How to Choose the Best Type of Sunglasses
Follow these guidelines for protecting your peepers from ultraviolet rays and you’ll be made in the shade
Your skin isn’t the only body part that can be harmed by ultraviolet rays. When it comes to the risk of sun damage, the eyes can have it too. A good pair of shades (especially paired with a wide-brimmed hat a la Audrey Hepburn) can shield your baby blues, but what types of sunglasses provide the best protection?
Before you pick up a pair of cheap drugstore sunglasses or plunk down a pretty penny for a designer pair, keep these tips for choosing sunglasses in mind:
1. Aim for total protection from ultraviolet (UV) light. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), sunglasses that provide full UV protection will have a label or sticker that says one or more of the following:
- Lenses block 99 percent or 100 percent of UVA (long-wave) rays and UVB (short-wave) rays.
- Lenses meet ANSI Z80.3 blocking requirements (these are standards set by the American Standards Institute).
- UV 400 protection. “This means you’re protected from ultraviolet light at a wave length of 400 nanometers,” explains Brenda Pagan-Duran, MD, an ophthalmologist and spokesperson for the American Ophthalmology Association.
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2. Go big. Five to 10 percent of skin cancers occur around the eyes, particularly on the lower eyelid. “The thin skin around the eyelid is especially susceptible to basal cell cancer,” says New York City-based dermatologist Elizabeth Hale, MD. “It’s the most common form of skin cancer and arises from cells similar to those of sebaceous cells and hair follicles, which are plentiful in the eye area.” Choose large lenses that come down over your cheeks. Even better, opt for wraparound glasses. “They’ll protect your eyes from UV light that comes in from the side,” says Pagan-Duran. Think Bono-style, with wide temples.
3. Don’t be colorblind. The shade of your shades matters — but not always in obvious ways. Darker lenses aren’t necessarily the most protective, says Pagan-Duran. The hue you choose may depend on when you’ll be wearing your sunglasses. If you’ll be driving, steer clear of yellow- or rose-tinted shades, which can make it hard to distinguish colors in traffic lights. Green, gray and brown lenses are better choices when you’re behind the wheel.
4. Cut the glare. If you spend a lot of time on the beach or near any type of water, consider polarized lenses, which filter out sunlight reflected off the water. They also cut glare from other flat surfaces such as pavement, snow and the hoods of cars. Just know that polarized lenses do not provide protection from UV rays.
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5. Go for quality. According to the AAO, sunglasses don’t have to cost a fortune to provide good protection. On the other hand, the lenses in cheap shades often are stamped rather than ground and polished. This often means you won’t be able to see as well out of them.
6. Find the right fit. Frames should fit close to your face around the brow area so that sun can’t hit your eyes from overhead. They also should nestle comfortably on your nose and behind your ears without pinching or rubbing.
7. Consider sun-protective contact lenses. There are two classifications of UV-blocking contact lenses: FDA class 1 lenses block more than 90 percent of UVA rays and 99 percent of UVB rays. They’re especially good for high-exposure environments like the beach or mountains.
FDA class 2 lenses are block 70 percent of UVA rays and 95 percent of UVB rays. With either type of contact lenses, “you still should wear sunglasses,” says Pagan-Duran. “The contacts won’t shield the whites of your eyes and, of course, you’re still exposing your eyelids and the skin around your eyes.”
8. Wear them well. Slip on shades year round, advises Pagan-Duran, even on cloudy days in winter. The sun can be just as damaging when it’s overcast or cold. For example, UV rays can actually cause a sunburn on your corneas, a condition called photokeratitis and that can cause temporary blindness (also known as snow blindness).
Sun exposure can also cause macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the US and cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye that usually occurs with aging.
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Amber lenses offer the most contrast if you play golf or other sports. “You’ll be able to see the ball better,” explains Pagan-Duran.
To test optical quality when trying on sunglasses, focus on a vertical edge or line as you look through the lens, suggests the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Move your head back and forth as your eyes sweep across the lens. If the line seems to wiggle, the lenses may be defective and you should choose another pair.