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Sunglasses are cool but protection is paramount

Sunglasses are cool. There are cheap sunglasses, like the kind referenced in the 1980 ZZ Top song by the same name. And there’s the Ray-Ban Wayfarer style worn by movie stars since the 1950s and referenced by the Eagles in their 1984 song The Boys of Summer.

But while looks and hipness are fine, the importance of wearing sunglasses is to protect the wearer’s eyes against ultraviolet radiation.

Without proper protection, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, particularly abundant in natural sunlight reflected off snow or sand and at high altitudes, can cause keratoconjunctivitis, a temporary inflammation of the eyelid lining or the cornea. Snow skiers call the condition “snow blindness.”

Proper sunglasses are important to avoid eye damage from the sun.
Proper sunglasses are important to avoid eye damage from the sun.

More devastating, UV radiation can also permanently damage the retina, the vision mechanism inside the eye. Ultraviolet radiation is also a leading contributor to cataracts, the clouding of an eye lens that obstructs the passage of light.

Learn About Sunglasses

The American Optometric Association (AOA), estimates a few billion dollars is spend annually in the United States to purchase a few hundred million pairs of sunglasses.

But the perceived mystique, glamour and “coolness” of wearing sunglasses should never be overshadowed by the more important protection issue.

One of the three components of solar energy, invisible ultraviolet radiation has three levels, defined as UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. Range of ultraviolet light is determined by nanometers, the international wavelength measurement. One nanometer equals one billionth of a meter.

Protection from ultraviolet rays is an important cosideration for sunglass purchases.
Protection from ultraviolet rays is an important consideration for sunglass purchases.

Ultraviolet-C is solar energy measured below 286 nanometers. Ultraviolet-B is defined as 286 to 320 nanometers, and UV-A is 320 to 400 nanometers.

Although it may change as the ozone layer further erodes, UV-C radiation is believed to be effectively absorbed by the ozone, the earth’s upper oxygen atmosphere. Ultraviolet-B is the solar energy that causes sunburn.

Although the potential dangers of UV-A are not as well documented, experts believe sunglasses should protect against at least 99 percent of UV-A and UV-B radiation and screen out at least 75 percent of visible light.

Type Of Sunglasses

In addition to percentage of UV protection, consumers should also consider optical quality, frame construction, proper color vision characteristics and other options such as polarization and mirror coating.

In the sports sunglass market, the largest share of the industry, Polycarbonate lenses, which are nearly shatterproof, have become an industry standard, replacing glass and plastic.

Mirrored sunglasses have the same properties of a two-way mirror, provide maximum infrared light protection and are designed for wear in glare from snow or water.

Polarized glasses eliminate glare and are universally recommended by eye care specialists for driving or any general use where glare is prevalent.

Sunglasses For Anyone, All Occasions

Sunglass lenses should be made from polycarbonate or Trivex if the wearer is involved with potentially eye-hazardous work or sports.

Wrap round frames provided additional protection from harmful radiation for those who spend considerable time in bright sunlight.

Several sunglass manufacturers’ products include interchangeable shades of lenses. It’s is a good idea for those living in areas with vast differences in weather conditions.

While proper eye care is important for everyone, certain sunglasses wearers are potentially at higher risk for UV radiation harm.

The AOA groups skiers, mountain climbers, beach fanciers in the same category as welders, medical technologists, electricians and those who have had cataract surgery. Anyone in theses categories should is likely more susceptible to UV radiation hazards.

Where To Shop For Sunglasses

Major department stores and their respective websites sell myriad brands of sunglasses. Free shipping is available with many online retailers, but buying online also prevents buyers from examining or “test driving” products.

Whether you’re a long-distance runner, mountain biker, traveling salesperson or a bird watcher, the most important reason to wear sunglasses is to protect your eyes against ultraviolet radiation.

Industry experts stress that a $25 pair of sunglasses at a discount pharmacy could meet the required the UV protection and construction standards. And a $200 pair might not meet any of the standards. Price just isn’t a good way determine the quality of sunglasses.

About James Raia

James Raia is a writer, editor and publisher based in Sacramento, California, who specializes in sports, lifestyle and business topics. He's written the syndicated automotive column The Weekly Driver since 2004.