What to Look for in a Pair of Sunglasses

By Meadows, Michelle | FDA Consumer, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

What to Look for in a Pair of Sunglasses


Meadows, Michelle, FDA Consumer


As you slather on sunscreen to protect your skin this summer, don't forget sunglasses to protect your eyes. The same harmful rays that damage skin can also increase your risk of developing eye problems, such as cataracts--a clouding of the eye's lens that develops over years.

In the short-term, people who spend long hours on the beach or in the snow without adequate eye protection can develop photokeratitis, reversible sunburn of the cornea. This painful condition can result in temporary loss of vision. When sunlight reflects off of snow, sand and water, it further increases exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These invisible high-energy rays lie just beyond the violet end of the visible light spectrum.

Everyone is at risk for eye damage from the sun year-round. The risk is greatest from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fishermen, farmers, beach-goers, and others who spend time in the sun for extended periods are at highest risk.

UV radiation in sunlight is commonly divided into UVA and UVB, and your sunglasses should block both forms. Don't assume that you get more UV protection with pricier sunglasses or glasses with a darker tint. Look for a label that specifically states that the glasses offer 99 percent to 100 percent UV protection. You could also ask an eye-care professional to test your sunglasses if you're not sure of their level of UV protection.

Sunglasses should be dark enough to reduce glare, but not dark enough to distort colors and affect the recognition of traffic signals. Tint is mainly a matter of personal preference. For best color perception, Prevent Blindness America, a volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight, recommends lenses that are neutral gray, amber, brown or green. People who wear contact lenses that offer UV protection should still wear sunglasses.

Children also should wear sunglasses. They shouldn't be toy sunglasses, but real sunglasses that indicate the UV-protection level just as with adults. Polycarbonate lenses are generally recommended for children because they are the most shatter-resistant.

Sheryl Berman, M.D., a medical officer in the FDA's Division of Ophthalmic and Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices, says that wearing sunglasses reduces the risk of eye damage due to sun exposure, but doesn't completely eliminate it. …

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What to Look for in a Pair of Sunglasses
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