Given the bevy of research showing the harmful effects of artificial light1 — in particular, violet and blue 2— it makes sense the companies and entrepreneurs have populated the market with blue-blocking glasses.
The interactive line graph below is by no means an all-encompassing list of all the blue-blocking glasses on the market, but it does represent some of the more popular blue-blocking options available. It’s best viewed on desktop. If you’re on mobile, flip your device to landscape to view it better.
So, how do you read and interact with this line graph? The y-axis tells you how much light transmits or goes through a lens. The x-axis tells you the nanometer (nm) range. You can hover over any data point to get the name of the glasses or tint and how much light is transmitted to the eye. Clicking on the arrows in the bottom-right corner will let you cycle through the legend for the various glasses and tints. Clicking on any glasses or tints in the legend below the x-axis will bring it into focus.
Seeing a pair of glasses or tint as a flat line on the x-axis means it’s blocking 100% of an artificial light range from hitting the retina or has 0% light transmittance (the y-axis).
This is the visible spectrum.
Given that the interactive line graph above only allows so much customization, I generated a still image of the graph that notes colors for wavelength banks. Going left to right, we have violet, blue, green, yellow and then orange. I didn’t include red as almost all glasses and tints evaluated level off at 600 nm.
Per my article on blue light and health, it’s worthwhile to block artificial violet and blue light at all times. Bare minimum, you should block the 380–450 nm range (violet) during the day and the 380–495 nm range (violet and blue) during the night. If you want maximum melatonin production at night and the best protection of your circadian biology, take it a step further and block green (495–570 nm), too.
Another way to look at the data from the interactive line graph above is to plot it as a table, seen below. Hitting the plus sign will give you prices and comments for each pair of glasses or tints. You can sort by columns and search by any criteria in the table.
You could divide this table into two types of blue blockers, i.e., daytime glasses (such as BluTech, Gunnar Optiks and Ra Optics Daytime Yellow) that block portions of the violet and blue light spectrum vs. nighttime glasses (such as Uvex, Carbonshades and Ra Optics Nocturnal Red) that block all of the violet and blue spectrum, and either none, some or all portions of the green and yellow spectrum.
Want to check either blue blockers or blue-blocking software (like Iris or f.lux) to make sure they’re truly blocking blue and green? Look at the boxes below. The one on the left is blue but should appear black. The one on the right is green, but should appear dark gray or black.
Let’s move on to the best daytime and nighttime blue blockers on the market. I took into consideration performance as well as price.
Best Daytime Blue Blockers
These block 100% of violet light and 100% of blue light up to 450 nm. They’re great for daytime use as they’re blocking the most retina-damaging portion of violet and blue light, while still allowing a portion of blue to come through for color-sensitive work you may need to do. Pricing starts at $70 for tinting only and $129 and up for glasses with the tint. Use coupon code JASON for 10% off at checkout.
These don’t effectively block all violet light and they start letting in blue light 50 nm earlier than the Ra Optics Daytime Yellow, making them not nearly as effective. While their starting price point is competitive with Ra Optics Daytime Yellow (at $69, $1 cheaper), adding a prescription ups the price to $219 ($19 more expensive than most Ra Optics pairs of glasses with a prescription).
For those self conscious, BluTechs have the least jarring tint—a light brown—whereas the first and second place mentions have a strong yellow coloring, almost resembling skeet-shooting glasses. With BluTechs, even more violet and blue light is let in than Gunnars. Also, BluTechs get pricey fast for two reasons: one, you have to already have a pair of non-plastic glasses to use and then, unless you have great vision insurance, the process of bonding the BluTech tint to your glasses is going to probably start at $129 and up. It should be noted that BluTech now has four tints (they used to only have one, which we can assume was BluTech classic), so their newer tints could be better, but no spectrum charts are currently available.
Best Nighttime Blue Blockers
As of now, these can’t be beat. Ra Optics’ Monochrome offering not only blocks 100% of violet, blue, but green and yellow, too. Add in the fact that the pricing is no different for this melatonin-preserving tint than any of their other pairs, and it’s a great offering. Use coupon code JASON for 10% off at checkout.
Carbonshade was one of the first on the market to not only block all violet and blue, but green as well. They’re knocked to second place by Ra Optics because Ra Optics offers 30 nm more of light blocking (in the yellow range) and while Ra Optics offers standard readers, prescription glasses and custom styles (you can even send your own frames and lenses), Carbonshade has four set styles.
Seriously, what a value. These average about $8 on Amazon and block all violet and blue light. They almost block all green as well, too. They have two drawbacks, though: the contrast on them is very poor and if you wear glasses, you have to place your glasses over these, which can be slightly awkward.
If you’ve read an article on blue blockers prior to this one, it probably mentioned Uvex Skypers. They are, without a doubt, the most well-known blue blockers, and with a price that averages anywhere from $10-$13, they’re often the entry pair of blue blockers people buy. Skypers block all violet and blue light and a decent portion of green. There’s even a S0360X model that will fit over your glasses.
Why Make Your Own Blue Blockers?
Above, we covered many ready-to-buy options. However, they suffer from problems, such as
- Many don’t allow you to use your glasses prescription, so you either have to lay glasses on top or under these kinds of blue blockers. An exception to this is Ra Optics.
- Some manufacturers don’t publish their spectrum chart, leaving you to rely on online reviews and test yourself.
- They don’t allow you to customize your frames style, leaving you stuck with whatever design the manufacturer provides. Again, the exception is Ra Optics.
- They don’t account for use case, i.e., you might want a custom tint for a particular situation or time of day.
- Cost. You can easily spend $200+ on a single pair of Crizal Prevencias that don’t block 100% violet or blue light, or you can spend less than $150 to buy all the equipment below to make multiple pairs of more effective blue blockers for yourself, friends and family members.
It’s a cost-benefit analysis, i.e., you can definitely get a pair of effective blue blockers based on the top picks I featured above and will obviously be saving time and labor. However, if you’re a DIY-er or think you’ll be making multiple pairs of blue blockers that require prescription lenses, then you’ll save more money with the DIY method below.
What You Need
Cost will vary depending on what supplies you have and what grade of equipment you buy. You can calculate based on the prices I list below.
- Electric burner ($13.75 and up)
- Glasses with CR-39 plastic lenses with no-to-minimal coatings, e.g., UV blocking and nothing else ($6.95 and up at Zenni Optical)
- Lens holder ($24.68)
- Empty container, e.g., paint can ($5.33 and up)
- Gram analog or digital scale ($9.99 and up)
- Preferred BPI tint(s) ($29.95/tint and up)
- A stirrer (a spoon or kebab stick will do)
- A small bowl filled with cool tap water
- Two tissues
- Analog or infrared thermometer ($5.60 and up)
Getting the Lenses Ready
The first thing we have to do is get those lenses out of the frames. I like working with full-rim frames as it makes this easy. All you have to do is apply some pressure with your thumb and the lens will pop out. You have to use a little force but don’t worry — CR-39 is very tough plastic. Let’s start with the right lens.
Before repeating this process with the left lens, make sure you are aware of where you’re setting the right lens as you don’t want to get the two lens mixed up if each has its own sphere, cylinder and axis values.
Now pop the left lens out.
If you’re working with lenses with different values, place something like a piece of tape on the right side of the lens holder to indicate the right lens. After that, place the lenses in the lens holder and push down to clamp them into place. Tip the lens holder to the side to make sure they’re snug and won’t fall out.
Prepping the Tint Solution
Weneed to figure out how much tint to use. Place your empty container (in my case, a paint can) on your scale and drop the lens holder into the container. Make a visual note of how far from the base of the container you have to go vertically until you reach the top of your lenses.
Once you’ve done that, take the lens holder out of the container and fill the container with tap water so that it goes about 25% higher than your visual note. Will the water is pouring, make a final note of the weight (I used 400 grams).
Once you have your water in the container and made a note of the weight, it’s time to add the tinting solution. We want to dilute the tint by 10, to give a 10:1 water-to-tint ratio. Since I had 400 grams of water, I poured in 40 grams of tinting solution. After you pour the tint, give it a stir so the water and tint are mixed together.
Lens ready. Tint solution ready. Time to turn up the heat. Make sure you do the do the next part in a well-ventilated area or outside.
Place your container of tinting solution on your electric burner. Crank the heat to max. Step away a couple of minutes and come back. Check the solution temperature with a thermometer. Once you get to 175°F or more, lower the burner heat to medium-high (4 to 3 on my burner).
Give the solution a stir and submerge your lens holder. Start your timer and set it for the appropriate time per the instructions on the tint bottle (45 minutes is needed for UV-Blue 450/Winter Sun). While the lenses are cooking, fill a bowl or container with cool tap water (it needs to be deep enough to completely submerge the lenses).
While BPI claims you need to stir the solution often, you really don’t. Unless you get a rolling boil, you can simply stir it once or twice.
Be sure to check how your lens are doing every 10 minutes or so. If you notice that your lenses are starting to get exposed because too much of the solution has evaporated, pour in some more water and a tiny amount of tint and give it a stir. It’s OK to eyeball this. If you end up doing this, add an additional minute or two to your cook time to compensate for the dip in what was a consistent temperature.
Important note: This is why I said at the beginning to pour more water than you think you’ll need as it evaporates during the cooking process. However, I wanted to have the tip above in case you come out to check on your lenses and go, “What do I do?”
Cooling, Cleaning and Assembling
Almost done. Once you’re timer rings, turn off the burner, take the lens holder out of the container and immediately submerge the lens holder in your bowl or container of cool water.
How long do the lenses need to completely cool and finish setting the tint? Honestly, I’m not sure. My guess is probably only five minutes, but it’s better to err on the side of caution and let them sit in the cool water for 30 minutes.
Once the lenses are cool, take them out of the solution. You may notice a blotchy, non-consistent look before cleaning with deeper tints like Diamond Dye 500/550— that’s normal. Dry and clean them by rubbing them with a tissue, making sure to keep track of which is the left and which is the right.
Last steps. Push the appropriate lens into the correct side of the frame.
You’ll have to use even more force than you did to pop them out. Once the lenses are snug in the frames, you’re done!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How did you come up with this tinting process?
A: A Facebook friend, JJ Yeo, tested out the BPI Diamond Dye 500/550 tint and shared his results with me and others. I tweaked his process and used different supplies. I tested this out on three sets of glasses with three tints to make sure it could be duplicated consistently before writing this article.
Q: I got my box of supplies from BPI. I noticed they call for a lot more steps and supplies. Did you leave out steps?
A: Yes, my instructions do not match BPI’s 100%. BPI normally sells to opticians that tint large quantities of glasses in big vats. You’ll only be making a pair of glasses or two at a time, so my guide will work for you. My guess is BPI wants to sell additional products. There’s no need to use their lens prep product as having new, clean, plastic lenses means they’re already “prepped.” BPI does not talk about diluting their dyes, but I’ve tested out three pairs of glasses and can assure you, a 10:1 water-to-tint ratio is fine. If you didn’t do that, you’d be going through a bottle of tint per pair of glasses.
Q: Do I have to use CR-39 plastic lenses? Can I use polycarbonate lenses?
A: You don’t have to use CR-39 plastic lenses, but they’re the cheapest and absorb tints most effectively. I’ve never tested polycarbonate lenses, but have been told by opticians that they don’t absorb tints very effectively (plus, they will cost more than CR-39s). Rule of thumb: Get the cheapest plastic lens you can.
Q: Do lens coatings really matter?
A: Yes. The more coatings you put on a lens, the less tint the lens will absorb. Most companies (like Zenni Optical) put a UV-blocking coating on all lenses by default. That’s OK. All three pairs I’ve made have had that and it didn’t throw off the tinting process.
Q: But I really want anti-reflective coating. I can use that, right?
A: Sorry, but any additional coating (other than standard, UV-blocking coating) will cause the BPI tint not to adhere. A reader let me know they tried to make a pair of BPI-tinted glasses using lenses with anti-reflective (AR) coating and the BPI tint didn’t adhere. So, it bears repeating: get no additional coatings on your lenses.
Q: Did you cover all tints BPI offers?
A: No. I was more concerned with blocking violet, blue and green light and which tints had the best daytime and nighttime applications. The BPI website lists all the tints available and this PDF goes over some of their more popular tints and includes spectrum charts. From my own experiment and talking to others that have used BPI tints (this includes optometrists, doctors and bio-hackers), I believe I narrowed the BPI tints down to the most effective ones, i.e., Winter Sun/UV-Blue 450, Diamond Dye 550 and Monochrome.
Q: I have plenty of tinting solution left in the can. Do I have to clean it out right away or can I reuse it?
A: Yes, you can reuse it. This makes total sense if you’re using the same tint over and over again on different pairs of glasses. I’ve left the tinting solution in the can for several weeks, reheated it and made another set of glasses in the same tint. Just make sure you have enough solution to submerge the lenses completely and account for what will evaporate during the cooking process.
Q: If a tint or lens only absorb a certain percent of, say, the blue spectrum, is that still affecting my circadian rhythm and RPE cells?
A: Yes. Unless something is blocking 100% of a particular nanometer (nm) range, light from that spectrum is still hitting your retina, so it will have an effect. Now, the effect will be lessened if only 30% is getting through versus, say, 100%, but there will still be an effect, whether it be phase shifting/re-tuning3 and/or destruction of RPE cells.4
Q: What is your personal protocol for blocking blue light?
A: I use this red tinting trick on my iPhone to eliminate both blue and green light at all times. I also have a Low Blue Lights filter on the phone for the times I need to let some green light out to see particular text.
During the workday I only use a single lamp in my office (no overhead fluorescent lights), use Iris (set somewhere between 0-1000K, depending on work needs) and wear glasses with the Winter Sun/UV-Blue 450 tint (I used to use BluTechs but found they let in too much RPE-damaging violet and blue light). I make sure to get outside in the sun as often as I can and take off my glasses so natural, full-spectrum sunlight is hitting my retina.5
At night, I use amber, red bulbs and/or candles in my house. If I’m out with friends after dark or exposed to artificial light, I wear either DEWALT DW0714s or glasses with the BPI Diamond Dye 550 tint.
It boils down to this: I follow natural light and dark cycles. That means maximizing natural sunlight exposure during the day (as best I can given I have an office job) while minimizing violet and blue light exposure, and keeping things as dark as I can at night, letting only the yellow, orange and/or red spectrum in if I have light sources.
Q: You mentioned that the retina has the highest concentration of DHA and talked about how important DHA is. Does that mean I can simply take a lot of fish oil pills and not worry too much about blocking violet and blue light?
A: DHA delivered via seafood is much more bioavailable than pills.6 And if you block violet and blue light from damaging your retina, it’s preserved in your body and you don’t need to continually top it off.7 What’s more work for your body? Preserving what it does have and not bombarding it with damage or letting the damage take place and then trying to fix it? The answer should be self evident.
- “Blue light has a dark side,” Harvard Medical School, September 2, 2015.
- Gianluca Tosini, Ian Ferguson, and Kazuo Tsubota, “Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology,” Molecular Vision 22 (2016): 61-72.
- Logan Roberts et al, “Light Evokes Rapid Circadian Network Oscillator Desynchrony Followed by Gradual Phase Retuning of Synchrony,” Current Biology 25, no. 7 (2015): 858-867.
- Kirk Smick et al, “Blue Light Hazard: New Knowledge, New Approaches to Maintaining Ocular Health,” Essilor of America, Inc (2013): 1-12.
- M. Nathaniel Mead, “Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health,” Environmental Health Perspectives 116, no. 4 (2008): A160–A167.
- Carter Litchfield, “Predicting the positional distribution of docosahexaenoic and docosapentaenoic acids in aquatic animal triglycerides,” Lipids 3, no. 5 (1968): 417-419.
- Daniel T. Organisciaka and Dana K.Vaughanb, “Retinal light damage: Mechanisms and protection,” Progress in Retinal and Eye Research 29, no. 2 (2010): 113-134.