If you've ever wondered if ultraviolet (UV) sunglasses are actually worth looking into, you've come to the right place. It's not a dumb question to ask, either. Shouldn't all sunglasses protect your eyes from those harmful UV rays? The truth is that not all sunglasses are made the same. UV sunglasses in particular are anything but gimmicky and can protect your eyes from a whole lot of damage.
But, why exactly do you need them—and when? How do you find the best pair? Below is everything you need to know about picking the best UV protection glasses for you.
Why You Need UV Sunglasses
The sun's harmful UV rays can damage more than just your skin. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, wearing UV sunglasses reduces your risk of cataracts, ocular cancer, and pterygium (growths on conjunctiva, or the clear covering on the whites of your eyes). It also helps prevent snow blindness, which can occur when the UV light reflects off of snow, ice, or water. While UVB rays are more harmful to the eye than UVA rays, it's still beneficial to get glasses that protect against both.
When to Wear UV Protection Sunglasses
Just like sunscreen, you'll want to wear sunglasses whenever you're under the sun and exposing your eyes to its rays. You'll also want to wear them if you're around snow, ice, or a body of water, like a lake or an ocean, as the reflected UV light can cause damage to your skin and eyes.
What to Look for When Selecting a Pair
Most sunglasses are designed to protect your eyes from the sun, but there are some specifically designed to protect them from UV light. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that the ideal sunglasses block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB light. To make sure that the pair you're looking at has the proper protection, check the label.
The ACS explains labels should say either "UV absorption up to 400 mn" or that it "meets ANSI UV requirements." These phrases mean that the glasses block at least 99.999 percent of UV rays. If the label reads "cosmetic," that means it will only protect about 70 percent of UV rays. If there is no label, you should be wary and not assume they will protect your eyes. Darker lenses don't automatically mean better protection, either.
The ACS says sunglasses that are large-framed and wraparound are more likely to protect your eyes from the light at all angles.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, you should also select lenses that meet the Food and Drug Administration's impact standard and choose polarized, gradient, or photochromic lenses to reflect glare.
Protect Your Whole Body from UV Rays
It only makes sense that if you're protecting one part of your body from the sun, you should protect the rest of it, too. This includes wearing sun-protective clothing, like wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves, and applying sunscreen daily. As you already know, wearing sunscreen is your best protection against skin cancers like melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends putting on sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you go outside and reapplying every two hours. It also recommends spreading 1 oz (an entire shot glass full) over your entire body, including your nose and eyelids. Add a pair of UV sunglasses and you'll be all set to enjoy some time under the sun.