When shopping for a new pair of sunglasses you probably consider the shape of your face, the latest fashion trends, and your budget. But there's one thing you might not be thinking about that could have long-lasting effects: UV protection.
Those trendy shades with the rimless edges and colored lenses might look cool, but without the proper sun protection technology, they could be responsible for vision problems both this summer and for many summers to come. Sun exposure and sun damage in and around your eyes is a serious issue—short term and long term. Sunburns on your cornea (ouch!) can take a painful three days to recover from. And macular degeneration causes vision deterioration and even blindness over time.
To help set the record straight on shades and lead you on a shopping path (or spree!) that ends with both stylish and protective sunglasses, Janelle Routhier, O.D., F.A.A.O., senior director of customer development at Essilor, offers up these must-know facts and no-fail tips to use when shopping for summer's best accessory. (Get your online shopping started with these 7 Stylish Sunglasses That Also Protect Your Eyes.)
Read the Labels
That annoying label that obstructs your vision when you try on a pair of sunglasses is there for a very good and necessary reason. "The number-one thing you should always look for is to make sure that the lenses have at least 98 percent protection against UVA and UVB rays," says Routhier. Even better if they say they protect against UVC rays, too.
Go for a Classic Shape
The iconic first lady Jackie O and her classic round black frames will never go out of style and that's good news for you. Routhier says that when it comes to frame size and shape, the bigger the better. "Look for styles that wrap around the face, that help block light out from the sides, and are tighter to your face," she says. "The wider the temples, the more light it will block, and same for the lenses."
Sorry to report that this chronically chic style ranks pretty low on the sun-protection scale. It's less to do with the lenses and more about the frames, says Routhier. "They are far off your face," she says. "They allow a lot of light to come in around your eyes or around the lenses." This matters because it's not just the light that comes directly at you while you're lying on a beach towel that does damage. There's also the light that reflects off of the water or the ski slopes that can bounce off one surface and into your eye or the surrounding skin.
Polarized Lenses Don't Offer More Protection
But they will make your vision better. Polarization is essentially the "sharpen" tool in Photoshop. The process "includes an extra filter in the lens that blocks light that scatters as it enters the eye, which helps reduce glare," says Routhier. "This is especially helpful if it's humid out or you're on a boat or the beach." Oh and FYI, mirrored lenses don't make a difference one way or another, either.
Ombré or Gradient Lenses May Help
"The benefits to having ombré or gradient lenses is that they allow different levels of light to come into a lens," says Routhier. Depending on the sun exposure you can have more light or less. And even if the bottom of a lens is fairly light, as long as it still has the proper UV protection rating, then it will still do the trick.
Darker Lenses Don't Necessarily Mean More Protection
Conversely, just because a pair of sunglasses has super-dark lenses doesn't guarantee they will protect your eyes from the blazing sun. "If it's not meeting the standards, it's not meeting the standards regardless of how blacked-out the lenses are," says Routhier.
You Can Upgrade Any Pair
Investing in a good pair of quality sunglasses with a large durable frame, proper UV protection, and polarization may not be something you're ready for—after all, how many pairs of sunnies have you lost in the car? Routhier says that you can still get expensive-level sun protection with a cheapie pair of sunglasses. All you have to do is ask your eye doctor to add a coating on the back side of the lenses that minimizes the light reflection, which turns those $20 shades into $120 stunners.
The Trifecta of Protection Is Your Best Bet
While any sunglasses are better than no sunglasses, Routhier says to be truly protected you need the trifecta. Sunglasses with a proper frame and lens protection, sunscreen on your face—particularly on the thin skin around your eyes—and a wide-brimmed hat together add up to the best combination for protecting your skin and vision from the damaging sun. (Learn more about sun safety, including some common sun-protection misconceptions.)