Are progressive lenses right for you? Everything you need to know.

Channelling Dame Edna

You may have seen on Instagram that I have some pretty funky new glasses. They’ve had almost unanimous praise. The only detractor is Mr Maven who thinks they’re a bit Dame Edna. Pah.

There are so many options when it comes to choosing lenses for your spectacles, it can be overwhelming. Here's everything you need to know about switching to progressive lenses.

This is a new look for me, and also a totally new way of seeing, as I’ve taken the leap from single vision lenses to progressive lenses. They’re a game changer.

I know some people are nervous about wearing them. The questions I’ve been asked on social media range from the practical to the obscure, including:

  • Can I go straight from single vision lenses to progressives without trying bifocals first?
  • How are progressive lenses different from Varifocals, bi-focals or tri-focals?
  • Will they make me feel sick?
  • Aren’t they just for old (sic) people?


As a kind teacher once told me, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

And now folks, I have all the answers, thanks to a LOT of help from my amazing optician. Salim from Eye Emporium helped me compile the answers to these and many more questions, designed to help you make the right choice of lenses for your lifestyle.

The small print

I need to caveat all this by stating the bleedin’ obvious.

I am not a qualified optician or optometrist (nope, I don’t know the difference, but that isn’t important right now). You need to consult an experienced optician to discuss all the options before making a decision. And find one who offers a guarantee.

Look into my eyes

I visited Eye Emporium in London to buy new frames. They travel the world, visiting all the big exhibitions to source unusual frames from French, Japanese and Danish manufacturers, as well as the big fashion designers. They have frames unlike any you’ll see in the big high street chains.

There are so many options when it comes to choosing lenses for your spectacles, it can be overwhelming. Here's everything you need to know about switching to progressive lenses.

I wasn’t expecting to have an eye test as I’d taken my prescription with me, but Salim quite rightly decided to check if it was up to date.

Let me tell you not all opticians are created equal.

I have never been asked so many lifestyle questions – about my daily activities, how I sit, how much I drive, use the computer, watch TV and what else I do in my spare time. He gave me a book and asked me to show him my reading position.

I was a bit taken aback by the line of questioning, but of course once we started discussing my lens options it all made sense. I have been using four separate prescriptions – one for reading, one for long distance, and then the same again in sunglasses. I had to take three pairs on holiday – bonkers!

Salim explained that progressive lenses could cut that down to one (if I went for transitions, the ones that become darker in sunlight).

He then took me through all the sight and eye-health tests using the most advanced equipment I’ve ever seen. My usual high street optician still uses those heavy metal frames to put various lenses in.

“Is it clearer now, or now? With this lens, or with this lens?”, you know the drill.

Eye Emporium’s equipment was all computerised. Even the glaucoma testing machine – the one with the puff of air that makes your eyes water – was bearable.

There are so many options when it comes to choosing lenses for your spectacles, it can be overwhelming. Here's everything you need to know about switching to progressive lenses.

Your questions answered

So here’s what I’ve learned about progressive lenses. You can thank me later:

What are progressive lenses?

Progressive lenses are variable focus lenses, which to the outside world look the same as single vision lenses. One prescription enables you to see clearly at all distances.

What’s the difference between progressive lenses and Varifocals?

Simple one this. They’re the same. Varifocals is a brand name, so Varifocals is to progressive lenses what Hoover is to vacuuming. I’ll stick to the generic name.

What’s the difference between progressive lenses and bifocals/trifocals?

With progressive lenses the transition from distance to middle to reading distance is seamless and, well, progressive. Bifocals and trifocals have visible lines in the lenses, so your eyes have to adjust above and below the line.

Progressive lenses are the modern, more advanced equivalent of bifocals and trifocals.

What should I consider when choosing between single vision and progressive lenses?

If you only need glasses for working/sitting at a computer, you probably need single vision or occupational lenses. An occupational lens allows you to see everything around your work station. Single vision lenses give you the clearest focus at a particular distance, for example your book or computer screen. 

If you have more than one prescription – in other words one for work, another for driving – progressive lenses might be a good alternative to having several pairs of glasses.

Can anyone wear progressive lenses?

If you have a lot of astigmatism, it might be more difficult for you to adapt to progressive lenses. Most lens manufacturers offer a guarantee, so you can try out the lenses for a period of time (my guarantee was 30 days) and if they don’t suit you, you can swap them for single vision lenses.

Progressive lenses might not be the right option for you for other reasons, like your occupation or lifestyle – all things that your optician should discuss with you during your eye test.

Are progressive lenses just for older people?

As we age, particularly after the age of 40, most of us have trouble seeing small print clearly and our near vision gets weaker.

My long vision seems to get better with age. Salim said that with glasses my long vision is better than perfect. I’m practically bionic. But take off my specs and give me my phone and I’ll be calling the emergency services by accident before you can say ‘presbyopia’ – which by the way, is the age-related loss of near-focusing ability.

Progressive lenses certainly aren’t just for older people, but presbyopia is a condition that will affect most of us midlifers.

What is the difference between the various progressive lenses on the market?

My lenses are from Zeiss. They come with UVProtect Technology which protects my eyes and the delicate, wrinkle prone skin around my eyes from UV light. So they offer the same protection as sunglasses but without the dark tint.

The more expensive, premium lenses widen the field of vision for the wearer. Bespoke, good quality lenses have less distortion in the peripheral part of the lens. The cheaper the lens, the smaller the lens area that provides clear vision.

What are the potential side effects of wearing progressive lenses?

Typical, short term side effects include nausea and feeling unsteady. Some report a sensation of the floor coming up towards them, and straight lines looking curved.

I was advised to wear my new glasses for just a couple of hours for the first few days, increasing the time a little each day, until by week two I would be wearing them as often as I liked.

However, I’m impatient and don’t listen to advice, so I wore them with impunity as soon as I left the store. I didn’t feel nausea, but I did feel weirdly tall, and going down the escalator gave me a very strange sensation, unless I bent my head down to look through the middle part of my lenses. Looking down, without moving your head, while you’re on the move, is not a good idea.

It also took me a while to find the ‘sweet spot’ while I was working on my computer. But the beauty of progressive lenses is that the sweet spot is there, providing the best possible vision for every distance. You just need to find it.

Most people will adjust to progressive lenses within two weeks, but give them a month if you’re not sure.

Do you have any tips for adjusting to progressive lenses?

Apart from using them for an incremental amount of time each day, Salim advises that you wear them while at home, in a familiar environment and watch TV, while every now and then glancing at a book or laptop. The book will help you adjust to your reading distance, the laptop to middle distance and the TV to further away. Keep practising.

What happens if I can’t adjust to my new lenses?

Make sure your lenses come with a guarantee. If you don’t feel comfortable with your progressive lenses, talk to the optician. You might just need a simple adjustment. If not, a guarantee will usually entitle you to replacement lenses, so you can revert to single vision or bifocal lenses, at no extra charge.

How often should I get an eye test?

Everyone should get an eye test every two years at least. However if you suffer from headaches, high or low blood pressure, glaucoma or blurred vision you should have an eye test at least once a year.

A tailored service

Once I’d chosen my frames, I stood in front of a mirror, while a digital measuring device worked out the distance between my pupils, my eye dominance and scanning movements, along with measurements relating to my specific frames. All of this information went into creating the perfect bespoke glasses just for me.

I am totally used to my progressive lenses now and love the freedom they give me. I just keep them on all the time. I’m considering my next pair already, which will include transition lenses to wear in the sunshine.

There are so many options when it comes to choosing lenses for your spectacles, it can be overwhelming. Here's everything you need to know about switching to progressive lenses.

Are you tempted? Do you already wear progressive lenses? How do you get on with them. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything.

Much love, Vx

[Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with Eye Emporium, who created the perfect pair of glasses for me. My thanks go to Salim and the team at the Swiss Cottage branch who could not have been more helpful and lovely.]

There are so many options when it comes to choosing lenses for your spectacles, it can be overwhelming. Here's everything you need to know about switching to progressive lenses.