Do Sunglasses Actually Protect Your Eyes?

More than just fashionable, the lenses reflect or block harmful UV rays and can reduce glare

From aviators to cat-eyes, there are plenty of sunglasses styles to go around. And while the right pair can help you make a fashion statement, are sunglasses actually good for your eyes?

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Simply: Yes. Sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and glare from the sun. They can also protect the sensitive skin around your eyes from skin cancer and wrinkles.

But beyond fashion, finding the right sunglasses is important, as they don’t all offer the same protection. Some research suggests that high-energy UV rays from the sun can harm your vision later in life. Excessive UV exposure may damage your macula, the area in the back of your eye that helps transmit pictures to your brain. The risk is greatest if your eyes are light-colored.

Ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD, offers tips for choosing the best sunglasses that’ll keep your eyes well protected.

How do sunglasses work?

You might be wondering: How do sunglasses protect your eyes?

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The lenses that typically come in sunglasses are made with UV protection. Some may have lenses that are coated in UV protection.

That UV protection works to block or reflect harmful UVA and UVB light — the two common types of sunlight.

So, how do you know if your sunglasses have UV protection? Look for a label on sunglasses that says it protects 100% against both UVA and UVB rays.

Benefits of wearing sunglasses

While we tend to reach for a pair of sunnies during the summer months, we really should be wearing sunglasses year-round. Along with blocking UVA and UVB light, sunglasses can:

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  • Prevent headaches and migraines caused by direct sunlight.
  • Reduce eye strain.
  • Reduce glare.
  • Offer protection from wind, dust and debris.
  • Help prevent eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Help prevent skin cancer and wrinkles from around your eyes.

How to pick the right sunglasses for you

So, how do you find the right sunglasses for you? Once you find a style that fits your fabulous personality, Dr. Singh recommends the following:

  • Choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB light. You don’t have to pay a premium — UV protection is available in all price ranges. “There are a bunch out there. You want to buy them from a reputable manufacturer,” he says. Choose the highest-level UVA/UVB protection you can find. And remember, sunglasses will say what level of UVA and UVB protection they offer on the sticker or printed right on the tag.
  • Note the color of the lenses. Go for amber or brown lenses if you have macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. These colors enhance contrast, which can help you see better. Select brown, gray, green or yellow lenses for driving. They’re best for minimizing color distortion. But a high UV rating is more important than lens color if you have to choose, Dr. Singh states.
  • Think about transition or photochromic lenses if you wear prescription eyeglasses. Prescription eyeglasses — particularly those with polycarbonate lenses — provide some built-in UV protection, says Dr. Singh. Lenses that automatically darken when you go outdoors protect against both UV rays and glare.
  • Consider polarized lenses. Although these don’t offer UV protection, they’re best for reducing glare, which can be helpful while driving. This is especially important if you’ve had refractive eye surgery, such as LASIK.

Dr. Singh says children as young as 6 months old should wear sunglasses. The Vision Council of America reminds us that the damage from UVA and UVB radiation is cumulative over a person’s lifetime, so it’s a good idea to teach your children how important it is to wear sunglasses.

Optometrists can also help you choose the right sunglasses for you. Once you buy them, remember to wear them regularly, notes Dr. Singh — on your nose and not on your head.

He adds that sunglasses are one of those indispensable items that he doesn’t mind spending a little extra money on — and a little bit of extra protection seems worthwhile in the long run.

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