Selecting Frames

If you are buying glasses, choosing the type of frame is a major decision. In choosing frames, the main considerations are comfort, positioning, durability, appearance, and price.

How They Feel

The key points to check for comfort are the bridge of the nose and ears, where the glasses rest. Although trying on a frame for a minute or two may not reveal the discomfort that might occur with extended wear, that’s all you can do. Of course, getting glasses similar to ones you’ve already had limits your risk.

All things being equal, the lightest glasses are the most comfortable. These frames are usually made of plastic or thin metal, with smallish-sized lenses made of thin plastic.

If you are considering metal frames, keep several points in mind. Metal frames usually have a nosepiece of rocking pads (small adjustable plastic pads) that are unlikely to slip and easily adjusted. This is an advantage over plastic frames, which usually have a rigid nose support that varies in shape among manufacturers. But rocking pads, unlike a properly fitting plastic nosepiece, concentrate the weight on a small surface of the nose, which is uncomfortable to some people. If this is a problem for you, consider a model with an inserted molded plastic nosepiece instead of rocking pads. Metal frames are also likely to cause irritation on the ears.

How They Are Positioned

The main purpose of eyeglass frames is to position lenses to provide maximum visual acuity. Some frames may position lenses too far from your eyes, or too high or too low. If the frames slide down your nose, you won’t get the fullest benefit from the proper prescription lenses. The stronger your prescription, the more critical the positioning. If you wear your glasses for driving, sports, or other activities requiring peripheral vision, make sure the “temples” (the two side parts of a frame that extend behind the ears) are located above or below the eyes, not directly alongside them.

How Long They Will Last

Barring accidents, glasses should last three or four years, and many wearers want to change style at least that often. If you plan to keep the frames longer—or the frames get knocked around a lot—strength and durability are important. Both depend on the materials used to make the frames, their thickness, and the craftsmanship that went into them.

The strongest metal frames are usually made of titanium, with smooth welding wherever two pieces of metal are joined and flexible hinges.

The strongest plastic frames are made of nylon, but these tend to be thick, heavy, and plain in style. Among other plastic types, the strongest usually have at least moderate thickness, metal reinforcing within the full length of the temple (not needed in nylon or optyl plastic), and flexible hinges.

These are general guidelines. Some other types of frames may be quite durable, and some that meet these standards may be rather frail.

How They Look

Appearance and style are key considerations for most eyeglass wearers. In fact, a substantial number of frames are sold with clear nonprescription lenses to be worn just for effect.

As with anything else you wear, there is no best look for everyone. To look right, frames must suit the shape of your eyebrows and cheekbones, spacing of your eyes, height of your nose bridge, and size of your head. The conventional wisdom is that people look best in frames shaped differently from their face—square or oblong rims for round faces, round rims for square faces, and wide shallow oblong rims for narrow faces.

Consumers’ interest in style and brand names gives optometrists and opticians extra leverage for steering them to high-priced frames. The best approach is to try on a variety of frame styles and decide for yourself which few look best and feel comfortable. Then examine the price tags on your favorites. Chances are some will be relatively inexpensive. If not, take another look and ask the person assisting you whether the shop carries another cheaper frame that looks similar to one you like.

What Staff Recommends

The staff at an eyeglass outlet can be a valuable source of information about selecting frames. They can suggest models that can eliminate previous problems with comfort or positioning, and steer you away from models that might cause other problems. But always ask them to explain their recommendations, and be suspicious if they invariably recommend the higher-priced—and usually the most profitable—frames.

How Much They Cost

Frame prices vary tremendously. Prices for decent-quality frames range from less than $40 to more than $500.

Types of Lenses for Eyeglasses

In choosing lenses for your eyeglasses, you have many options.

One option is glass or plastic. The lighter weight of plastic lenses is a particular advantage for large-style frames or a strong prescription that requires a thick lens. The scratch-resistance of glass is a particular advantage if you frequently remove your glasses and slip them into your pocket, purse, or briefcase. Federal regulation requires both glass and plastic lenses to resist breakage from moderate impacts, but no lenses are unbreakable.

If you have a strong prescription for nearsightedness, you may prefer lenses made of materials that have a strong capacity to refract light. Such materials permit a thinner, lighter lens but cost more.

An increasingly popular choice for individuals who need multifocal lenses (bifocals or trifocals) but don’t want others to notice this sign of aging, is “progressive,” or “no-line,” lenses. But such lenses are more expensive than regular bifocals or trifocals, and require special care in fitting to avoid vision distortion.

Several types of lens treatments are available. One of the most popular options is a treatment to filter out ultraviolet (UV) rays, which contribute to the development of cataracts and may damage the retina. UV coating may appeal to you if your eyes are heavily exposed to UV radiation—for example, if you work or spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly at the beach or at high altitudes.

Another popular option is anti-reflective coating, which reduces reflection from your side. This is especially helpful if you do a lot of night driving.

Other options include: scratch-resistant coating; tints; polarizing lenses, which reduce glare from reflective surfaces such as water, snow, and glass; and photochromic lenses, which are activated by UV rays and darken as the sun gets brighter. However, because most car windshields block UV rays, this doesn’t work while you’re driving.

With all the possible features and add-ons, buying glasses almost seems like buying a car.

What’s more, some optical companies push these options harder than do high-pressure car salespersons. Although the add-ons are more legitimate than car dealers’ rustproofing treatments and paint protection packages, you have to be skeptical. If your glasses have not gotten scratched in the past, or if reflection has never troubled you, don’t let them pressure you into paying to fix something that isn’t broken.