James Dean and The Fonz rolling up on their motorbikes, Marilyn and Audrey turning sunglasses into a fashion statement – shades have always been cool. But sunglasses are more than just the look du jour. They’re critical for eye health too, especially in summer.
What can the sun do to your eyesight?
We know that UV rays can harm the skin, but they cause irreparable damage to the eyes too. Sun damage is linked to cataract formation and conjunctival changes. Skin cancer can also affect the eyes – 5 to 10% of skin cancers appear on the eyelid region, or even inside the eye itself.
But it’s not just direct sunlight that can cause damage, reflective surfaces such as water, sand, white paint, concrete and snow can reflect UV radiation and can add to your overall UV exposure too!
Use shades to avoid eye damage
In 2006, the Cancer Society changed their slogan from ‘Slip, slop and slap’ to ‘Slip, slop, slap, seek and slide (on a pair of sunglasses)’. The change acknowledged that eye damage starts from childhood, and it builds up over time. Diseases such as cataracts and cancer take years to develop, and vision problems may not be recognised until it’s too late. This is why you have to protect your eyes from a young age. UV rays are still harmful even on cloudy days, so you need to look after your eye health every day.
- Buy UV-blocking sunglasses. Sunglass standards recommend you look for shades that absorb almost all UV radiation. Choose sunglasses that have 400UV ratings – that means they provide 100% UV protection and protects your eyes from both UVA and UVB radiation. Note that lenses with darker tints does not mean they are more protective than lenses with lighter tint. Clear tint or light tint can also offer 400UV protection (like our computer glasses!)
- Consider polarized lenses for reduced glare. Polarised sunglasses with full 400UV protection can offer an added protection from reflective surfaces such as water, snow and sand. They work by blocking out intense horizontal reflections (glare), providing maximum comfort and improved visibility. They’re especially great for outdoor/water sports activities and for minimizing glare during driving
- Get sunglasses for everyone. The whole family needs sunglasses (even your dog!), and they should be worn every time you’re outside. Children are more sensitive to UV light than adults. That means your kids need to wear sunglasses, even on cloudy days. Alongside getting them into a habit of sunscreen and a hat, having a pair of sunglasses they can pop on as they leave the house will help their eye health in future.
- Speak to your optometrist about specialist options. If you wear prescription glasses, it’s a simple process to ask your optometrist to get an extra pair that are tinted. Because sunglasses are constantly being put on and taken off, they need to be robust in design. Remember to look after them properly, store them in the provided case and keep them clear of sand and saltwater.If you are prone to losing your glasses, then you might want to consider transition lenses that automatically adjust their tint to suit the light levels. This means you have one pair of glasses for inside and out, removing the need for swapping over normal eyeglasses and sunglasses. Transition lenses offer continuous UV protection, and they are very convenient. However, you need to replace them every three years or so, and they may not darken enough in cars or on bright days
- Wear shades even when it’s cloudy. A layer of cloud is not a protective factor, according to the SCF, up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds! You can still get sunburned on a cloudy day.
Other ways to avoid sun damage
Wear a hat with a large brim. Whenever you’re outside, the addition of a hat will help keep the sun off your face and eyes (which also prevents sun damage to skin and wrinkles).
Wear sunscreen. Every day, make sure you apply sunscreen to exposed skin. This includes the face and neck in particular.
Get your eyes checked. You should be aiming to get your eyes checked regularly to ensure optimal health and no signs of disease.
Never look directly at the sun. This can cause solar retinopathy, retina damage from solar radiation. This warning includes eclipses, so always wear some form of eye protection if you’re watching an eclipse.
Beware of time: UV rays are strongest between 10am and 4pm and sunburn/sun damage can occur in less than 15 minutes.
It’s easy to avoid eye damage from the sun
To keep your eyes safe and in optimal health, you need to wear sunglasses that have a strong UV rating, like these ones from J+S Vision. Remember to wear them daily, and pair them with sunscreen and a hat for full UV cover. This lowers your risk of cancer, cataracts, and a range of other eye problems. It’s such a small thing to do but can make a big difference to the health of your eyes in the long term.