Why Your Sunglasses Could Be Harming Your Eyes

CN Digital StudioMelinda Carstensen, SELF magazine

With bikini season unofficially launching next week (Memorial Day weekend!) and skin cancer among young women on the rise, you're probably stocking up on swimsuits and sunscreen. One summer essential you might be forgetting? A sweet pair of sunglasses -- that actually protect your eyes.

For example, those tinted shades you snagged on sale might look fashionable, but if they don't have enough UV protection, wearing them could be worse than wearing nothing at all, according to a new report from the Vision Council, a group of optical manufacturers and suppliers. That's because dark lenses without adequate UV protection cause the pupil to dilate, increasing your exposure to the unfiltered UV.

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So how can you find shades that are chic AND effective? Most designer sunglasses from reputable stores should protect your eyes from the two types of harmful UV rays: UVA and UVB rays, says Ed Greene, CEO of the Vision Council (a good pair should protect you from both types of rays).

In other words, springing for a good pair of shades is crucial -- and not just because they look stylish. "People are wearing sunglasses for all the wrong reasons," says optometrist Justin Bazan, O.D., of Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn, N.Y., a spokesman for the Vision Council. "Sunglasses are like sunscreen for your eyes."

Just as the sun causes irreparable damage to the skin, harmful UV rays can permanently damage your eyes, he explains. In the short term, exposure to UV radiation can make your eyes bloodshot and swollen, according to the Vision Council report. In the long term, it can lead to health problems including cataracts, abnormal growths on the eye's surface and even cancer of the eye.

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More scary stats: When you're lounging at the beach and the sun isn't out, your skin and your eyes are still at risk for UV ray exposure. Plus, sand and water can reflect up to 25 percent of UV, the report indicates, upping your risk for eye damage. Factor in that UV levels are highest in the summer months -- particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. -- and not slipping off those shades while lounging beachside becomes even more important.

Here are a few more tips for choosing the right shades from the American Cancer Society:

--The ideal sunglasses do not have to be expensive, but they should block 99 percent to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Before you buy, check the label to make sure they do.

--Labels that say "UV absorption up to 400 nm" or "Meets ANSI UV Requirements" mean the glasses block at least 99 percent of UV rays. Those labeled "cosmetic" block about 70 percent of UV rays. If there is no label, don't assume the sunglasses provide any UV protection.

--Darker glasses are not necessarily better because UV protection comes from an invisible chemical applied to the lenses, not from the color or darkness of the lenses. Look for an ANSI label.

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--Large-framed and wraparound sunglasses are more likely to protect your eyes from light coming in from different angles. Children need smaller versions of real, protective adult sunglasses -- not toy sunglasses.

--Ideally, all types of eyewear, including prescription glasses and contact lenses, should absorb the entire UV spectrum. Some contact lenses are now made to block most UV rays. But because they don't cover the whole eye and surrounding areas, they are not sufficient eye protection when used alone.

--UV-blocking sunglasses are important for protecting the delicate skin around the eyes, as well as the eyes themselves.


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