How to Choose the Best Sunglasses for Your Eye Health

They’re more than a fashion statement
Couple enjoying the late summer sun wearing sunglasses

With summer comes sunshine, and with sunshine comes exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and white-hot glare. If you’re in the market for a new pair of shades, keep eye protection and comfort — and not just style — in mind.

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Finding the right sunglasses is important, as they don’t all offer the same protection. Some research suggests that high-energy ultraviolet rays from the sun can harm your vision later in life. Excessive UV exposure may damage the macula, the area in back of the eye that helps transmit pictures to the brain. The risk is greatest if your eyes are light-colored.

Ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD, offers tips to choosing the best sunglasses that will keep your eyes well protected.

How to get the best protection

To best protect your eyes, Dr. Singh recommends that you:

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  • Choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB light. You don’t have to pay a premium — UV protection is available in all price ranges. “There are a bunch out there. You want to buy them from a reputable manufacturer,” Dr. Singh says. Choose the highest level UVA/UVB protection you can find. He says that it will say what level of UVA and UVB protection you would have on the sticker or printed right on the tag.
  • Select amber or brown lenses if you have macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy. These colors enhance contrast, which can help you see better. But a high UV rating is more important than lens color if you have to choose, he says.

Tips for sunglasses for driving

Direct sunlight is often too bright for comfort as we age and our pupils grow larger and more sensitive to light. For the best vision when you’re driving, Dr. Singh recommends that you:

  • Look for polarized lenses. They’re best for reducing glare. This is especially important if you have had refractive eye surgery, such as LASIK.
  • Select brown, grey, green or yellow lenses. They’re best for minimizing color distortion.

Kids need sunglasses too

Dr. Singh says children as young as 6 months old should wear sunglasses. The Vision Council of America reminds us that the damage from UVA and UVB radiation is cumulative over a person’s lifetime, so it’s a good idea to teach your children how important it is to wear sunglasses.

Overexposure to the sun’s rays can cause several eye diseases to form. These include cataracts and macular degeneration over a person’s lifetime.

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If you already wear glasses

Prescription eyeglasses — particularly those with polycarbonate lenses — provide some built-in UV protection, says Dr. Singh. Lenses that automatically darken when you go outdoors protect against both UV rays and glare.

Optometrists can also help you choose the right sunglasses for you. Once you buy them, remember to wear them regularly, notes Dr. Singh — on your nose and not on your head.

Dr. Singh says sunglasses are one of those indispensable items that he doesn’t mind spending a little extra money on. He says a little bit of extra protection seems worthwhile in the long run.

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