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How to Choose Sunglasses for Optimal Sun Protection

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If you’re wondering what to look for in sunglasses, you’re not alone. Along with regular eye exams, sunglasses are recommended by most optometrists to help safeguard your vision. However, not all sunglasses are created equal, so make sure you know what to look for when it’s time for a new pair.

choice of 7 different coloured lenses on uniform black frames with white background

Why Wear Sunglasses?

Most of us enjoy time spent in the sunshine on a warm day, even on cold days too. But direct sunlight is harmful, especially to the eyes.

The problem is overexposure to sunlight, which is almost impossible to gauge by your own experience. But consistent overexposure to sunlight can lead to age-related cataracts, macular degeneration, and abnormal growths on the eye.

Ultraviolet Light

The world health organization estimates that 80% of lifetime UV damage accumulates before the age of 18. This statistic probably owes to the habits of children playing outdoors, and their clearer ocular lenses

UV light comes in 3 types: UV types A, B, and C.

Ultraviolet C is quite a short wavelength and highly damaging to biological cells. But the earth’s ozone layer filters it out before it can reach the surface. UVB and the slightly longer wavelength, UVA, do contact the earth’s surface, and these are the types of UV light that can damage eyes exposed to sunlight.

Short Wave Visible Light 

The upper spectrum of visible light, especially violet light and blue light, can also be cause for concern, so it’s recommended that you filter some of that light through high-quality sunglasses. The sun is the chief source of blue light, providing 55% of the average person’s exposure.

Lens Considerations

Whether you have prescription sunglasses or non-prescription, there are a few key factors to consider.

UV Protection

To qualify as safe, sunglasses need to have been tested for 99-100% UVA and 99-100% UVB screening. Otherwise, they won’t provide the protection you need, and you may get a false sense of security from using them. Look out for a sticker that indicates their UV protection level.

Colour

You can get sunglasses that provide proper protection in almost every colour. That said, some colours are better for certain people than others:

  • Grey: Best for people with high light sensitivity, also good for enhancing colours and contrast.
  • Brown: Give the most accurate colour representation, good for variable light conditions and provides high contrast for sports and other activities.
  • Green: Great for colour accuracy and contrast, and enhanced depth perception in sunny and low-light.

Polarization

Polarization is a great feature for some since it reduces the glare you can get off the roads or more reflective surfaces like water. It works by aligning molecules so that some light passes through, while the rest is absorbed.

Tint

How dark the glasses are is certainly a concern. For direct sunlight, you’ll need something that screens 75-90% visible light. Not all sunglasses have labels describing their tint, so you might have to ask for more information.

Prescription

Most sunglasses can be customized with your prescription. Prescription sunglasses are a great option, especially if you need your glasses for everyday tasks like driving. With the proper prescription, you’ll have every incentive to wear your sunglasses whenever you’re outside. 

Frames

Frames factor into how much protection your eyes can get. You might prefer a prescription pair of sunglasses on eyeglass frames. You might also prefer a combination of contact lenses with non-prescription sunglasses. These two categories can have wildly different frames.

Style

funny dog looking at you with red sunglasses on while buried in maple leaves

If you think your sunglasses are cool, you might be more motivated to wear them! Style could be considered the part that’s most up to the individual. But if you’re okay with the style, going for a combination of contact lenses and wraparound sunglasses offer the most protection. They shield the eyes from UV rays at any angle, if worn properly. 

If worn correctly, this style screens light from every angle. It’s always an option to forego prescription sunglasses in favour of contact lenses and non-prescription wraparound styles, which still score quite a few points in style.

Wearing Your Sunglasses

Wearing your sunglasses as much as you can does a lot to protect your eyes. You should wear them whenever you’re exposed to daylight! It’s a myth that UV rays can’t penetrate cloud cover

UV rays can refract (bend) through clouds and reflect off water or snow, so there’s really no escape from UV rays outdoors. The best thing you can do is keep your sunglasses on whenever you’re outside or near daylight indoors.

But in addition to good habits, you need the right protection. Ask your optometrist for a pair of sunglasses that work for you!

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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