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Shopping for sunglasses

Wearing lenses that screen out harmful ultraviolet radiation is essential for keeping your eyes healthy.

sunglasses eye protection
Large wraparound lenses offer the best protection.
Image: Wavebreakmedia/Thinkstock

When you buy sunglasses, your primary aim might be to find a style that looks good on you and is comfortable. If so, like almost half of people selecting sunglasses from the racks, you’ve failed to consider the most important detail—the amount of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation the lenses screen out.

“Many people don’t bother to look for the label specifying UV protection,” says Dr. Laura Fine, instructor in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and a medical editor of The Aging Eye, a Special Health Report from Harvard Health Publications. Without that protection, sunglasses can work against you by enabling you to see comfortably in light that is harming your eyes.

What to look for when you are shopping for sunglasses

Since 1998, the FDA has regulated nonprescription sunglasses as medical devices and requires lenses to be impact-resistant (but not shatterproof), nontoxic, and nonflammable. Beyond that, though, options vary, and some choices are better than others. You’ll want to consider the following:

The label. Look for 99% or 100% UV protection, or UV400—which means the lens absorbs wavelengths up to 400 nanometers, thus blocking all harmful UV rays.

The size. The larger the lenses, the better protection they offer. (Think Jackie O., not Yoko Ono, Dr. Fine suggests.) Wraparound lenses are the best because they prevent UV rays from entering at the side.

The shade. Although it may seem counterintuitive, darker isn’t automatically better. The darkness of the lens affects only the ability to filter out visible light. The protection from UV light is conferred by coatings applied to the lens. You may want to get a few pairs with different tints for different uses. For example, dark lenses are best for a sunny day on the water, while lighter tints may be better choices for overcast days.

Optical quality. When you’re trying on sunglasses, focus on a vertical edge or line and move your head back and forth. If the line wiggles, the lens may have an optical defect.

The fit. You want the frames to fit comfortably, with the lenses directly in front of your eyes.

The cost. There is no relationship between the price tag on a pair of sunglasses and the protection it offers. As long as the labels specify 99% or 100% UV protection or UV400 and have no optical defects, an inexpensive pair from a dollar store will do the job as well as pricier sunglasses from a designer boutique.

Who needs sunglasses?

UV radiation can penetrate the clouds, even on overcast winter days. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone—beginning with 1-year-old toddlers—wear sunglasses whenever they are outdoors. This is especially important for people with light-colored irises—blue, green, gray, or hazel—who are more vulnerable to cancers of the eye induced by UV light. It’s also essential for those using medications that increase sun sensitivity, including estrogens, tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova), and certain antibiotics like doxycycline.

Sunglasses for driving

Glare can pose problems even for daytime drivers, especially if you’re traveling near water. When choosing sunglasses for driving, consider the following:

Polarized lenses. If the label says “polarized,” it means that the lenses have an additional coating to minimize glare.

Gradient lenses. Lenses that are darker at the top and become gradually lighter toward the bottom of the lens can be useful for driving because they can dim the sun, but not the dashboard. Dual-gradient lenses may not be a good choice because the lightest area is in the center of the lens, making it more difficult to read the dashboard display.

Photochromic lenses. These lenses get darker in bright light and lighter in dimmer light. However, it may take a minute or two for the changes to take effect, so they may not be the best choice for driving.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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