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Come to the Dark Side

Sep 01, 2018 12:00AM ● Published by Brian Saucedo

By Kelsey Casselbury

It’s been years since eyeglasses that darken in the sunlight hit the market, but now technology has gone one step further—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved contact lenses that automatically darken when exposed to bright light. The lenses, which will eventually be sold under the Acuvue brand name, have reportedly been in development for more than 10 years and went through clinical trials involving nearly 1,000 people, says parent company Johnson & Johnson. 

This new technology could be super-convenient for the 40 million or so Americans that wear contact lenses and can’t seem to keep track of a pair of sunglasses. However, the product won’t hit the market until the new year. The actual technology is proprietary, so no one outside the company can be 100 percent sure how it works. Experts say that the lenses likely contain a photochromic additive that adapts the amount of visible light that’s filtered to the eye in accordance to the amount of UV light to which the lenses are exposed. Once you’re back in normal or dark lighting conditions, the lenses return to their regular tint. 

In theory, the contacts won’t have an impact on the color of your eyes, unless you’re blessed with ultra-baby blues. In that case, you might notice a slight darkening of your eye’s natural color when the lenses auto-darken. And, of course, there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). There’s no research yet on whether these darker lenses can protect your eyes from UV rays, which can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, and other health issues. Therefore, until those studies are done, you probably want to keep a pair of sunglasses on hand if you’re going to be in the sun for a significant period of time. In other words, you’re not going to be able to go sunglasses-free on the beach, but you never know what new technology is around the corner. 

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