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What’s In an Eyeglass Frame?

We often hear people say they are shopping for a ‘new face’ when choosing eyeglass frames. Glasses change our whole look, emit a personal style, make a statement and can even make us feel a little more confident. Yet all those good feelings and the great look can be ruined by a pinching here, a rubbing there, or an allergic reaction to the frame substance. Let’s take a look at what frames are made from and the benefits of each material.


Zylonite, or cellulose acetate, is used as a film base in photography, in adhesives, cigarette filters, playing cards and eyeglass frames. Zylonite is exceptionally economical to manufacture, lightweight and very receptive to a wide array of colors. Cellulose acetate propionate is a cousin to zylonite, but nylon based and presents a hypoallergenic option. It is still very lightweight, in fact more so than zylonite. Plus, propionate seems to produce better transparency and a higher gloss. The drawbacks for any plastic frame are fairly obvious. They are easier to break, the plastic can melt or burn, but will not ignite. Age and increased exposure to UV rays can cause colors to fade, and decrease the strength of the plastic just a little.


Monel is a very popular material for eyeglass frames, as well as in aircraft construction, in marine applications, musical instruments, and even military identification tags. It is composed of up to 67% nickel, copper, iron and other fillers. That high nickel content can definitely cause problems for many wearers, but a solid coating of palladium can help. The main benefits of Monel are its corrosion resistance (hence the use in marine settings) and its pliability.

In recent years titanium has become a very popular material for eyeglasses, mostly for its durability. Of course, it is also extremely lightweight, hypoallergenic, strong, and resists corrosion. Yet some wearers with a high level of acidity in their skin find titanium frames tarnish over time. Beryllium is a great alternative, as it bears all the benefits of titanium, as well as being highly flexible, and able to resist tarnishing – even when exposed to a salt water environment for extended periods.

Then there is stainless steel. A great alternative to titanium, and when nickel free, are also hypoallergenic. In general, stainless steel frames are affordable, lightweight, and have a low toxicity. For the most part, the steel used in eyeglass frames has up to 30% chromium content, which is what gives it qualities of corrosion, abrasion and heat resistance.

Aluminum is yet another popular material for eyeglass frames, particularly among high-end designers. It shares the same corrosion and strength qualities as stainless steel, but is also nonferrous. Having little to no iron content means aluminum frames are much lighter in weight than stainless steel. Designers love using aluminum because of its sleek look, but the iconic cat eye frames of the 1950’s are probably the most memorable examples.


There are a collection of other materials emerging as distinctive choices for eyeglass frames. Gold and silver accents or plating can be found in some designs, but as both alloys are so heavy the content is kept to a minimum. Hardwoods have emerged as a popular material for frames as well. Of course they will be less flexible for adjustments, stiff and highly expensive, but the look is amazing. Buffalo horn is also available, and apparently warms to your body temperature with wear.

Eyeglass frames are a personal statement, but more importantly they are a necessary piece of equipment that must suit your daily lifestyle in every way. Choose carefully and practically.