Quality CountsThat day I learned a lesson in optical quality. I thought that as long as I had some sort of tinted plastic shielding my eyes, my peepers were duly protected. Nope. In fact, according to the national nonprofit Prevent Blindness America, poor-quality glasses may be more harmful than no glasses at all. This is because sunglasses without UV protection shade the eyes from the bright sun but cause the pupils to dilate, thereby allowing in more damaging rays.
I knew that UV rays could do a number on unprotected skin, but I didn’t realize its potential to damage unprotected eyes. Research shows that prolonged exposure to UV rays can contribute to various ocular disorders such as cataracts, macular degeneration, cancer of the eyelid and corneal sunburn.
Who's at Risk?
“Since UV radiation is reflected from surfaces such as snow, sand and water, the risk [of UV exposure] is particularly high on ski slopes, on the beach or while boating,” says Sarah Hecker, director of media relations for Prevent Blindness America.
Fortunately, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing eye problems simply by donning a quality pair of sunglasses year-round – starting from childhood.
Shopping for Glasses
When choosing glasses, consider when you’ll be using them. For example, gradient glasses are good for driving whereas polarized lenses are ideal for water sports such as boating, skiing and fishing. Many fishermen refuse to leave the dock without polarized lenses because the lenses enable them to see more clearly beneath the water – things like bedding bass, for instance.
“Rock climbers and cyclists should choose frames that are secure because these sports can create serious injury if concentration is lost while a participant is reaching to adjust poor or loose-fitting frames,” says Ann Laurenzi, an optometrist at The Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.
Snowmobilers and downhill skiers, who are surrounded by blinding white powder, often opt for wraparound, mirrored lenses for maximum glare protection and/or amber-tinted glasses to help them spot bumps on the terrain. In addition, golfers can see balls more easily with an amber-tinted lens.
- Try on several pairs. Search until you find a pair that’s comfortable. They should fit snugly against the bridge of your nose.
- Pick a pair that suits your. Are they flattering? Experts advise focusing solely on UV protection, but if you don’t feel attractive in your shades, they’ll likely end up in a drawer instead of on your face.
- Try them out. Do you plan to run in them? If so, take a jog around the store to be sure they fit securely (remember that the bridge of your nose may sweat during a workout, making plastic shades more prone to slide).
- Step outside to test color contrast. I once bought a pair of sunglasses based solely on how cool they looked, then realized later that the entire landscape appeared yellow through these amber-tinted shades.
- Get proper protection. Look for a label that states “99 to 100 percent UV protection” (or “UV absorption up to 400 nm”). The tint of the lens doesn’t correlate with the protection level. In other words, darker lenses don’t necessarily keep out more light.
Sunglass Tints 101
- Amber adds contrast but distorts color perception (everything appears golden). Best for flat/poor light; hazy.
- Brown brightens in cloudy conditions (good for someone who is not too glare-sensitive). Best use when overcast.
- Rose brightens in cloudy conditions but dims in sunnier conditions (lessens glare, but on a low-glare day, it'll brighten colors there by improving contrast). Best use when overcast.
- Gray reduces glare without altering color perception (good for someone who is glare-sensitive). Best use in bright sunlight.