Why Do My Glasses Always Seem to Have Smudged Lenses?

Our faces are essentially small, leaking oil tankers. But how do you fix the problem?

It’s a curse all glasses wearers bear: The smudged lens. Even without the fogging caused by wearing a mask, without warning, without provocation, without mercy, glasses wearers discover the eyewear they use to see has suddenly gotten grubby or smudged, sometimes while they’re being worn. It seems utterly impossible, but it happens all the time to the four-eyed, who can feel like they’re spending nearly as much time cleaning them as using them to see. Although there is an answer to this age-old mystery, you’re not going to like it: The problem is that people put glasses on their faces.

Now, you might be asking, but don’t glasses have to go there? The answer is yes. As it turns out, glasses lose virtually all their efficacy when they’re not placed in front of the eyes. Unfortunately, like so much of the human body, faces are disgusting.

If you’re a glasses wearer who’s had the misfortune of accidentally picking up your specs by the lens, you’re intimately familiar with the greasy, opaque fingerprint you leave when doing so. It’s courtesy of the oil-producing sebaceous glands that are located throughout your skin. The oil is called sebum, and it’s technically a good thing: It helps moisturize skin, and it also forms a protective layer over your body that helps keep out viruses, bacteria and other dangerous microbes. 

But on the not-so-great side of things, when these glands get blocked, the sebum builds up and causes acne. You know how people usually get acne from the neck up? It’s because your face has the highest concentration of sebaceous glands on your body, up to 6,000 per square inch. Wherever your glasses are touching your skin — the bridge of the nose, the back of the ear — they’re getting greased up. Microscopic particles of this oil are also getting flung from your face onto your glasses over the course of the day because our heads are essentially leaking oil tankers. 

Similarly, your body produces sebum to lubricate hair follicles to keep them hydrated, so your eyelashes can smudge your lenses, and if you’re the type to occasionally store your glasses on the top of your head, you might as well be dunking them in vegetable oil. Meanwhile, if you happen to have other substances on your face beyond your natural body grease, it’s all going to contribute to the filth. Whether you’re putting on moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup or are even just sweating, trace amounts are going to accrue on your lenses. 

Remember in the early days of the pandemic when doctors told us to avoid touching our faces with our hands, and you suddenly realized you touch your face all the time? Your fingers also have microparticles — or sometimes very obvious particles — of dirt or food or dust or other gunk on them, which can also get transferred to your eyewear. And hey, ever hear that dust is mostly mode of the dead skin cells people shed? That’s a myth, but it’s still a fact that we all slough off more than 30,000 dead skin cells every minute, and those are going to build up on your lenses, too.

But normal dust is also a problem! Just because you and your glasses are moving around all day doesn’t mean they’re getting some magic protection from it (the same way ceiling fan blades get dirty over time, even if they’re being used full-time). Like every other object in existence, your glasses collect dust… but also microparticles of pet dander, pollen, smog, food, dirt and everything else that causes grit and grime. The reason your glasses are dirty all the goddamned time is because everything is getting them dirty, including you — especially you — every minute of every day. 

So the best way of keeping those glasses clean is by hermetically sealing them in an airtight container and never, ever wearing them. Otherwise, make peace with the fact that the price of seeing clearly is cleaning them frequently. Your quickest fix will always be to give them a rubdown with a microfiber cloth. For a more thorough cleansing, start by washing your hands so you don’t inadvertently rub more gunk on them in the process. Rinse the glasses in lukewarm water (hot water can damage some lenses), then put a single drop of dishwashing liquid on both sides of both lenses, and rub it in with your fingers. Rinse them off, shake off whatever moisture you can and finish up by drying them with the aforementioned microfiber cloth.

Just don’t forget to clean your frames occasionally, too, since they also collect your various face greases. You can give them a rubdown at the same time as your lenses, but it’s even more effective to give them a once-over with some sort of disinfecting wipe, especially the parts that directly touch your skin. Then you can truly enjoy perfectly clean glasses… until they inevitably get smudged again, most likely later that day. 

Have you ever thought about contact lenses?