Why do we wear sunglasses? Perhaps when we were younger, we thought they looked cool. And they did. They still do. But more and more, we are looking at sunwear as not only a fashion accessory, but also as a health necessity. The sun that does damage to our skin, causing sun burn, age spots, wrinkles and even cancer, also can wreak havoc on our eyes. Again eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration have a direct connection with UV-damage to the eyes. Similar to the effect of sun damage on the skin, sun damage to the eyes is cumulative, meaning it’s never too early to start wearing sunglasses, but also to a point, some damage has already been done.
Research from The Vision Council, a non-profit trade organization for the optical industry, shows that although Americans are more aware of sun damage and the threat that UV rays pose on our visual health, we still are not protecting our eyes as much as we should. Although half of all baby boomers always or often practice sun safe eye health (53%), nearly 23% report rarely or never wearing shades. This is a pretty significant number, especially when we consider how easy protecting our eyes is: WEAR SUNGLASSES. Wear them every time you go outside during the day.
But is it this easy? How do you know that your sunglasses are working, and how do you select the best sunglasses to purchase? Let’s look at a few of the myths about sunglasses, and find out the truth about selecting your next pair of shades.
Myth #1: All sunglasses have UVA and UVB protection
Despite the health risks of UV exposure, not all sunglasses have UV protection. Since UV protection is crucial to shielding eyes from damaging radiation, it is imperative to look for a label, sticker or tag indicating UV protection before purchasing a pair of sunglasses.
Myth #2: Sunglasses with UV protection are expensive
You do not have to pay a premium price to get proper UV protection. Just be sure to purchase your sunglasses from a reputable retailer, regardless of price or retail location. Price will vary depending on the brands you prefer, your lens options, and any other add-ons, such as a prescription lens. Also, be sure to protect your purchase by using a glasses case when you are not wearing your glasses.
Myth #3: The darker the lens is, the better the protection
UV protection has nothing to do with the darkness or color of a lens. According to Dr. Justin Bazan, on optometrist from Brooklyn, NY, “Dark lenses without adequate UV protection can actually be worse than no sunglasses at all because they cause the eye’s pupil to dilate, which then increases retinal exposure to the unfiltered UV. Even though this may make eyes feel comfortable, it’s putting them at greater risk for damage.”
Over the past decade, designers and manufacturers have been constantly researching, testing and innovating new ways to advance the effectiveness and versatility of sunglasses. Talk with your eye care provider to learn more about the lenses and tints that work best for individual lifestyle needs.
Here are a few tips for making your next sunglasses purchase:
- Buy from a reputable retailer, such as a store or online site. Unlike shades purchased from thrift stores or street vendors, sunglasses sold at trusted retailers meet frame and lens safety criteria set by industry standards.
- Insist on protection from UVA/UVB rays. If you are unsure if a pair of sunglasses adequately blocks UV, many eye care providers can test the level of protection.
- Select a lens color that improves clarity and reduces glare. Different colors and tints work in different ways.
- When in doubt, consult a professional. Eye care providers will be able to make specific recommendations regarding which options are best for you. They can also often test an existing pair of sunglasses with a UV-meter to ensure that the sunglasses that you are wearing are providing proper protection.
For more information about UV eye safety, visit The Vision Council’s website, www.thevisioncouncil.org/2015UV.