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“Glasses” can also be the plural of “glass“.
“Spectacles” redirects here. For other uses, see Spectacle (disambiguation).

A modern pair of prescription glasses with a half rim design.

French Empire gilt scissors glasses c.1805

Glasses (also called eyeglasses or spectacles) are frames bearing lenses worn in front of the eyes, normally for vision correction, eye protection, or for protection from UV rays.

Modern glasses are typically supported by pads on the bridge of the nose and by temples placed over the ears. Historical types include the pince-nez, monocle, lorgnette, and scissors-glasses.

Eyeglass lenses are commonly made from plastic, including CR-39 and polycarbonate. These materials reduce the danger of breakage and weigh less than glass lenses. Some plastics also have more advantageous optical properties than glass, such as better transmission of visible light and greater absorption of ultraviolet light.[1] Some plastics have a greater index of refraction than most types of glass; this is useful in the making of corrective lenses shaped to correct various vision abnormalities such as myopia, allowing thinner lenses for a given prescription. Newer plastic lenses, called izon, can also correct for the higher order aberrations that naturally occur in the surface of our eye.[citation needed] These lenses create sharper vision for the people who have problems with sight and help with the halos, starbursts, and comet-tails often associated with night time driving glare.[citation needed] Wavefront guided LASIK surgery also corrects for the higher order aberrations.

Scratch-resistant coatings can be applied to most plastic lenses giving them similar scratch resistance to glass. Hydrophobic coatings designed to ease cleaning are also available, as are anti-reflective coatings intended to reduce glare, improve night vision and make the wearer’s eyes more visible.[2]

CR-39 lenses are the most common plastic lenses due to their low weight, high scratch resistance, and low transparency for ultra violet and infrared radiation. Polycarbonate and Trivex lenses are the lightest and most shatter-resistant, making them the best for impact protection,[1] though polycarbonate offers poor optics due to high dispersion, having a low Abbe number of 31.

Not all glasses are designed solely for vision correction but are worn for protection, viewing visual information (such as stereoscopy) or simply just for aesthetic or fashion values. Safety glasses are a kind of eye protection against flying debris or against visible and near visible light or radiation. Sunglasses allow better vision in bright daylight, and may protect against damage from high levels of ultraviolet light.

History of eyeglasses


Detail of a portrait of Hugh de Provence, painted by Tomaso da Modena in 1352

The earliest historical reference to magnification dates back to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 8th century BC, which depict “simple glass meniscal lenses“. The earliest written record of magnification dates back to the 1st century AD, when Seneca the Younger, a tutor of Emperor Nero, wrote: “Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe or glass filled with water”.[3] Emperor Nero is also said to have watched the gladiatorial games using an emerald as a corrective lens.[4]

Corrective lenses were said to be used by Abbas Ibn Firnas in the 9th century,[5] who had devised a way to produce very clear glass. These glasses could be shaped and polished into round rocks used for viewing and were known as reading stones. The earliest evidence of “a magnifying device, a convex lens forming a magnified image,” dates back the Book of Optics published by Alhazen in 1021. Its translation into Latin in the 12th century was instrumental to the invention of eyeglasses in 13th century Italy.[3]

Sunglasses, in the form of flat panes of smoky quartz, protected the eyes from glare and were used in China in the 12th century or possibly earlier. However, they did not offer any corrective benefits.[6]

Invention of eyeglasses

The ‘Glasses Apostle’ by Conrad von Soest (1403)

Around 1284 in Italy, Salvino D’Armate is credited with inventing the first wearable eye glasses.[7] The earliest pictorial evidence for the use of eyeglasses, however, is Tomaso da Modena’s 1352 portrait of the cardinal Hugh de Provence reading in a scriptorium. Another early example would be a depiction of eyeglasses found north of the Alpes in an altarpiece of the church of Bad Wildungen, Germany, in 1403.

Many theories abound for who should be credited for the invention of traditional eyeglasses. In 1676, Francesco Redi, a professor of medicine at the University of Pisa, wrote that he possessed a 1289 manuscript whose author complains that he would be unable to read or write were it not for the recent invention of glasses. He also produced a record of a sermon given in 1305, in which the speaker, a Dominican monk named Fra Giordano da Rivalto, remarked that glasses had been invented less than twenty years previously, and that he had met the inventor. Based on this evidence, Redi credited another Dominican monk, Fra Alessandro da Spina of Pisa, with the re-invention of glasses after their original inventor kept them a secret, a claim contained in da Spina’s obituary record.[8]

Seated apostle holding lenses in position for reading. Detail from Death of the Virgin, by the Master of Heiligenkreuz, ca. 1400-30 (Getty Center).

Other stories, possibly legendary, credit Roger Bacon with the invention. Bacon is known to have made one of the first recorded references to the magnifying properties of lenses in 1262,[9] though this was predated by Alhazen‘s Book of Optics in 1021.[3] Bacon’s treatise De iride (“On the Rainbow”), which was written while he was a student of Robert Grosseteste, no later than 1235, mentions using optics to “read the smallest letters at incredible distances”. While the exact date and inventor may be forever disputed, it is almost certain that spectacles were invented between 1280 and 1300 in Italy. These early spectacles had convex lenses that could correct both hyperopia (farsightedness), and the presbyopia that commonly develops as a symptom of aging. Nicholas of Cusa is believed to have discovered the benefits of concave lens in the treatment of myopia (nearsightedness). However, it was not until 1604 that Johannes Kepler published in his treatise on optics and astronomy, the first correct explanation as to why convex and concave lenses could correct presbyopia and myopia.

Later developments

A portrait of Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas, 1580–1645

The American scientist Benjamin Franklin, who suffered from both myopia and presbyopia, invented bifocals in 1784 to avoid having to regularly switch between two pairs of glasses.[10] The first lenses for correcting astigmatism were constructed by the British astronomer George Airy in 1825.[10]

Over time, the construction of spectacle frames also evolved. Early eyepieces were designed to be either held in place by hand or by exerting pressure on the nose (pince-nez). Girolamo Savonarola suggested that eyepieces could be held in place by a ribbon passed over the wearer’s head, this in turn secured by the weight of a hat. The modern style of glasses, held by temples passing over the ears, was developed in 1727 by the British optician Edward Scarlett. These designs were not immediately successful, however, and various styles with attached handles such as “scissors-glasses” and lorgnettes remained fashionable throughout the 18th and into the early 19th century.

In the early 20th century, Moritz von Rohr at Zeiss (with the assistance of H. Boegehold and A. Sonnefeld[11]), developed the Zeiss Punktal spherical point-focus lenses that dominated the eyeglass lens field for many years.

Despite the increasing popularity of contact lenses and laser corrective eye surgery, glasses remain very common, as their technology has improved. For instance, it is now possible to purchase frames made of special memory metal alloys that return to their correct shape after being bent. Other frames have spring-loaded hinges. Either of these designs offers dramatically better ability to withstand the stresses of daily wear and the occasional accident. Modern frames are also often made from strong, light-weight materials such as titanium alloys, which were not available in earlier times.

Modern Developments in the UK In 1958 The General Optical Council was created by Parliament in 1958 through the Opticians Act.

Before the Opticians Act, optometry and dispensing optics were not regulated professions. It was not until after the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948 that the then Health Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland set up a Committee to determine whether a regulatory body should be created.

Some of the major high street opticians nowadays are Dollond & Aitchison, Boots Group, Specsavers & Vision Express. In 2005 Prescription glasses were sold online for the first time thus giving people the chance to bypass high street opticians and buy their glasses directly from the manufacturer, usually paying far less. Major firms in the online glasses industry today are Next Vision, Glasses Direct, Specsavers and Select Specs.



Seattle skyline as seen through a corrective lens, showing the effect of refraction.

Corrective lenses are used to correct refractive errors of the eye by modifying the effective focal length of the lens in order to alleviate the effects of conditions such as; nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) or astigmatism. Another common condition in older patients is presbyopia which is caused by the eye’s crystalline lens losing elasticity, progressively reducing the ability of the lens to accommodate (i.e. to focus on objects close to the eye).

The power of a lens is generally measured in diopters. Over-the-counter reading glasses are typically rated at +1.00 to +3.25 diopters. Glasses correcting for myopia will have negative diopter strengths. Prescription lenses, made to conform to the prescription of an ophthalmologist or optometrist, are used to make prescription glasses, which are then verified correct using a professional lensmeter.

Pinhole glasses are a type of corrective glasses which do not use a conventional lens and are claimed to help correct the eye’s refractive error without introducing the image distortion of traditional lens-based glasses.


See also: Eye protection

Safety glasses are usually made with shatter-resistant plastic lenses to protect the eye from flying debris. Although safety lenses may be constructed from a variety of materials of various impact resistance, certain standards suggest that they maintain a minimum 1 millimeter thickness at the thinnest point, regardless of material. Safety glasses can vary in the level of protection they provide. For example, those used in medicine may be expected to protect against blood splatter while safety glasses in a factory might have stronger lenses and a stronger frame with additional shields at the temples. The lenses of safety glasses can also be shaped for correction.

Safety glasses with side shields

The American National Standards Institute has established standard ANSI Z87.1 for safety glasses in the United States, and similar standards have been established elsewhere.

OSHA provides guidance on the type of safety eyewear that should be used for a particular application.

Some safety glasses are designed to fit over corrective glasses or sunglasses. They may provide less eye protection than goggles or other forms of eye protection, but their light weight increases the likelihood that they will actually be used. Modern safety glasses tend to be given a more stylish design in order to encourage their use. Corrective glasses with plastic lenses can be used in the place of safety glasses in many environments; this is one advantage that they have over contact lenses.

There are also safety glasses for welding, which are styled like wraparound sunglasses, but with much darker lenses, for use in welding where a full sized welding helmet is inconvenient or uncomfortable. These are often called “flash goggles”, because they provide protection from welding flash.

Worker safety eyewear is available in various lens colors and/or with coatings to protect or enable eyesight in different lighting conditions, particularly when outdoors.

Nylon frames are usually used for protection eyewear for sports because of their lightweight and flexible properties. They are able to bend slightly and return to their original shape instead of breaking when pressure is applied to them. Nylon frames can become very brittle with age and they can be difficult to adjust.


Main article: Sunglasses

Sunglasses may be made with either prescription or non-prescription lenses that are darkened to provide protection against bright visible light and, possibly, ultraviolet (UV) light. Photochromic lenses, which are photosensitive, darken when struck by UV light.

Light polarization is an added feature that can be applied to sunglass lenses. Polarization filters remove horizontally polarized rays of light, which can cause glare. Polarized sunglasses allow wearers to see into water when normally glare or reflected light would be seen. Polarized sunglasses may present some difficulties for pilots since reflections from water and other structures often used to gauge altitude may be removed, or instrument readings on liquid crystal displays may be blocked.

Yellow lenses increase color contrast and improve depth perception. Brown lenses are common among golfers, but cause color distortion.[citation needed] Blue, purple, and green lenses offer no real benefits to vision enhancement, and are mainly cosmetic.[citation needed] Some sunglasses with interchangeable lenses have optional clear lenses to protect the eyes during low light or night time activities and a colored lens with UV protection for times where sun protection is needed.

Sunglasses are often worn just for aesthetic purposes, or simply to hide the eyes. Examples of sunglasses that were popular for these reasons include teashades and mirrorshades.

3D glasses

The illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface can be created by providing each eye with different visual information. Classic 3D glasses create the illusion of three dimensions when viewing specially prepared images. The classic 3D glasses have one red lens and one blue or cyan lens. 3D glasses made of cardboard and plastic are distributed at 3D movies. Another kind of 3D glasses uses polarized filters, with one lens polarized vertically and the other horizontally, with the two images required for stereo vision polarized the same way. Polarized 3D glasses allow for color 3D, while the red-blue lenses produce a dull black-and-white picture with red and blue fringes.

One kind of electronic 3D spectacles uses electronic shutters, while virtual reality glasses and helmets have separate video screens for each eye. A 3D effect can also be produced using LCD shutter glasses.[12]

Reading glasses

Magnifying lenses or generic spectacles that are used to treat mild presbyopia and hyperopia can be bought off the shelf. The use of individual prescriptions as determined by a qualified optician results in better optical performance of reading glasses.

Bifocals, trifocals and progressive lenses

As people age, their ability to focus is lessened and many decide to use multiple-focus lenses, bifocal or even trifocal to cover all the situations in which they use their sight. Traditional multifocal lenses have two or three distinct horizontal viewing areas, each requiring a conscious effort of refocusing. Some modern multifocal lenses, such as progressive lenses (known as “no-line bifocals”), give a smooth transition between these different focal points, unnoticeable by most wearers, while other glasses have lenses specifically intended for use with computer monitors at a fixed distance. People may have several pairs of glasses, one for each task or distance, with specific glasses for reading, computer use, television watching, and writing.

Extreme magnification (bioptics)

A form of glasses with extreme magnification to improve the distance vision of those with severe eyesight impairment, especially people with albinism, are known as bioptics or a bioptic telescope. They may take the form of self-contained glasses that resemble goggles or binoculars, or may be attached to existing glasses.


United States senator Barry Goldwater in horn-rimmed glasses.

Glasses can be a major part of personal image and expression, from Groucho Marx and Buddy Holly to the extravagance of Elton John and Dame Edna Everage.

For some celebrities, glasses form part of their identity. United States Senator Barry Goldwater continued to wear lensless horn-rimmed glasses after being fitted with contact lenses because he was not recognizable without his trademark glasses. British soap star Anne Kirkbride had the same problem: her character on Coronation Street, Deirdre Barlow, became so well-known for her big frames that she was expected to wear them at social gatherings and in international tours, even though Kirkbride has always worn contact lenses. Comedian Drew Carey continued to wear glasses for the same reason after getting corrective laser eye surgery. British comedic actor Eric Sykes, who became profoundly deaf as an adult, wears glasses that contain no lenses; they are actually a bone-conducting hearing aid. Masaharu Morimoto wears glasses to separate his professional persona as a chef from his stage persona as Iron Chef Japanese. John Lennon wore his round-lens ‘Windsor’ spectacles from some of his time with the Beatles to his murder in 1980. The rock band Weezer is known for some of the members wearing thick-rimmed glasses.

Browline glasses were the standard for men in the 1950s and 1960s.

In popular culture, glasses were all the disguise Superman and Wonder Woman needed to hide in plain view as alter egos Clark Kent and Diana Prince, respectively. An example of halo effect is seen in the stereotype that those who wear glasses are intelligent or, especially in teen culture, even geeks and nerds. Some people who find that wearing glasses may look ‘nerdy’ turn to contact lenses or laser eye surgery, especially under peer pressure.

Another unpopular aspect of glasses is their inconvenience. Even through the creation of light frames, such as those made of titanium, very flexible frames, and new lens materials and optical coatings, glasses can still cause problems during rigorous sports. The lenses can become greasy or trap vapour when eating hot food, swimming, walking in rain or rapid temperature changes (such as walking into a warm building from cold temperatures outside), reducing visibility significantly. Scraping, fracturing, or breakage of the lenses require time-consuming and costly professional repair, though modern plastic lenses are almost indestructible and very scratch-resistant.

Rimless style

Three-piece rimless and semi-rimless glasses are common variations that differ from regular glasses in that their frames do not completely encircle the lenses. Three-piece rimless glasses have no frame around the lenses, and the bridge and temples are mounted directly onto the lenses. Semi-rimless (or half-rimless) glasses have a frame that only partially encircles the lenses (commonly the top portion). When the style was first introduced in the 1930s, lenses were screwed directly to the front of the frame; most modern variations feature the lenses held inside of the frame by high strength nylon wire,[13] although the semi-rimless style has been around since at least the 1940s. A rare and currently noncommercial variation are rimless and frameless glasses attached to a piercing at the bridge of a wearers nose.[14] Such glasses have the visual look of the pince-nez.


Spectacle lenses are edged into the frame’s rim using glazing machines operated by ophthalmic technicians. The edging process begins with a trace being taken of the frame’s eye shape. In earlier days the trace was replicated onto a plastic pattern called a former. Nowadays the process is patternless and the shape is sent to the edger electronically.

The lens, in the form of a round uncut,[clarification needed] is positioned in the correct manner to match the prescription and a block is stuck to the lens and that block fits into a chuck in the edging machine. A diamond-coated wheel spins as the edger replicates the frame’s eye-shape to the uncut lens. A V-shaped bevel is applied to allow the edge of the lens to fit into the frame rim.