A Quick Guide to UV-Blocking Eye Protection That Works
We know. It’s hot outside and you just want to bask in the warmth. Feel the sun on your face and smell the grass beneath your feet.
But unprotected exposure to UV rays damages your eyes. You need an arsenal of eye protection for those blistering days! The best way to do so is with UV-blocking sunglasses and contact lenses.
Certain sunglasses might make you look like a movie star but don’t filter out harmful rays. Our quick guide shows you what to look for when you’re shopping for sunglasses or contact lenses next summer. We’ll also give you some tips on how to minimize your UV exposure.
How Does UV Harm Our Eyes?
Our eyes absorb sunlight in three parts: visible light, UVA rays and UVB rays. When your eyes absorb too much of any type of light, the chemicals in your eye tissue react. Over-exposure to UV light can damage your cornea, lens and retina.
Three of the most common UV-related eye conditions are cataracts, pterygium (a viscous growth on the surface of the eye) and photokeratitis (or corneal sunburn).
Ophthalmologists warn that exposure to excessive UV light raises the risks of eye cancer and macular degeneration. Every time we go out into the sun without eye protection, we risk developing an eye disorder later in life.
So what can you do about it?
Choose Sunglasses That Protect Your Eyes
Prevention is always better than cure!
The best investment you can make for your eyes is a pair of UV-blocking sunglasses. Here are the four most common types of sunglasses lenses, so choose the one that best meets your needs:
- Regular lenses reduce brightness in a general and even way.
- Polarizing lenses reduce glare caused by reflections. They’re great if you spend time on the water.
- Flash (or mirror coated) lenses reflect as much light as possible away from the eyes. These lenses are only suitable in very bright light conditions, like on water or in the snow. They scratch easily, so get a scratch-resistant coating.
- Photochromic lenses react to the intensity of UV light by darkening outdoors and lightening indoors. The versatility of these lenses means you can wear a prescription in all lighting conditions.
Understanding Sunglasses’ UV Protection
In Canada, the following industry standards for UV protection are voluntary. However, most well-known sunglass retailers follow industry standards and label their glasses accordingly. All sunglasses fall into one of these three categories:
- Cosmetic sunglasses are lightly tinted. They block up to 95% of UVB rays and 60% of UVA rays. However, they’re not suited for daytime driving.
- General purpose sunglasses block up to 99% of UVB rays and up to 92% of UVA rays. Health Canada recommends wearing general purpose lenses when you need to squint in the sun.
- Special purpose sunglasses are most effective and block at least 99% of UVB rays and up to 98.5% of UVA rays. These glasses are too dark for driving. But ophthalmologists recommend them for extended exposure to bright lights.
More Tips for Buying Sunglasses
- Consider blue light protection. Blue light is present in sunlight but most exposure comes from screens. Certain dark sunglasses with a light grey or green tint can filter blue light. Eyeglasses that filter blue light are not suitable in place of sunglasses.
- Close-fitting wraparound eyewear can help stop light from entering your eyes from the sides.
- Pay extra for a scratch-resistant coating. Most plastic lenses scratch easily.
- Look for distortion when buying sunglasses. Even top sunglass brands might fail the distortion test. Look at a straight pattern and make sure the lines stay straight if you move your head from side to side and up and down.
- Finally, don’t assume that a hefty price tag or designer brand will guarantee UV protection. Always check the label!
Contact Lenses and UV Protection
Most contact lenses now have some UV protection built into the lens material. The Acuvue brand of contact lenses claims to block at least 97% of UVB rays and 81% of UVA rays. Bausch & Lomb’s Biotrue ONEday lenses also offer UV protection and maintain 98% moisture for 16 hours.
Your contact lenses’ ability to retain moisture is more important than ever during the summer months. If you notice any symptoms of dry eye, you should consult with your eye doctor. He or she will either prescribe eye drops or have you switch contacts.
Contact lenses alone don’t offer adequate protection against the sun’s rays. Always pair your prescription contacts with great UV-blocking sunglasses!
Other Ways to Minimize UV Exposure
The simplest way to minimize UV exposure is to spend less time in the sun. But this advice is impractical for anyone who works outside. It also doesn’t help if you’re looking forward to a long and active summer!
However, you can minimize your exposure to UV rays without having to hide away indoors. The sun’s rays are usually at their strongest between 11 am and 3 pm. Be aware of this window of time and do activities indoors or in the shade.
Keep a link to the UV index forecast on hand. Many weather apps include a UV report, so it’s easy to check on your smart phone. When the UV index is 3 or higher, Health Canada recommends finding shade or wearing protective clothing and eyewear.
Cover up, even if it’s cloudy, because these harmful rays are always present. Go for light-coloured clothes that cover as much skin as possible and a wide-brimmed hat that’ll protect your face and neck.
Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on any exposed skin. Take extra precautions to make sure your children are covered up when out. Do note that a busy day outdoors means using an SPF 50 sunscreen instead.
Keep Your Eyes UV-Protected!
Take the necessary measures to protect your eyes against harmful UV rays. This summer, do all that you can to shield your family from the damaging effects of the sun. You can still soak up the summer sun and have a blast while being proactive about your eye health!