Are your sunglasses protecting your eyes from UV?

man and woman wearing sunglasses on the beach

Why do you wear sunglasses? To cut down on glare when you’re driving? To keep you from squinting outdoors? To look cool?

These are all good reasons to wear your shades, but your sunglasses are more than a fashion statement. These fashion items also act like sunblock for your eyes. The same ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun that burn your skin can also damage your eyes. If you spend time outdoors, you can be at risk for eye problems from UV rays and should always wear sunglasses. But they need to be the right sunglasses.

The info you need to pick shades that block UV rays:

  • There are three kinds of UV rays1 :
    • UVA rays can pass through your eye’s cornea and reach the lens and retina.
    • UVB rays can’t pass through glass, but can burn your skin and also cause eye damage.
    • UVC rays are the highest-energy rays and are blocked by the ozone layer. They don’t reach the earth.
  • You want sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of both UVA and UVB rays2 .
  • Look for labels that say “99% UV protection guaranteed” or “100% protection guaranteed.” Some also might be labeled “UV 400,” which means the lenses block all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers. (This covers all UVA and UVB rays.)3
  • The darkness of your lenses has no effect on UV protection.
  • Close-fitting, wraparound sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of both UVA and UVB rays provide the most protection.4

According to John Lahr, O.D., divisional vice president, EyeMed Provider Relations and Medical Director, overexposure to UVA or UVB rays can lead to serious eye problems like photokeratitis (inflammation of the cornea), which can cause temporary vision loss, and pingueculea and pterygia (growths on the eye’s surface). The rays also cause damage to the lens and retina plus burns on the eye’s surface.

Sunglasses also protect against skin cancer

The eyelid region is one of the most common sites for nonmelanoma skin cancers. In fact, skin cancers of the eyelid, including basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma, account for 5 to 10 percent of all skin cancers.

Sunglasses are for everyone, but essential for some

Children’s eyes are especially sensitive to UV rays, so it’s important to provide quality sunglasses for them, too.

Adults with eye disorders such as cataracts, macular degeneration and retinal disease are especially susceptible to UV rays and should take extra precaution. While some contact lenses offer UV protection, they don’t cover the entire eye, so contact lens wearers still need sunglasses.

What time is shade time?

Keep in mind that UV rays are harshest when the sun is highest in the sky, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The closer you are to the earth’s equator, the stronger they are. UV rays are also stronger at high altitudes and against the reflective surfaces of snow, water or sand.5

UV rays pass through clouds, so don’t be fooled into thinking protective eyewear isn’t necessary when the sky is cloudy. Even though shaded areas reduce UV exposure, your eyes can still be exposed to rays that bounce from buildings, roads and other surfaces.5

So whenever you’re outdoors, it makes sense to keep your eyes—and your family’s eyes—protected with a pair of good sunglasses. Regular eye exams are important so vision problems can be detected early. Schedule an eye exam today with your eye care professional.

1. Sun Safety Alliance, “UV Rays – Invisible and Dangerous,” 2010.
2. American Optometric Association, “Sunglass Shopping Guide,” 2008.
3. All About Vision, “Sunglasses: Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014.
4. American Optometric Association, “Sunglass Shopping Guide,” 2008.
5. Sun Safety Alliance, “When and Where Are UV Rays Strongest?” 2010.
These materials are designed to provide general information regarding health care topics, do not constitute professional advice nor establish any standard of care, and are provided without representations or warranties of any kind. Quotations and photos are not from actual patients and your experience may be different. Your treating health care professionals are solely responsible for diagnosis, treatment and medical advice. The eye care professionals in your plan are independent practitioners who exercise independent professional judgment and over whom EyeMed has no control or right of control. They are not agents or employees of EyeMed. Eye care professionals do not take the place of your physician.