Defocus Media: What You Need to Know About the Science of Photochromic Lens Technology

Laura Askew, Product Manager and an Engineer on the Transitions Optical Research

With the launch of Transitions® Signature® GEN 8™ this past July, it’s the perfect time to explore the technological advances in photochromic lenses and what makes this new lens so different. Our podcast guests are Catherine Rauscher, the Global Director of Business Innovations at Transitions Optical and a twenty-year industry veteran, and Laura Askew, a Product Manager and an Engineer on the Transitions Optical Research and Development team whose responsibility is bringing new products to the marketplace. 

“Ten years ago we were selling Transitions® Signature® VI, and at the time it was the best-selling photochromic lens in the marketplace,” explains Askew. When designing Transitions® Signature® VII, they focused on making the product more reactive than prior generations.  The research and development team innovated new photochromic molecules that were more reactive to reflected light and indirect light. The product launched in 2014 to great success.  Since that time they’ve been doing intensive consumer market research. For Transitions Signature GEN 8 they really focused on speed – both speed to darkening and speed back to clear.  “We had to work on not only improving the photochromic molecules to improve speed, but also the coating matrix that they sit in.  Both of them work together to provide the performance benefits for wearers.” 

In today’s world, consumers are used to instant gratification, whether it’s a service or a wearable device. But there’s a scientific reason that Transitions® lenses don’t darken and clear immediately like a light switch going off and on. “Think about how your eye adjusts to changing light. Your pupil doesn’t instantaneously expand and contract, it gradually changes,” Askew explains. The lens technology is designed to gradually change in an assistive way to how the brain and eye are wired. If the lens changed instantly from fully dark to fully clear, it would feel very unnatural and uncomfortable to the eye.

Catherine Rauscher, Global Director of Business Innovations at Transitions Optical

There are other photochromic lenses available on the market, but Transitions Signature GEN 8 is the top performing lens available, backed by extensive patient market research. “It’s so important to us to really understand feedback from consumers, but also opticians and optometrists,” Rauscher shares. “On [Transitions Signature GEN 8] it’s so exciting because Transitions Signature VII already had a 97% satisfaction rate* and very high repurchase rate.” With such a successful lens as their starting point, the team was tasked with improving upon a very high mark, and market research shows that in patients that previously wore Transition Signature VII and have now tried Transitions Signature GEN 8, eight in ten were less bothered by light1.  “That’s how we know we’re on the right path to providing solutions and meeting patient’s needs.” 

With last year’s launch of Transitions® Signature® lenses style colors and Transitions® XTRActive® style mirrors, the perception of Transitions lenses as being for older patients has really started to change. “The need for light management and the idea of light sensitivity is universal,” Rauscher explains. “If we talk to people of all age ranges, they will say,’Yes, I’m light sensitive’ if we ask them. The idea of having solutions that are convenient, stylish, and still fit into [a patient’s] lifestyle, and giving them the best vision they can possibly have, that’s really what we’re looking for! It’s about managing the moments of any given day and still looking cool while you do it.  Who wouldn’t want that?” 

How do you help your patients make the decision to experience this lens technology? “You can’t underestimate how important it is for an eyecare professional to make a recommendation to the patient directly, especially if they wear the technology themselves,” Askew advises. Giving patients authentic stories about how the technology works for you as a doctor or optician as you go through your day can really connect the function of the lens to real-life performance and relief. 

How do photochromic lenses come to market? 

The Transitions Optical Research and Development team consists of more than 100 employees over 3 different continents, speaking over 20 languages. They break the work into 3 major buckets:

1. New Photochromic Molecules

The team uses computer modeling to design new molecules to respond and change to light.

2. New Coating Formulations

This team designs the best coating formulations that will allow the molecules to adjust and react, but also protect the surface of the lens.

3. Process Applications

This team is charged with finding the best way to get the photochromic molecules onto dyes and finishes on the lens, and design the most effective way to manufacture the lens materials. 

What’s Next? 

Rauscher and Askew drop that the next innovation in Transitions lenses technology is right around the corner. Look for Transitions® Signature® GEN 8™ style colors to launch in the first quarter of 2020!

Transitions Academy is a great place to learn about the new product launches, and get industry leading training on the innovative science behind lens design and marketing strategies.  Go to TransitionsPro.com for eyecare practitioner resources to learn about growing your practice with the best optical solutions. 

* Source: Transitions Signature Gen 8 Wearers Test, Nationwide US, Kadence, Q1 2019