What You Need to Know about Sunglasses and UV

The majority of people choose sunglasses based on two factors, looks and cost. However, there is another important aspect of choosing sunglasses that many of us do not think about: UV protection.

No matter how funky the frames, UV (or ultraviolet) protection should be your first priority when it comes to choosing sunglasses. Without proper protection, UV radiation can damage your eyelids, cornea, lens and most other parts of the eye as well.

What Is UV?

UV radiation is part of the non-visible spectrum of light; we can’t see or feel UV, but it’s still there.  There are three different types of UV rays. These are:

  • UVA -Less likely to cause sunburn but easily penetrates skin through glass and lightweight clothing . Could possibly damage the eyes.
  • UVB – Most dangerous UV light. Penetrates glass and can cause eye damage and sunburns.
  • UVC – Absorbed by ozone and do not reach earth.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that it has to be sunny in order for UV to affect your eyes. In fact, UV rays can penetrate clouds so even on overcast cloudy days you should always wear sunglasses. Between the 10 am and 2 pm you are most at risk to UV ray eye damage. Sunglasses are also important if you are around snow, water, and even sand.

A few other things that cause potential damage are tanning beds, photosensitizing prescription drugs, and UV lamps. If you live in high altitudes or near the equator, UV light may be stronger. Check the UV index for your area at least twice a day if you are concerned: http://epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html

Choosing UV Sunglasses

You’ve all seen the stickers or tags on quality sunglasses that highlight their UV protective abilities. Always choose glasses that block out at least 99% UVA and UVB rays. Cheap or cosmetic sunglasses with no UV details clearly marked should be completely avoided. In general, wraparound glasses or those with large lenses are best for blocking sunlight from all angles.

Although UV protection is most important factor to consider, there are a few other types of sunglass lenses you’ll probably run into. The five main types of lens are:

  • Blue Blocking Lenses – amber tinted lenses which can make distant objects easier to see.
  • Polarized Lenses – excellent for reducing glare. These usually do not have protective benefits on their own so make sure the glasses have UV as well
  • Photochromic Lenses – lens darkens with exposure to UV protection and offers 100% UV protection. Transitions is a well-known brand.
  • Polycarbonate Lenses – great for protecting your eyes against scratches and impact. Good for sports, children and people with active jobs.
  • Mirror Coated Lenses – great for blocking light but not for blocking UV rays unless specified.

What About Contact Lenses?

Contact lenses from leading brands such as Acuvue offer some UV protection but remember that a contact lens does not cover the whole of the eye. You should wear sunglasses in addition to contacts for more complete protection from UV.

Protecting your eyes from UV light is extremely important to eye health. Sunglasses may seem like a cosmetic accessory but they are essential. Remember to choose sunglasses that offer proper UV protection based on where you live and when you’ll be wearing them.

Leanne Tremblay

Leanne writes about safe tips for wearing colored contact lenses over at ColorMeContacts.com.

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