful with such an important and expensive augmentation to their body, hmmmm?

anon144387
Post 31

Glass lenses? Are you people stuck in the 1900s?

anon138312
Post 30

I bought plastic lenses and am out €300. I don't wear them! They're distorted, dirty and the frames are tilted downwards. And the plastic frames are heavy.

rfischer
Post 28

I plan to purchase glass lenses instead of plastic. I have never had plastic lenses that were as clear as the first glasses I had in 1962. I'm convinced the vision is better with glass. Is there a difference in glass quality or should I be looking at certain suppliers etc.

anon124186
Post 27

I agree with most that glass is the only way to go. I always had glass lenses, never broke them and definitely no scratches. Optician always try to sell plastic, perhaps they get a kickback? But I have to say Lasik is the only way out of the whole wearing glasses hell anyway. If you can, do it!

anon122454
Post 26

In my experience, one year i used glass lenses, during that one year my eyes was fine. After that, for two years i used plastic lenses, and then my eyes side number is increased, and also started to have problem in my eyes. i again switched to glass lenses and i feel cool eyes with glass lenses.

The quality to filter the rays by plastic lens can't beat glass lenses.

anon122317
Post 25

I am 25 years old, wearing eye glasses since childhood.

Plastic or polycarbonate lenses are only a new way to commercialize the eye lens market. They are much easier to manufacture, leading to more production hence more profits for the companies.

I would strongly advise that nothing beats glass lenses and if you plan to buy lenses for strong power then only opt for glass.

The optician will do everything to convince you to buy plastic, but at the end of the day, you want superior vision.

If you are really worried about looks, opt for contact lenses or keep a plastic lens frame only meant for those events where looks are more important than vision.

This is only my advice as I've wasted lot of hard earned money on buying most expensive polycarb lenses.

And also, always be careful with the size of the frame. Take a photo or take help from someone you trust while selecting the right frame. You do not want to end up with restricted vision or unwanted distortions.

anon111760
Post 24

Does anyone know of any optical store selling glass lenses? I am fed up with the plastic ones. I want to go back to the glass.

anon106784
Post 22

This article is misleading. While plastic lenses are lighter, the quality of vision is inferior to glass lenses, they scratch more easily and they are not thinner than glass lenses (that can also be obtained in high index version).

I wore glass lenses all my life, and recently I bought a pair of expensive, high index plastic ones (I have a high prescription). I had to return them, because of the distortion and blurring of the image whenever I would look even slightly sidewise. Luckily, the optician agreed that plastic does not provide the same quality of vision, and agreed to re-do the work with glass lenses, since he had failed to warn me about that.

Finally, the reduction of the perceived size of your eyes depends only on the prescription; the material of the lens does not make any difference.

Think about it: whenever a high quality optical performance is needed (cameras, camcorders, telescopes) it's glass lenses they use, not plastic!

The only valid points in this biased, uninformative article are that plastic lenses are lighter, and they're more suitable for children and sports people who are likely to drop the glasses often.

anon103322
Post 21

To the person who complained about the weight of his/her new glass lenses. From experience you will adjust to the weight over time. Remember you did not buy your glasses to look good, you bought them to see well.

After you become accustomed to them (visual clarity) you will not want to go back to plastic. There is always a trade off. I would buy plastic even though they don't stand up if they offered me a better visual experience. I wear glasses to see better. Price and durability are secondary.

anon103056
Post 20

I am fed up with plastic lenses. I'm going to glass.

anon102646
Post 19

I stopped using glass in my eyeglasses, because they are just to heavy. It's much easier to use plastic, and have them coated with an anti scratch.

anon102229
Post 18

I have worn glasses for more than 40 years. In that

time I have had only one pair of plastic lenses. They are a ripoff. The clarity of glass is much much much better. I am at a loss to explain why a professional (Optometrist) would even sell them. Even though glass lenses cost more, they are the only way to go. If it is a matter of cost spend less on frames and buy the glass lenses.

anon97030
Post 17

I have tried both glass and plastic, and I have to say glass is much better. Yes it could be heavier, but I prefer heavy than scratchy, and my plastic glasses became very annoyingly scratched since I am a photographer and usually the glasses touch the viewfinder of my cameras, as well as the dusty environment of Egypt where I live.

anon88576
Post 16

Dear person #8: I just got new glasses five days ago. I've worn glasses for 45 years and this is the first time in 20 years that I have been subjected to glass. I bought them at Walmart here in Canada.

Too bad my rx wouldn't fit you. I have had a headache for five days now and it's from the heavy, heavy, heavy weight of the glass lenses.

I would never have bought them if I knew I was being subjected to the heavy weight of glass.

I'm out $400.00 and can't wear these glasses.

Walmart takes no responsibility. Poor broke me. Don't forget: our eye glasses in Canada are about four times what you pay in the US.

anon84753
Post 15

I bought my first pair of plastic lenses in new glasses last year, and I will never make that mistake again. Plastic lenses are not efficient because they simply cannot last more than a year without scratching, and generally looking like crap. The coating comes off around the rim. Is that going in my eyes? Probably. Class action suit forthcoming? Maybe.

I didn't even know I was getting plastic. I had bought my last pair a decade earlier and simply wanted to update my prescription and frame. I asked for the works, anti-scratch and all.

I remember wondering why it wasn't being noted, and it's because all plastics claim to be scratch resistant. They lie.

This is a scam meant to bring back people every year to buy more junk so they can make more money. Same reason to not expect any cures for any diseases, because there's no money to made in that, but they'll manage the disease and take your money in the meantime (conspiracy theory that actually brings out the cynic in me).

Anyway, glass lenses are the only way to go, so don't be fooled.

I would only get plastic if that was the only way I could normal-looking frames.

anon80856
Post 14

Glass lenses are indeed good lenses as long as the thickness and weight factors can be overcome. US impact-resistant regs hinder the use of 1.7 and 1.8 index lenses. Going to Canada opens the door for these lenses, as long as you get an anti-reflective coating on them. Without an ARC, glare will be problematic.

anon75515
Post 12

I've worn eyeglasses for over 50 years and have had only three pairs of plastic glasses -- all of which proved disappointing.

My two year old plastic lenses are always dirty and the AR coating has degraded around the edges. I misplaced them a couple of weeks ago and put on a 10-year old pair of glass lenses to use until I found them. I couldn't believe how much clearer the glass was.

The glass is noticeably heavy but I quickly became accustomed to the weight and am enjoying clearer vision.

I find it very frustrating that the only way I can get decent glass lenses for a new pair would be to import them from Canada. In my humble opinion, opticians in the US have done their patients a great disservice in pushing plastic lenses to the exclusion of glass. Glass is not just optically superior but more durable too.

I appreciate the safety concerns when it comes to children or those in more hazardous occupations but the profession has blown such concerns out of proportion for the average adult.

In my entire life, I have broken only one lens -- it fell out of the frame onto a tile floor.

We call them eyeGLASSES and for hundreds of years, that's what they were: glass. The fact that many people who have grown up in plastic do not appreciate the optical superiority of glass is no reason for an article like this to distort the true nature of the material.

anon74885
Post 11

For an unbiased balanced view, I would say that if you are likely to suffer from the appearance of comical magnified eyes with traditional thick glass lenses, go for plastic lenses. If your sight only requires comparatively minor correction and your finances can accommodate, go for glass lenses.

anon74884
Post 10

My first pair of glasses had plastic coated lenses anti glare plus anti scratch back in the early 1990's. Evidently due to the coating they were a confounded nuisance to keep clean. They would smear with an oily like lilac film!

Further, despite caring for them with kid gloves, the central part of both lenses gradually developed fine scuff marks, evidently due to them rubbing slightly against the inside of their storage case.

For my second pair I was not going to be swayed by the sales hype of a cute sexy optician and opted for glass lenses. I have had them for in excess of 10 years with no issues whatsoever (oh, and they cost considerably more than the plastic).

Further, if polymer spectacle lenses are so wonderful, why is it so that the pro camera lenses are only manufactured from glass and not plastic, where the benefits served by reducing handling weight particularly for long lenses would be beneficial?

The answer is simple plastic is a comparatively poor performance substitute. Glass has superior optics and is more durable.

As for polycarbonate being used for CDs, I've had to dump more CDs than vinyl, because of their poor durability and inflexible non hands on behaviour. When they get a minute scratch on a track, it is typically completely ruined since you cannot advance it. You are forced to skip it.

Polycarbonate has been used extensively for radio control model car shells for decades. Yes, it is light and tough, but as with all materials it has its limits. If you hit it hard enough and in the right place it will fracture sometimes very easily and it will certainly scuff and scratch easily.

anon74388
Post 9

In fact, glasses lenses (mineral) is good for your eye, but sometimes, when we do some sport, the glasses lenses maybe broken and hurt our eyes. So i suggest that you can take the 1.591 PC lens or 1.53 Trivex lenses, these two lenses are both plastic lenses.

anon71629
Post 8

Does anyone know who sells glass lenses as I am fed up with plastic.

anon63091
Post 7

Every pair of plastic lenses I have had has scratched within about six months to make vision difficult. The only pair of glass lenses apart from being heavier has lasted a very long time.

The person writing this article must be an optician. They have most to gain from short life plastic lenses and this includes polycarbonate.

anon60584
Post 6

"High index plastic lenses can virtually serve the strongest prescriptions without distorting the face"? Surely this is nonsense. Distortion of the face is purely determined by your prescription (the amount that light has to be bent for you to see correctly). Plastic vs glass has nothing to do with this.

anon58814
Post 5

This article is really bogus. Other than the weight factor, the advantages to glass are considerable in terms of vision and durability. Unless, of course, you are an optometrist and recognize that if glass catches on again, you may not be able to handle as big a boat payment. Ever notice that the highest quality sunglasses generally have glass lenses.

anon58472
Post 4

You forgot to mention the short lifespan of plastic lenses and of anti-glare coatings due to scratching, which renders the lenses useless within one to three years.

anon54969
Post 3

Your discussion of lenses is completely one-sided. You have not listed even one of the advantages of glass lenses. For instance, glass renders a sharper image, doesn't cause starbursts from headlights and street lamps, and doesn't scratch very easily.

anon52766
Post 2

Why are you implying that polycarbonate is not a plastic? It most definitely is a plastic. Even glass is considered a plastic in some circles.

anon46447
Post 1

Plastic lenses are *not* impact resistant. Polycarbonate lenses are. Plastic lenses are okay to use as safety lenses only if the center thickness is greater than 2.2 mm.

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