When choosing sunglasses, it’s tempting to put fashion first. But don’t forget their most important function: providing protection for your peepers. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage both the cornea and the retina of the eye, as well as contribute to the development of certain types of cataracts. (While we're talking eye health, there are 7 things your eye gunk says about you.)
While everyone’s eyes are at risk, some of us are even more so: If you spend a lot of time in the sun, have had cataract surgery or certain retina disorders, or if you take medications that can increase the eye’s sensitivity to light (such as tetracycline, birth control pills, sulfa drugs, diuretics, or tranquilizers), make sure to throw on some shades every time you’re outside.
How can you be sure your pair is affording you adequate protection? Just follow these sunglasses-shopping tips from Dr. Monica L. Monica, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
1. Look for a label
Sunglasses should have lenses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays, and they need to carry a tag or sticker stating they do. Fortunately, you don’t have to pay a lot to get this level of protection. “The industry standard is such that even less-expensive sunglasses are made to block this much UV,” says Dr. Monica. (You should protect your skin, too—here are the 6 best mineral sunscreens you can get.) That means whether you purchase your pair at a department store or drugstore, or in a high-end boutique, your eyes will be safe if you seek out these tags.
Oversize lenses may be back in fashion, but they’re more then just stylish—they also offer more protection for your eyes and the skin around them. Shades that curve or wrap around the sides are even better, because they keep sunlight from sneaking in through the sides. It’s also wise to wear a wide-brimmed hat when in the sun, which should stop light from entering into the eye area from above.
High-end frames won’t offer any more protection than a cheap pair that blocks 100 percent of UV rays, but they may have extras that make your eyes more comfortable when in the sun—and thus make you more prone to wearing them, according to Dr. Monica. Polarized lenses, for example, help reduce glare. Just make sure they’ve also been treated with UV protection, as some shades are just polarized. Blue-blocking glasses, which typically have yellow or orange lenses, make distant objects easier to see and sharpen the contrast in colors, so they’re great for seeing in fog and haze.
While buying secondhand shades might seem like the greenest way to go, Dr. Monica advises against buying used frames unless they are marked with a sticker that says they block the proper amount of UV. If there isn’t a tag, you can’t be sure they’re protective unless you bring them to an eye-care expert who can check them with a photometer. If it’s time for a new pair and you want an ecofriendly choice, check out our top options below (Here are 7 more surprising ways to recycle plastic.)
5. Repair or donate instead of tossing
Dave and Les Jacobs/getty
It is possible to have sunglasses repaired by a professional, so if you spent enough on nice shades, bring them to an expert who may be able to buff out scratches or repair broken parts. When they’re beyond repair, though, don’t just toss them in the trash. Keep them out of the landfill and give them a second life by donating them instead.
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