<Update November 30, 2012 - Bottom line is anti-reflective coatings do work, but you don't need to pay a lot extra to get it from places like Costco or Zenni>
Since I just got back from Lenscrafters, and the optometrist was saying that I should really get anti-reflective lenses (anti-glare) to replace my current lenses, I figured it was worth doing a bit of research. While I was at the store, I decided not to get them because the lenses suggested were around $275 and my insurance benefit won't pay for new lenses for another year. Also, my prescription hardly changed from last year so I didn't think it made sense to pay that much money just to get anti-reflective lenses.
So - what did I find out about these lenses? A lot of different opinions out there - most of them not very helpful.
First I came across an article reporting that anti-reflective lenses had typically only been available on glass lenses. However, Lenscrafters came out with a plastic anti-reflective lense which they would be promoting to try to improve their market share. It was one of the first plastic lenses that would have anti-reflective coatings and be anti-glare that could be made in an hour, so it was perfect for lenscrafters. My first reaction was thinking that was the reason the optometrist recommended it - just pushing one of their own products. Then as I looked more carefully at the news article, I realized it was from 1998. Clearly it isn't the newest thing for Lenscrafters to be pushing. At that time they were called "Invsibles" claiming 90% less light reflections and glare than standard lenses. In that article, the prices were quoted as between $130 and $250.
Next I thought maybe I should just look at the Lenscrafter's website. I found a nice comparison page there
. I first realized that I misspelled "featherwates" in my other article here - as I spelled them featherweights. It appears that Lenscrafters sells two different versions of their anti-reflective lenses. They have the Superview 1.67 (AR) and the Featerwates Complete. Based on their chart, they claim that both anti-reflective lenses are better at being easy to clean, reducing reflections, reducing reflected light during night driving, and reducing eye strain when using the computer. I'm guessing this is why the optometrist had asked me if I saw glares or halos around lights when driving - both of which I said "no". I've never noticed problems from reflected light or glare with my glasses. The chart also indicates that the difference between the Superview and the Featherwates Complete is that the Featherwates are better for being durable, scratch resistant, and offering protection while playing sports.
This information opens up an entirely new topic for discussion - maybe an article for another day - that is high-index lenses, which is what the Superview 1.67 appears to be.
So, back to the purpose of this article - what are the advantages of anti-reflective coatings and are they really worth it. There wasn't much information that I could find on Lenscrafters site, so I kept looking for an answer.
I found several articles about anti-reflective lenses, and I don't think they were all just propoganda for the product. Several comments on websites were by eye care specialists, such as optometrists. The few comments that seemed pretty consistent is that anti-reflective coatings do work. They significantly reduce the amount of light that gets reflected off of the lense. By reducing the amount of reflected light, you get much less glare as well as more light passing through the lens.
Unfortunately, after much searching, I couldn't find anything that I would consider to be really good research on the benefits of anti-reflective lenses. The closest I could find was this article
. The article compares four different kinds of lenses to see which people liked the best. They had plain plastic lenses, plastic lenses with anti-reflective coating, transition lenses (I believe these are lenses that get dark when exposed to bright light), and finally transition lenses with anti-reflective coating. I wasn't able to tell from the article whether it was actually published anywhere other than on the website. Most valid scientific research would get published in a peer-reviewed journal. This article is only published on a website which is created to promote one of the products in the study. Not surprisingly, the study found the transition lenses with anti-reflective coating was the most preferred lense. I think the potential for bias is way too high in this study to put much weight into it. However, there was a group where they compared plastic lenses to plastic lenses with anti-reflective coating. I am guessing the Transitions people aren't also promoting an anti-reflective coating, which means the data from that group may be more believable. In that study group, 72% of people preferred having an anti-glare coating and 28% of people preferred not to have the coating. That's a pretty big difference, but obviously some people still like the traditional lenses without an anti-reflection coating.
Reading people's comments on different websites, it seems that the majority of people who have anti-reflective lenses really like them. They report much less bothersome reflections and glares in dim and dark situations, with night driving being a particular situation commented upon. It is also felt that frequent computer users will have less eye strain with a non-reflective lense.
The other big issue, which I probably over-discount, is that people say that anti-reflective lenses look better. There is much less reflection seen on the lenses themselves, so people can see your eyes and face more clearly. Some people commented that it looks like they aren't even wearing a lense in their frames. They say that for people on TV it may make the biggest difference. Something to think about if you have nice looking eyes that you don't want to hide in any way.
As for the cost and where it is best to get anti-reflective lenses, I can't really say. Where I could find information, people seemed to suggest that the anti-reflective coating will add around $45-60 for the lenses.
As I do a lot of computer work and I wear my glasses all of the time, it may be worth that cost for anti-reflective lenses (not the $275 I would have had to pay today though).
If anyone has additional information on this topic, I'd love to read what you have to say.