When you're choosing sunglasses, does UV protection matter?

Answers from Dennis Robertson, M.D.

Yes, ultraviolet (UV) eye protection matters. UV radiation from the sun can damage not only the skin of your eyelid but also the cornea, lens and other parts of the eye. UV exposure also contributes to the development of certain types of cataracts and possibly macular degeneration.

When you're choosing sunglasses, look for UV-protection details on product labels. Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Skip sunglasses that neglect to offer details about their UV protection. Keep in mind that the color and degree of darkness sunglasses provide have nothing to do with the sunglasses' ability to block UV rays. Also, opt for wraparound sunglasses or close-fitting sunglasses with wide lenses that protect your eyes from every angle.

Standard prescription eyeglasses in the U.S. are treated to provide UV protection while retaining a clear, nontinted appearance. Some contact lenses also offer UV protection, but should be worn in combination with sunglasses to maximize protection.

Of course, UV protection isn't the only consideration when it comes to selecting sunglasses. In addition to UV protection, consider these extras:

  • Blue-blocking lenses. Blue-blocking lenses can make distant objects easier to see, especially in snow or haze. They're popular with skiers, boaters and hunters. Lenses that block all blue light are tinted amber.However, when driving, it's recommended that tinted sunglasses be gray to ensure proper traffic light recognition.
  • Polarized lenses. Polarized lenses reduce reflected glare, such as sunlight that bounces off snow or water. They're useful for skiing, driving and fishing.
  • Photochromic lenses. These lenses darken or lighten as the amount of available light changes. However, they take time to adjust to different light conditions.
  • Polycarbonate lenses. Polycarbonate lenses offer impact protection during potentially hazardous sports and activities.
  • Mirror-coated lenses. Mirror-coated lenses reduce visible light.
  • Gradient lenses. Single-gradient lenses, which are dark on the top and lighter on the bottom, reduce glare while allowing you to see clearly. They're useful for driving, but not sports. Double-gradient lenses are dark on the top and bottom and lighter in the middle. They're useful to wear during water or winter sports, but not for driving.
May. 04, 2013 See more Expert Answers