Buying new eyeglasses can feel overwhelming due to the slew of coatings, tints and special lenses available these days. Do you really need to pay up for all these bells and whistles for healthy vision?

The fact is, prescription lenses are essentially just two pieces of plastic surrounded by a frame. If you want them to function at maximum capacity and last as long as possible, you probably need to enhance them with some customizations.* Below, optometrist Jeffrey R. Anshel, OD, tells us what’s essential and what’s not…

Coatings You Probably Need

Most people will want to get both of the following coatings…

• Antireflective coating. With an ultrathin antireflective (AR) coating, your vision will be crisper, with less glare from room lights and fewer distortions, such as halos around headlights at night. This coating will also reduce the reflections others see in your glasses, making your eyes more visible and improving eye contact. For example, if a TV newscaster didn’t have AR-coated glasses, bright studio lights would reflect in his/her lenses. In addition, an AR coating, which can make computer work more comfortable, will help reduce that “coke bottle” look—reflections in lenses can cause the lenses to appear thicker than they are.

Good to know: AR coatings are constantly improving. Big-box chains often use older technology because it’s less expensive, while an eye-care professional in private practice will be more likely to offer the most recent technology. Request at least a one-year warranty. If the coating on your lenses is peeling off…if they seem chronically smudged…or if you notice crazing (cracks), you need a new AR coating. The latest AR treatments are spot-resistant and easily cleaned.

Add-on cost: About $50 to $100.

• Scratch-resistant coating. As mentioned earlier, most of today’s eyeglass lenses are made of plastic, which is much lighter and softer than glass. Scratch-resistant treatment prevents scuffs and marks that can occur when dropping, storing or even cleaning your glasses. Tip: For best results, request this treatment on the front and back of the lenses.

Add-on cost: About $50.

Worth Asking About

Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or other sources produces radiation that can be harmful to the eyes—it’s been linked to cataracts, retinal damage and skin cancer on the eyelids. If you spend any time outdoors without UV-blocking sunglasses or work in an environment in which UV light is prevalent, your glasses should provide protection from UV light. Most prescription lenses (regular lenses or sunglasses) now come with UV protection, but be sure to ask if it’s included. If not, the extra cost can be around $20 to $100.

You Might Want to Consider

• Transition lenses. These lenses offer the convenience of not having to switch back and forth from sunglasses to regular glasses. They  darken quickly when going out into the sun (it takes about 30 seconds), but take about five minutes to lighten up when going indoors. Transition lenses won’t get as dark as traditional sunglasses, especially in a car. These lenses absorb UV light, so they have UV protection built-in.

Add-on Cost: About $50 to $150.

• Polarized lenses. Outdoor buffs (boaters, skiers, hikers, etc.) and people who drive a lot love polarized sunglasses, which cut the glare from smooth, reflective surfaces like lakes, snow and roads. “Polarized” does not mean “UV light–blocking,” so be sure to get both. Because polarized lenses reduce glare, there’s no need to add an AR coating to these lenses. Note: The polarizing film can make it hard to see smartphone and computer screens.

Also: Cataracts can make eyes sensitive to light, and polarized lenses help reduce this sensitivity.  Some people use polarized lenses after cataract surgery as well, because the eyes are sensitive to light for a few weeks after the procedure.

Add-on cost: About $100.

Fashion Lenses

• Tinted lenses. Tinted glasses (blue, green, pink and, the latest fad, yellow) are a popular fashion trend right now. The deeper the tint, the more it will affect color perception, so you may not be comfortable using tinted glasses for all activities. Note: Yellow-tinted glasses can block damaging blue light (see below).

Add-on cost: About $35.

• Mirrored lenses. The highly–reflective coating of mirrored lenses lets in less light than other sunglasses—you’ll see a gray or brown tint from inside—so they’re good for people with sensitive eyes, but they do scratch easily. A mirrored coating can be applied to any lens—prescription or not.

Add-on cost: About $100 to $150.

Do You Need Blue-Blockers?

High-energy visible (HEV) blue light—emitted by smartphones, tablets, computers, LED television and fluorescent lighting—has been shown to disrupt sleep by preventing the release of melatonin, a hormone in the body that helps regulate sleep. Blue light from electronics and fluorescent lighting has also been linked to eyestrain and headaches. Blue-blocking lenses, with their yellow or amber tint, are thought to reduce the amount of blue light entering your eyes. The lens itself can be tinted or a coating can be applied.

My take: Blue-blocking glasses aren’t necessary for most people.

Exceptions: Blue-blockers can help people who have eyestrain, dry eye or headaches from working for long periods on a computer or under fluorescent lights. And if you have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss, you might want to try them for your regular glasses and sunglasses. Blue light in large doses can damage the retina, which is already deteriorating in AMD.

Sleep disruptions from blue light can be minimized by stopping use of electronic devices about two hours before bedtime.

Blue-blockers do distort color, so they’re typically not appropriate for people working on computer graphics. But they now come in lighter tints that distort color less and do reduce glare, so some people like them for driving.

It might cost about $35 to add the blue-blocking tint, but it may be offered as part of a lens package.

*Many of these options can be combined and could be included in a lens package for one price. Prices listed here will vary depending on your location in the US. Check with your eye doctor or optician for advice. 

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