Feature, Lenses, Products, Report

Demystifying lens coatings and treatments

The breadth of choice in lens coatings and treatments plays to the patient’s advantage, whether they are motivated by function, fashion – or both. Insight talks shop with lens manufacturers and dispensers about market trends and retail dynamics.

Lens coatings can undeniably enhance the durability, performance and appearance of sunglass or spectacle lenses, with patients spoilt for choice in an ultra-competitive market.

Anti-reflective, scratch-resistant, and anti-fog coatings, ultraviolet (UV) treatment, blue-light filters, polarisation and photochromic lenses are mainstays of the market, but with a continuous evolution of lens technology, there’s no telling what developments are on the horizon.

With Australia’s harsh summers and well-established evidence of the damage caused by long-term UV over- exposure, lens companies report that UV protection is in hot demand. So too are photochromic lenses, with more players entering this category, and focusing their efforts towards elusive younger markets.

The AntiFOG Kit from Zeiss ensures lenses stay fog-free for up to 72 hours.

New challenges associated with COVID-19 such as fogging glasses and digital eye strain are also presenting new opportunities for optometrists and dispensers to deliver the best outcomes for their patients while realising additional sales.

Investment driving R&D in the lens coating market isn’t showing signs of letting up either, as manufacturers continue with the roll out of new and existing products.

Anti-fog shoots into relevance

In recent times and in response to new consumer demands, Zeiss and Essilor have unveiled new products in the anti-fog market; Zeiss launched an anti-fog spray in October, and Essilor relaunched its Optifog lens to offer a new solution to prevent mask-associated lens fogging.

Essilor professional services director Mr Tim Thurn says anti-fog lens surface treatments are a “big thing” in the lens market at present, with demand soaring in line with mask- wearing protocols.

Tim Thurn

“Essilor’s original Optifog lens product needed a spray. With the re-launch of this product, Essilor has introduced a cloth to wipe the lens to activate its anti-fog properties – the activation cloth is the key difference from the original product launched in 2011,” Thurn says.

Essilor has filed two international patent applications for its Optifog system. According to the company, specific molecules in the Optifog Smart Textile microfiber dry cloth activate fog repellent properties in the Optifog lens hydrophilic top layers, providing immediate fog-free vision.

Hoya too has reported a surge in demand for anti-fog lens products. Mr Ulli Hentschel, national training and development manager, says fogging is typically an issue in European countries, where the outdoor temperatures can be more extreme than indoor temperatures in homes, workplaces or retail spaces.

Ulli Hentschel

“Lenses fogging up has not been such a big deal in Australia, because we don’t experience the extreme variations in temperature. But because of COVID-19, we are seeing a resurgence of popularity in anti-fog lens properties. We have organised supplies of anti-fog cloths for the local Australian market because demand is increasing,” Hentschel says.

Polarising opinions

Blue-light, photochromic and polarising lens treatments are also proving to be hot spots in the current market.

Marketing manager at Zeiss Vision Care, Ms Renay Lotz, says blue-light filtering products are still an expanding category.

“The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our lives – more time spent indoors, more home schooling with LED lights and screenwork – seems to fuel this category even more,” Lotz explains.

Renay Lotz

She says Zeiss’s DuraVision BlueProtect serves this market segment and is well perceived by eyecare practitioners and consumers around the globe.

“There are new products coming in this segment soon,” she adds.

Essilor and Hoya also offer blue-light lens filters, but both Thurn and Hentschel agree there is still a lot of speculation about the evidence to support blue-light products.

“We are currently running a campaign with independent practitioners to promote Hoya’s BlueControl – which is offered in combination with our flagship Diamond Finish anti-reflection coating. Blue-light filtering has been a hot topic in the industry, and there’s been a lot of conjecture about the evidence. Our key message with BlueControl is based on the sleep/ wake cycle, and there is evidence to support that,” Hentschel says.

Thurn says clinical studies on blue-light blocking will never be able to control for all variables for a definitive outcome on the question of retinal damage, but points to several that are investigating the other effects of blue light, from UNSW academics Dr Maitreyee Roy and Emeritus Professor Stephen Dain, to Emeritus Professor Arnold Wilkins from University of Essex who looked at colour, contrast and flicker.

Ultimately, Thurn says, there is ongoing research investigating the link between blue-light and digital eye strain as well as its role in oxidative stress in the retina.

Polarisation, however, is another segment of the market that is ripe for growth.

“The need for prescription sunglasses is enormous. According to our data, one in four customers get prescription sunglasses. Polarisation is growing but it has the potential to grow more,” he says.

Thurn says scratches, dust, reflection, smudges and UV light are the bane of lenses, and Essilor is continually trying to improve its coatings to eliminate these elements from detracting from clear vision.

Essilor was the first lens manufacturer to introduce double-layer coating in Australia combining hard coating and multicoat. It is the only lens company that has Cancer Council endorsement for its UV multicoat that offers an Eye-Sun Protection Factor (ESPF) of up to 50+.

Thurn says protecting eyes from UV damage while also designing a lens that can withstand harsh temperatures is part of Essilor’s current problem-solving agenda.

“We often hear of patients leaving their multicoat lenses on their car dashboard on a 40-degree day, which affects the lens. We did an experiment at our Sydney lab on a 35-degree day – and it was 80-degrees Celsius on the dashboard of the car; a coating will have a hard time at that intensity of heat,” Thurn says.

In another industry ‘first’, Lotz says Zeiss lead the way in offering full UV protection for all its clear plastic lenses with Zeiss UVProtect.

“This set the tone to improve protection for all spectacle lens wearers as more and more companies start to close their protective gaps, but most other companies still did not make it their default across all plastic lens materials,” she says.

Zeiss’s UV coatings range also includes Zeiss AdaptiveSun, sunglasses that adapt to changing light conditions, which change from dark to darker, and DuraVision Sun UV, an anti-reflective coating for sunglasses to reduce reflection on the back surface of the lens.

New faces for photochromic lenses

According to Lotz, variety and choice in photochromic lenses is catering to consumer needs and preferences with extra-dark varieties now being introduced. But the classic grey and brown varieties continue to represent more than 90% of the volume.

She adds: “There is an overall trend in photochromics that adapt to changes of light faster – a trend set by Zeiss PhotoFusion – for improved all-day use, such as when frequently changing from indoors to outdoors. Wearers prefer lenses where that change happens more quickly.”

Hentschel, at Hoya, agrees with this assessment. He says the number one feedback from Hoya’s market research about its photochromic lenses was based on reaction time.

“It’s a common thread in the market; consumers want Hoya Sensity photochromic lenses to go clearer quicker, and darker a bit faster too,” he says.

The company has listened to the market, launching Sensity 2 in October. Hentschel says the main driver of the new lens is it reacts faster when people come indoors.

Other variations available in the range include Sensity Dark – which delivers extra darkness as a reaction to UV and visible light, even behind a car window – and Sensity Shine, a mirror coating that is more intense in the light yet subtle when indoors.

“These novel approaches to photochromic lenses are a talking point for eyecare practitioners, they are designed to appeal to fashion-focused patients,” Hentschel says.

Mr Stuart Cannon, general manager Asia Pacific at Transitions Optical, has been with the company for 18 years and has seen a lot of changes in lens coatings in that time.

Stuart Cannon

He says Transitions was the first manufacturer to successfully commercialise plastic photochromic lenses.

“It’s a complex, innovative industry. There are more players in photochromic lens manufacturing now; it is an area of opportunity, companies are investing into research and development, and there’s more knowledge in this field. We know one product doesn’t fit all, and wearers have different needs,” Cannon says.

In April this year, the company launched Transitions Signature GEN 8, a photochromic lens that features faster fade back and is available in seven colours, allowing patients greater choice to suit their personal style.

Cannon says photochromic lenses have been successful among the presbyopia demographic, but the market has struggled to net younger, single-vision wearers.

The problem, he says, has been two-fold; a limited colour choice, and cost – younger people haven’t necessarily seen the value in photochromic lenses. But this is gradually changing.

“When you start to focus on younger wearers, you need to focus on health and wellbeing. They lead a digitally-connected lifestyle, and they want blue-light protection. Younger wearers have lifestyles that are now more aligned to photochromic lenses. The technology is much improved, and like Transitions Signature GEN 8 available in a range of colours, they can find a product to meet their lifestyle, and they start seeing value,” Cannon says.

Launched this year, Transitions Signature GEN 8 is a photochromic lens featuring faster fade back.

Competition in the market drives performance, he says, and the photochromic market needs to grow with new, younger wearers.

“Transitions lenses has a 95% re-purchase rate but there is still a long way to go in netting new wearers. Based on a consumer survey, only about 15% wear photochromic lenses but one in two say they are interested. There’s a massive opportunity for photochromic lenses, but we need to raise consumer awareness,” Cannon says.

At Essilor (Transitions is part of the Essilor group), Thurn agrees that the youth market is untapped. He says about 30-35% of patients wore glass photochromics, but in the plastic era, it’s between half to two-thirds of that figure.

One of the first players in the photochromic market was Rodenstock. In 1986, they launched their first generation of photochromic plastic lenses, Perfalit ColorMatic, led by Dr Herbert Zinner, who is now Rodenstock’s director of research and development for polymers and photochromics.

Last year Rodenstock introduced ColorMatic X-tra Fast in a 1.54 index which brought the 1.54 into line with the speed of the 1.6 and 1.67 indexes. A portfolio of ColorMatic IQ Sun 2 photochromic self-tinting lenses is also available in six colours that change from a 40 to 90% tint in fashion and contrast colours.

Ms Nicola Peaper, Rodenstock Australia’s national sales and professional services manager, says from an optometrists’ point of view, photochromic technology is a great addition.

“Traditional ‘clear to dark’ photochromic lenses are not always a replacement for sunglasses as these do not necessarily give glare protection in bright sunlight and will not give the degree of protection when driving that is achieved with a polarising lens.”

Nicola Peaper

Peaper says manufacturers are committing money and research to improving photochromics as they all want to be the fastest, darkest and most effective in climates with high temperatures, like Australia. She believes additions of photochromics in sun lenses is no less an exciting and under-developed area of research.

“Rodenstock have developed a superb consistency of colour regardless of the percentage of colour change. The contrast colours are a great substitute for reducing glare and give a lot more flexibility to traditional sunglasses with more comfort in a wider range of light conditions,” she says.

Rodenstock has also released a new coating, X-tra Clean, made up of extremely flexible molecular chains that boast streak-free cleaning, which has proven popular among patients in rural areas, Peaper adds.

A three-way conversation

Ms Virgilia Readett is a part-time dispenser at Specsavers Charlestown, near Newcastle, and part-time teacher at the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing (ACOD).

With more than eight years’ experience in dispensing, and qualifications in both dispensing and training and assessment, Readett is well-versed in the language of optical retail.

Virgilia Readett

In her experience, a three-way discussion between optometrist, dispenser and patient is crucial to setting up a successful lens sale.

“If the optometrist introduces the concept of lens treatments, the dispenser can explain how treatments differ, and how they would benefit the patient. The patient trusts recommendations, and it sounds less like a sales pitch,” she says.

“The best way to get the patient to understand the benefit of a particular lens treatment is if the optometrist starts the conversation, and then the dispenser can offer a tailored approach, by trying to ‘read’ the patient and letting them know all the options available.”

Readett uses a multi-pronged approach to explain and demonstrate lens enhancements. Her methods range from verbally explaining a lens enhancements qualities and benefits, showing patients an information brochure highlighting different in-store deals, using an iPad to demonstrate different lens enhancements with virtual simulated examples, or presenting physical lens samples, half with coating, half without.

Readett says different methods appeal to different personality types; some prefer tactile displays, others prefer to see simulation of different scenarios such as driving, yet others base their decision on price.

“It’s a matter of reading the customer you’re with, being across the full range of products, and staying up-to-date with industry developments,” she says.

The antithesis of a sales pitch

Ms April Petrusma is also a part-time teacher at ACOD and dispenser at The Eye Piece, an independent practice with two locations in Sydney.

Qualified in dispensing and training and assessment, Petrusma has seven years’ industry experience, a mix of corporate and independent practice.

“As a dispenser in an independent practice, we have access to a range of suppliers lenses to sell to patients, but the key is not to sell – not to make it sound like a sales pitch,” Petrusma says.

April Petrusma

She says an important factor in successfully selling – or upselling – lens coatings and treatments is to keep the patient informed and give the best optical result possible.

“It’s about making sure the customer knows the benefit of what they’d be getting. Ask the patient questions about their lifestyle, and based on that, make an informed decision about what lens coatings or treatments would benefit them most, and explain why,” Petrusma says.

“In an independent practice when you are dealing with patients in a one-on-one environment, they are looking for expert advice and recommendations. We build trust through a combination of rapport building, asking questions and offering product knowledge, which in turn leads to the patient trusting us and accepting our recommendations.”

Petrusma says The Eye Piece’s tailored approach to each individual starts with their hand-over system.

“We’re involved in the whole process from the start. I have an idea of what the patient needs before they see the optometrist. The hand-over following the eye examination is then an open discussion with the three of us about the patient’s history and their current needs, and I tailor my follow-up questions accordingly,” she says.

Petrusma says the most effective method to explain and demonstrate lens coating and treatments differs for every patient.

“Every patient is different, regardless of the environment you work in and you should never take a one size fits all approach. You need to know your patient and adapt your method for each individual based on their needs , whether it’s a lens sample they can touch, feel, see, or whether a diagram or simple verbal explanation will suffice,” she says.

“The key is always recommend and don’t make it sound like a sales pitch. That’s why they’ve come to see us, for our expertise and our knowledge. If we provide that, their trust is ten-fold.”

As national training and development manager at Hoya, Hentschel says they do a lot of work with practice and sales teams, to educate practice staff about coatings and their benefit to patients.

“Some lenses can cost $1,000 retail – naturally, customers want them to last. How those lenses perform makes a huge difference in how customers view lenses when the time comes to get their next pair of glasses,” he says.

In Hentschel’s experience, when it comes to lenses, and the benefits of better quality or coating, a lot of people will spend more on lenses, and less on frames.

Thurn, from Essilor, says educating practitioners and practice staff is paramount.

He says individual participation in Essilor’s online lens education programs has grown by 34% since the start of the year and the number of practices participating has risen 24%.

“We’re increasing the amount of available training material dramatically, recently adding two videos on blue-light filtering lenses, and guides for dispensers, including conversation starters to help guide discussion towards consumer benefit,” Thurn says.

“We’re teaching eyecare practitioners to treat the patient as a whole. The patient is looking for information and advice; it’s a conversation, let that guide the patient.”