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Why You Need Sunglasses and How to Choose the Right Pair


Sunglasses are more than a fashion statement—they protect your eyes from sun damage. The sun’s energy is so powerful that it reaches us 94 million miles away on Earth. Although the warmth of sunlight can feel soothing, the sun poses many dangers to our eye health. Not to mention the early wrinkles from squinting in the sun!

Here are some reasons you shouldn’t ditch the sunglasses this summer. And if you don’t already have a quality pair of sunglasses, keep reading for tips on choosing sunglasses for optimal protection. But first things first.

What is solar radiation?

Solar radiation is a term for electromagnetic energy from the sun (also called sunlight). It consists of:

  • Infrared radiation (about 55%)
  • Ultraviolet light (about 40%)
  • Visible light (about 5%)

Infrared radiation is responsible for the heat you feel when the sun shines. Ultraviolet and visible light are associated with eye diseases and skin damage, some of which are vision-threatening.

Hazards of ultraviolet light

Although ultraviolet light (UV) makes up a small portion of the sun’s radiation, it significantly affects our eyes. There are three types of UV light:

  • UVA light passes through the front of the eye to the natural lens and retina (light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye). Cumulative UVA damage contributes to cataracts (clouding of the lens) and age-related macular degeneration (damage to the central retina). Both of these conditions can cause vision loss. UVA also promotes wrinkles, including the delicate skin around your eyes (such as crow’s feet).
  • UVB light is responsible for skin cancer and sunburns. The cornea (the clear covering in front of the eye) absorbs most UVB light and prevents light rays from reaching the back of the eye. Photokeratitis is a painful sunburn of the cornea that may occur from reflections of snow or water. Other eye conditions associated with UVB are pterygium or pinguecula, which are growths over the white part of the eye. However, UVB is not all bad. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, reduce inflammation, and support the immune system, and other functions. You can obtain vitamin D through your diet, vitamins, or sunlight. About 20 minutes of sun exposure three times a week stimulates your body to produce enough vitamin D.
  • UVC light is mainly absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, so health risks are minimal.

UVA and UVB exposure increase your risk for skin, eye, and eyelid cancer. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 90% of eyelid cancers, followed by squamous cell carcinoma and melanomas.

Visible light gives color to the world around us, but like ultraviolet light, it has pros and cons.

Is blue light bad for your health?

Unlike X-rays or microwaves, visible light is electromagnetic radiation you can see. Our eyes interpret visible light as color.

We know the colors of the rainbow as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Red has the longest wavelength and lowest energy, while blue has the shortest wavelength and highest energy.

Our bodies depend on blue light to maintain circadian rhythms (our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle). Your body uses this cycle to regulate many functions, such as:

  • Sleep
  • Hunger
  • Mood
  • Alertness
  • Brain function
  • Memory
  • Metabolism

Blue light exposure during the day is beneficial because it signals your body to feel awake. Once the sun goes down, your body releases the hormone melatonin to make you sleepy.

However, this might not be the case if you tend to look at your phone before bed. Blue light is found in light-emitting diodes (LEDs), fluorescent lights, smartphones, tablets, and computer screens. Overexposure to these objects in the evening can affect your sleep patterns.

Although there are reasons to be concerned about blue light exposure from these devices, many people don’t realize that the sun exposes you to 250 times more blue light than indoor lighting! Like UVA, blue light penetrates your eye and can cause cataracts or age-related macular degeneration.

While spending time outdoors is great for your sleep, you still need to protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging effects.

Which sunglasses are best for your eyes?

With the vast selection of sunglasses on the market, choosing the ideal pair can feel overwhelming. Here are some practical tips:

  • Choose a larger frame for better protection. Oversized sunglasses reduce the amount of sunlight entering your eyes, and they also provide coverage for the skin around your eyes.
  • Wraparound frames also block more sunlight from entering the sides of the sunglasses.
  • Look for sunglasses with 100% UV protection. They may be labeled as “100% UV 400” or “100% UVA/UVB” protection.
  • Not all sunglasses block blue light. Higher quality sunglasses tend to offer more protection, with some brands blocking up to 92% of blue light.
  • Polarized lenses are excellent for reducing glare off surfaces like water and roads. However, they don’t offer extra sun protection.
  • Anti-reflective coating is sometimes applied to reduce light bouncing off the back of the sunglass lenses.
  • Darker lenses don’t necessarily mean better sun protection. Dark lenses may provide better comfort in bright light, but they can cause your pupils to widen and let in more UV light. Make sure they have 100% UV protection.
  • Mirrored sunglasses are highly reflective, reduce glare, enhance vision, improve comfort, and look stylish! They’re an excellent choice for sports and water activities.

Of course, one of the essential tips is making sure you remember to wear sunglasses anytime you step outdoors! Choose a style that you like and feels comfortable on your face. Finding a frame you enjoy wearing will encourage you to use them often and protect your eyes from ultraviolet and blue light!

References

Glickman, Randolph D (2011). Ultraviolet phototoxicity to the retina. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21646980/

Harvard School of Public Health (2022). Vitamin D https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/

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