Sunglasses don’t just help us see on a sunny day, they provide protection for our eyes as well – if you choose them carefully. Sunglasses which don’t provide protection can actually further damage our eyes. When we are in bright sunlight our eyes naturally constrict to limit the amount of UV rays which are able to enter the eye, a natural form of protection. When it’s shaded the eye’s pupil dilates and if this is caused by protection-free sunglasses it can allow UV rays to flood into the eye. “Many people are unaware that throwaway-fashion sunglasses without the correct CE marks could endanger sight more than not wearing sunglasses at all,” says an expert from Specsavers opticians. “This is because the dark lenses cause our pupils to widen and let more light in, but without the UV filter, this could increase the risk of certain eye conditions over the long term.”
So choosing safe sunnies makes a massive difference and can protect eye health for decades to come. Long-term exposure to UV rays can damage the eye’s surface as well as its internal structures, sometimes causing cataracts, where the lens is clouded, and macular degeneration, a breakdown of the macula leading to partial blindness.
As with suncream, you need sunglasses which filter out both the UVA and UVB light. Both are damaging to your eyes in different ways. UVB is responsible for causing sunburn and UVB rays can quickly damage eye tissue with prolonged and unprotected exposure. UVA rays tan your skin but also cause premature ageing to the eye and can accelerate the development of age related illnesses. They cause damage over a long period and excessive exposure can damage eyesight.
“Look out for the CE kite mark and that sunglasses are marked UV400,” advises Specsavers. “Cheaper glasses not bearing these marks might not provide adequate protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.” Other labels to look out for are that they block 99-100% of UV rays. And take care not to buy or wear any sunglasses which have scratched lenses as this means the UV rays can still penetrate and your protection will be compromised.
Read: How to stay safe in the sun
The more coverage you have from your sunglasses, the less sun damage can be inflicted on the eyes. So make like a Hollywood star and go for larger sunglasses and reduce the amount of light entering from the sides. If you are outside on water or snow you might also want to consider a wraparound style which will prevent UV entering from the edges and stay put while you are moving.
Darkness is not a sign of protection. You can buy very dark glasses which have no UV protection and likewise almost see through which have a lens with a 100% UV blocking. There are a number of shades of tint which are available from browns to greens through to grey. Depending on what you are wearing them for you may choose one colour tint over another – for example certain sports are easier with a certain shade.
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You may have seen different coatings on sunglasses and wondered how they will help. Regardless of the coating you still need to look out for the level of protection from UV that they offer, but the tints can make them more comfortable and useful in certain situations.
Polarized lenses cut out reflected glare – when sunlight bounces off smooth surfaces like pavement or water so are helpful if you are in the snow or on water and also for driving in sunny and wet conditions. Mirror coatings are not just for affect, they can reduce the amount of visible light entering the eyes.
If you are driving you may find gradient lenses where the shade runs darker from the bottom to the top are preferable but these will be less helpful when you’re in a more high glare environment.If you wear prescription lenses then you might switch to ones with photochromic abilities in the summer for simplicity. These lenses darken in brighter light, again you need to check the UV level to check they are protective.