Choosing sunglasses that really do protect your eyes

Factor 50 suntan lotion, check. Towels, check. Hats, SPF lip balm, 100 percent UV protected clothing, bathing suits, and parasol, check, check, check.

And don’t forget plenty of water, hydration salts, first aid kit, fruit, snacks, and last but not least, a pair of high-quality sunglasses.

We associate all these things with a holiday abroad and a long, sizzling day at the beach. But really, many of them — okay, maybe not the parasol —  could be useful on even cloudy days in London.

It may be a tad excessive to carry around a bag stuffed with supplies for sunburn and heatstroke while strolling through Marylebone in Spring. But you would do your health, and particularly your eyes, a favour, by keeping things like water, lip balm, and, crucially, a great pair of sunnies on hand whenever the temperature gets up.

But that begs the question, what qualifies as the perfect pair of shades? Is it enough that they’re a designer brand and look cool with an incredibly dark tint? Or do they need to meet certain requirements and be of a particular size, shape, colour, and even style?

Those are a few of the things we’re going to find out in this article as we explore how you can choose sunglasses that really do protect your eyes. 

1. Ultraviolet can be ultra dangerous

If your sunglasses do one thing, you want to make sure they block 99-100 percent of UV rays.

Ultraviolet rays sit on the high end of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, just below X-rays. They’ve been linked to everything from skin cancer and cataracts to macular degeneration and photokeratitis.

Ensuring your shades block the vast majority of ultraviolet radiation means you protect your eyes from UVA, UVB, and UVC rays, which are all known for their uniquely damaging effects on both the eyes and skin.

2. Grandma always knows best

A big hat and sunglasses might sound like advice your grandma would give you, but it couldn’t be more accurate.

That’s because the skin around the eyes is the thinnest and most fragile on the face, not to mention it’s under the strain of 22 muscles and 10,000 blinks a day.

Yep, grandma knows best. A whopping 90 percent of premature ageing around the eyes is caused by UV damage. So, if you want to still look good when you’re her age, forget what’s trendy and cover up with a wide-brimmed hat and wrap-around or oversized shades.

3. A polarising position on polarised lenses

While UV blocking shades protect the eyes and the sensitive tissue around them, polarised lenses reduce glare that bounces off surfaces like asphalt, water, snow, so you can comfortably see what’s in front of you.

While polarised lenses are not a must (no matter what the salesperson says), they may help in reducing eye strain and stop you squinting in the sun all the time.

4. Darker is not always better

Even though you would think so, darker lenses aren’t necessarily better for your eyes — or your street cred — than other, lighter tinted sunglasses.

In fact, they can actually be worse, as by making the world around you darker, they cause your pupils to dilate and thus let in even more radiation.

Lenses with coloured tints like green, amber, or grey can be useful for sportspeople, for example, as they increase contrast. But again, they’re not any better at protecting your eyes unless they have adequate UV protection.

5. Shades are not just seasonal

Up there with myths like you can’t get sunburnt through windows and breakfast is the most important meal of the day is the idea that if it’s cool or cloudy outside, you don’t need to cover up from the sun.

The reality is, however, that up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds, causing many people to suffer serious burns and UV damage even on overcast days.

Keep your eyes behind shades and on the UV index forecast on the Met Office website to ensure you’re adequately covered up on days of strong UV radiation. And if you’re planning a ski holiday, remember that snow can reflect UV rays and the higher the altitude, the greater the exposure. 

The main takeaway is that shades are not just a timeworn fashion statement; they’re a sign that looking after your eyes is of the utmost importance. Still, there’s no excuse to wear them indoors at parties, cafes, or long after the sun has gone down. Sorry, we’re all up for shades to protect your peepers from the suns rays, but that’s just not cool.

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Choosing sunglasses that really do protect your eyes

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