So, things are pretty terrible right now. The world feels like a dumpster fire that spread to the bed of a garbage truck before setting the entire landfill ablaze. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious or generally irritable, that’s perfectly natural, and there are plenty of tried-and-true methods you can use to lift your spirits: talk to a therapist, get in a good stretch, maybe turn on a soothing podcast. But what if there was something simpler, more immediate, and less expensive than that mail-order CBD subscription of yours? What if you could just throw on a pair of sunglasses and suddenly feel better, calmer, happier?
That’s the promised voodoo behind the first collection from Futuremood, a Bay Area eyewear brand that launched earlier this week. All of their sunglasses feature specially tinted lenses—using a new technology called Halochrome, developed by the German lens savants at Zeiss—that purportedly alter your mood by manipulating light and color.
There are four colors (or “auras,” as Futuremood likes to call them) to choose from, each one designed to elicit a specific feeling: green is for relaxation; red provides energy; yellow offers focus; blue refreshes your mind. The effect, Futuremood co-founder Michael Schaecher alleges, “is less subtle than CBD, but more subtle than caffeine.” The brand’s extremely extra website markets its wares, somewhat regrettably, as “wearable drugs.”
When Futuremood’s initial press release landed in my inbox, I rolled my eyes so hard that I altered my own mood. But then I looked around at the granola self-care habits I’ve developed, particularly as the days in isolation wear on: I meditate, I drink expensive vegan superfood shakes, I listen to corny Louise Hay affirmations on YouTube. Were Prozac sunglasses that different? If they could ease my existential angst—even by a fraction, even by placebo—then why not give ’em a shot? So I asked Futuremood to send me a few pairs.
What I received were three pairs with the red, blue, and yellow lenses. (Disappointingly, I didn’t get to test green—the “relax and soothe” aura—which I assume Futuremood expects to sell the most of right now.) Despite the techno-crunchy sales pitch—and the complimentary incense in the boxes—the glasses themselves don’t look gimmicky. They come in two frame styles: a classic, Moscot-esque keyhole shape and a chunkier clout goggles situation—all fashioned using top-notch Japanese acetate and gold-plated German hinges. The glasses also do shield your eyes from the sun: all of the lenses have full UV protection, along with anti-glare, anti-scratch, and water-resistant coatings. (Amusingly, the mood-shifting claims are powerful enough to warrant a note that warns not to wear them while driving—wouldn’t want to be too alert or calm on the road.)
I spent a few days testing all three pairs indoors and out—around 30 to 45 minutes at a time, which is how long Futuremood recommends before giving your eyes a break. To answer your question in as unsatisfying a way as possible, the glasses did…something. Did I feel the specific effects that Futuremood ascribed to each color—energy for red, focus for yellow? Not always, not exactly. But each of them yielded novel and, I guess, pleasing sensations. The blue lenses helped to balance out and color correct my apartment’s distinctly yellow, drab overhead lights I’ve been working under for two months now. The yellow pair made everything look a little bit like a Fincher movie: a mildly heightened sense of reality, with the contrast dialed up to 11.
The biggest trip of all were the red frames, which turned everything a searing crimson. It was legitimately disorienting at first, like waking up on an alien world or, as Schaecher puts it, “an underground Berlin club at three in the morning.” This certainly gave me a jolt at first, but more in a panicky my-edibles-just-kicked-in-hard way than a welcome double-shot-of-espresso one. Once I relaxed into the experience, though, it evened out to something akin to an amusing, low-grade lucid dream. I could see them maybe being fun to wear at, say, a music festival, if those ever actually happen again.
Whether or not the Futuremood glasses actively improved my energy is tough to say, but all three shades I tested absolutely put me at a slight remove from my everyday life—which felt nice for a little while. I did feel a soothing buzz during and after my wear tests. I think?
Dr. Ivan Schwab, the director of cornea services at the UC Davis Medical Center, isn’t arguing with the effects, though he doesn’t think it has anything to do with Halochrome™. “I think this falls more in the realm of psychology than it does in optics,” Dr. Schwab told me when I asked if there’s any scientific basis for the claims Futuremood makes about its lenses. The studies Futuremood cites, he said, are largely proprietary tests conducted by Zeiss. But in his view, it comes to how your brain—a product of nature and nurture—interprets color.
“The question I have is: Do other societies—completely different societies, like Amazonian tribes, for example—do they have the same psychology for colors as we do?” he says. He shrugged when I asked if they were some form of dangerous. As long as they had proper UV protection, there’s no harm. Besides to Dr. Schwab’s sense of style: “Those red ones, well, they might shock Elton John, for heaven’s sake.”
Are Futuremood’s sunglasses really combating the compounding anxieties that 2020 keeps hurtling our way? Probably not. But I do find myself reaching for them throughout the day, as I ramble around my apartment. I’ll take all the mood-altering I can get right now.