How to pick sunglasses that will protect your eyes

A good pair of sunglasses can be a great way to complete your look. But your sunnies are so much more than a fashion accessory. They’re a crucial line of defence for your eyes against the ravages of the sun.

Aussies love their sunglasses. It shouldn’t be a surprise, considering we’re one of the sunniest nations on the planet. Recent research from YouGov found around two-thirds of Australians regularly wear sunglasses when they leave the house.

That’s great, but the same research found that Australians are mostly unaware of the role sunglasses play in protecting eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light. And as a result, they’re choosing their sunnies based mainly on fashion and price, rather than the protection they offer.

How does UV light harm your eyes?

Without going into a detailed explanation of the electromagnetic spectrum, UV light is a type of high-intensity radiation emanating from the sun. Australia has some of the highest UV exposure levels in the world, and this is reflected in our astronomically high rates of skin cancer.

But alongside its cancer-causing effects, excessive UV exposure also can also cause cataracts to form in your eyes, which, if left untreated, will eventually lead to blindness.

The issue is bigger for Aussies than many realise. Karen Walsh, optometrist at Specsavers, told The Sydney Morning Herald she has worked in both Australia and Ireland and that on average Australians develop cataracts almost 20 years earlier than their Irish counterparts.

“We will all get a cataract if we live long enough, it’s just a natural ageing process within the eye, but it’s much faster in people who have had excessive exposure to UV,” she explains.

“The average age of a patient here starting to develop the signs of a significant cataract would be about 65. In Ireland, it would be common that people wouldn’t have any signs of cataracts until they’re in their 80s.”

She says wearing sunglasses every time you leave the house is the best way to protect your eyes from UV radiation. But they have to be the right glasses. Research conducted by Specsavers found around half of Aussies choose sunglasses based on aesthetics, rather than protection.

What to look for choosing sunglasses

100 per cent UV protection

It may seem obvious, but look for sunglasses labelled as providing 100 per cent UV protection and/or blocking both UVA and UVB rays. These are slightly different frequencies of UV light, but are both dangerous, so you’ll want to make sure you’re blocking both. 

Lens material

The lens material of your sunnies plays a crucial role in their overall effectiveness. Opt for lenses made of high-quality materials such as polycarbonate or Trivex, which are known for their durability and impact resistance. These materials offer great UV protection and can also protect your eyes from physical harm.

Polarisation

Polarised lenses reduce glare caused by sunlight reflecting off surfaces like water or roads. This effect is produced by coating the lenses in a chemical mixture. 

This feature enhances visual comfort and clarity, making them particularly beneficial for outdoor activities.

Frame design and eye coverage

The frames of your sunglasses can also play a role in protecting your eyes. Look for sunglasses with a design that offers adequate coverage around your eyes.

Wraparound styles or larger frames help block sunlight from entering through the sides, reducing the risk of UV exposure. Additionally, a snug fit ensures that sunlight doesn’t seep in from the top or sides.

Do your sunnies offer good UV protection? Is this something you check when buying a new pair? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Do blue-light glasses really work?

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