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Do Sunglasses Protect Against UV Rays?

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a woman wearing sunglasses holds her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun

When purchasing a pair of sunglasses, it’s more than just finding frames that fit your face and look awesome. You have to consider what benefits they offer. For example, will the sunglasses protect against UV rays?

Like prescription glasses, sunglasses are also available with various lens coatings. Some protect against UV, others are polarized, and some are just tinted lenses. You can even get sunglasses with your prescription, so there’s never a reason you can’t wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.

What Is UV Radiation?

Sunburn isn’t the worst thing the sun can do—although they aren’t fun either. The sun emits three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC is the most dangerous form of UV rays, but fortunately, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs all of it.

UVA and B are less dangerous, but the atmosphere doesn’t eliminate these two types. So, they can damage our skin and eyes if we don’t protect ourselves. Sunscreen and proper clothing are the answer for our bodies, but sunglasses with a UV protective coating is the only way to protect your eyes.

Why Do We Need to Protect Our Eyes Against UV Rays?

If left unprotected, your eyes can sustain permanent damage. For example, UV exposure can cause things like macular degeneration, corneal damage, and cataracts. Plus, the delicate skin around the eyelids are a common place to develop skin cancer.

a chart demonstrating that the ozone layer blocks most uv rays but UVA rays can only be blocked from eyes by sunglass lenses

Not All Sunglasses are Made Equal

Suppose UV protection is your primary consideration when purchasing sunglasses. In that case, you’ll want to find lenses that are marked as UV400 protection or 100% UV protection. This is important because not all sunglasses are made with this protective coating. Also, some that have the lens coating don’t block all UV rays.

Types of Sunglasses Lenses

Aside from UV protection, there are several other types of lenses to consider. The nice thing is that many sunglasses will actually combine several types of coatings to create a better pair of sunglasses.

Here are some additional types of lenses you can consider:

  • Polarized lenses: These help make it easier to see in the sun by only allowing certain light wavelengths through. They are popular among anglers and other outdoorsy people who spend time around the water.
  • Gradient lenses: A gradient lens starts darker at the top of the lens and becomes lighter towards the bottom. And a double gradient is dark at the top and bottom while remaining lighter in the middle. 
  • Coloured lenses: There are various colours of lenses, such as yellow or brown. Each is ideal for different activities in the sun because they heighten contrast and give a sharper focus in different conditions.
  • Mirror-coated lenses: Just as the name implies, these lenses have a reflective coating that greatly reduces the amount of light entering the eye. They are especially beneficial when doing activities in bright sunlight, such as skiing or snowboarding with the sun reflecting off the snow.
  • Prescription Lenses: Of course, if you usually wear prescription glasses, you can get sunglasses with corrective lenses. If you don’t want a second pair of glasses, you could also opt for clip-on sunglasses.

Choosing the Perfect Sunglasses

There is no single answer for which sunglasses are the best. Ultimately it comes down to your needs. In most cases, UV protection should be non-negotiable. However, the other features depend on what you typically do outside.

One aspect that often gets overlooked because of the focus on protection and benefits is comfort. If you spend a lot of time outside and have an uncomfortable pair of sunglasses you don’t want to wear, that kind of defeats their purpose.

A major benefit of visiting an optometrist clinic or boutique sunglasses shop is that there are usually experienced staff that can discuss all your wants and needs and show you the options that will be best for your lifestyle.

Here are a few tips to steer you in the right direction when trying sunglasses on:

  • The frames should be snug on your face but not pinching or rubbing uncomfortably.
  • There shouldn’t be any heavy spots that could cause friction. You want the weight of the sunglasses to be evenly distributed.
  • Your eyelashes shouldn’t touch the frame or lenses.
  • In some cases, a flexible metal frame may be the best because it can be moulded slightly to fit your face’s shape.

Protect Your Eyes in Style

Protecting your eyes doesn’t have to be a boring or undesirable feat. There’s no reason you can’t look great with frames that match your style and protect your eyes from UV rays at the same time. Stop by our office today. The knowledgeable staff at Okotoks Eye Care is available to ensure you get the perfect pair of sunglasses.

Written by Dr. Asim Prasad

Dr. Asim Prasad is a native Calgarian who earned his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Vision Science and Doctor of Optometry degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2008. Before becoming an optometrist, Dr. Prasad earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Alberta. After working in the environmental science industry for a short time, Dr. Prasad decided to pursue his true passion: optometry.
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