UV protection is the most important function of sunglasses. Too much exposure to UV light can lead to numerous issues, many of which can be quite serious, with the eyes and the skin around them. These conditions include, but are not limited to, cataracts, macular degeneration, and cancers in both the eyes and the sensitive skin around them.
Just because a pair of sunglasses has dark lenses does not mean they will protect you; in fact, dark lenses without proper UV protection coating can lead to your eyes absorbing more UV rays, since the pupils dilate in a darker environment to let more light in.
In order to ensure the sunglasses you purchase provide adequate protection from UV rays, make sure they are labeled as providing 99 or 100 percent protection. Sunglasses that provide this level of protection are often labelled UV400.
The size and configuration of the lenses also plays a role in protecting your eyes. Larger lenses will, naturally, provide a greater area coverage, not just for the eyes but the skin around them. Additionally, sunglasses that “wrap around” the eyes to some extent (seen most often in designs aimed at people who plan to use them while playing sports or working outdoors) can prevent additional UV rays from reaching the eyes from different angles.
Additionally, sunglasses, as with any other form of eye protection, can help limit how much dust or other sorts of particles in your vicinity from reaching your eyes.
It is easy to rationalize forgoing sunglasses for children; after all, they are more likely to lose or break them while playing, and may resist wearing them in general. However, it is perhaps more important for children to wear them than adults.
Children’s eyes are still developing, and they have less natural protection against UV rays. Additionally, due to the simple fact that they’re shorter than adults, they tend to look up more, putting themselves more in the path of direct sunlight.
Studies have shown that as much as 80 percent of a person’s lifetime UV exposure comes before age 18, since children tend to spend more time outdoors (and without proper protection.) If that level of exposure can be reduced through the wearing of eye protection, you can drastically reduce the chances of problems later in life.
While protection against UV radiation is the primary benefit of wearing sunglasses, it is not the only one. As mentioned earlier, they can provide some protection against dust and debris in the air, and can protect the eyes from dry air (particularly helpful to those suffering from dry eye).
Sunglasses with polarized lenses can also provide very high levels of protection against glare (note that polarized lenses does not necessarily mean they will also protect against UV rays). This can be particularly helpful for those working outdoors, especially if they’re on the water or in an area with many reflective surfaces. Reflective surfaces, including snow, can lead to your eyes being exposed to significantly higher levels of UV radiation, in addition to momentarily blinding you.
Through darkening what you see by filtering out a portion of the light around you, sunglasses with polarized lenses can also help increase visual clarity and reduce eye strain when out in bright light.
Sunglasses can also be a great fashion accessory, especially with so many style options available.
Few things in this world lack drawbacks, and sunglasses are no exception to that rule. There are some tasks that can be made more difficult by the wearing of sunglasses. These include looking at LCD screens, such as those on phones or ATM machines. Additionally, if your sunglasses do not include a reflective coating on the rear side of the lenses (which is something you can ask our optometrist about), the lenses themselves can reflect light, including UV rays, into your eyes.
If you regularly wear prescription glasses, you can also purchase prescription sunglasses, so there is no need to lose the advantages of your prescription lenses while out and about in the sun.
Remember to know what you’re buying. As mentioned above, sunglasses need to provide at least 99 percent protection against UV rays to be considered effective protection. Additionally, just because lenses are polarized does not mean they will protect you against UV, and just because they protect against UV, does not mean they are polarized and will protect against glare. Sunglasses in stores should be labeled as per their qualifications, and if you are uncertain, your optometrist will be able to help guide you to the most reliable brands. Remember that they are also available to answer any other questions you might have about proper eye protection.