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Group of sunglasses displayed face up, laying on a tarp.

Photo by Sgt, Aaron Patterson, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade

Function Over Fashion

Sunglasses are often thought of as just a fashion accessory. Although sunglasses can be stylish no matter the season, sunglasses are also important to maintain visual health. Sunglasses help to prevent progressive eye disease, mitigate light sensitivity and eyestrain, and provide protection from eye injuries from sun exposure, projectiles, glare, and other hazards.

Here are some of the ways wearing sunglasses can keep you seeing great while looking great, too.

Ultraviolet (UVA/B) Protection

Much like the exposed skin on the body, the skin around the eyes and the structures within the eyes can be damaged by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Over time, exposure to UV rays can lead to benign or malignant skin cancers, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Wearing sunglasses with UVA/B light protection is an easy way to help slow or prevent progression of these visually disabling diseases. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that UV rays are present all year round, not just during the summer season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UV rays can reflect off many surfaces, including water, snow, cement, and sand, and can have a harmful impact on visual health. The American Optometric Association (AOA), American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the CDC recommend sunglasses that provide 100 percent (400 nm) UV protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

Eye Trauma Protection

Many outdoor activities, such as sports, landscaping, and beachgoing, carry the risk of impact eye injuries from balls, projectiles, and other environmental debris like sand and wind. Sunglasses offer protection against these injuries by shielding the eyes from debris or other objects that can get into the eyes and cause damage. When choosing an optimal pair, sunglasses should ideally cover from the eyebrow to the top of the cheekbone, and past the far edge of the eyelids. Wraparound-style sunglasses can help protect from trauma that could otherwise strike the eye from different impact angles and prevent UV rays from entering from the side. Additionally, the preferred lens material that increases protection is made of polycarbonate or trivex material, which are far less likely to shatter than glass or regular plastic lenses. Eyewear specifically marked with “ANSI Z87.1” meets the safety standards laid out by the American National Standards Institute.

Light Sensitivity and Eye Strain

You can be sensitive to sunlight and/or glare, which can cause eye discomfort or pain, and make you squint your eyes. Constant squinting can lead to eye fatigue and even headaches. Wearing sunglasses can help to mitigate these issues. According to the AOA and AAO, “Polarized filter sunglass lenses are designed to reduce the glare bouncing off reflective surfaces like water or roads.” As long as they don’t interfere with your vision and certain types of screens, polarized filter sunglass lenses are a preferred choice to help optimize vision especially while driving or during other potentially dangerous activities.

Sunglasses are not just a summertime fashion accessory and should be worn all year round to maintain optimal visual health. They provide UV protection, prevent eye disease and eye injuries, and protect against other hazards. Wearing the right pair of sunglasses can make the difference between an eye injury and/or eye disease or a lifetime of high-quality vision. Remember to pick a pair of sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection, polarized lenses, and complete coverage all around the eye.