woman wearing sunglasses in the city
June 19, 2019 | by Holly Lebar OD

In Seattle the start of summer often means we need to buy another pair of sunglasses since we’re known to lose last season’s pair. It’s important to know that the glare from the sun is more than just bright light, however; it contains harmful ultra violet (UV) rays.

And while sunlight in summer is much brighter than our off-season overcast, protecting your eyes from UV rays should be a year-round practice.

What are UV rays and why is it important to protect ourselves?

Both UVA and UVB cause changes in skin pigmentation, delayed burning of the outer skin layer, and contribute to aging, wrinkling, and skin cancers developing.

UVA penetrates more deeply into skin layers but UVB exposure is more dangerous, significantly promoting skin cancers.

How are UV rays harmful for the eyes?

The UV rays from the sun and other sources can also harm our eyes over time, leading to cataracts (the clouding of the lens of the eye), macular degeneration and cornea damage. UV rays may even pose as a risk factor for melanoma of the eye.

Wearing sunglasses is an easy and expressive way to protect your eye health.

What kind of sunglasses best protect your eyes from UV rays?

Not all sunglasses are created equal. "You want to look for polarized lenses, or something that says 99 percent UVA/UVB protection," says Dr. Holly Lebar, optometrist at Blink Optical - The Polyclinic at Madison Center.

Sunglasses now come in a wide variety of lens tint colors as well. “Different tints provide different benefits,” says Dr. Lebar. Custom color-tinted lenses can be fit to any frame at Blink. Options include:

  • Amber or brown enhance the contrast between light and dark. This blocks blue light that occurs on cloudy days, and would be best used by cyclists or runners.
  • Gradient (tinted from the bottom up) lenses will shield eyes from overhead light.
  • Gray is a neutral tint that does not impact true colors. It would be good for golfing, hiking, wild-life viewing or other outdoor activities where color identification is important.
  • Green reduces glare and eye strain, and is best for active sports like tennis, baseball and soccer.
  • Mirrored coating limits the amount of light coming through the lens and offers comfort for water or snow sports.
  • Violet is a soothing shade for people who cannot tolerate the darkness of a standard sunglasses lens.
  • Yellow reduces glare and increases contrast. It would be good for working in haze, or minimizing the glare from a computer screen while working.

Do contacts provide protection from the sun?

“At Blink we carry new contacts called Acuvue Oasys with Transitions that provide protection from the sun. However, since contacts do not cover the whole eye, you will still want to wear sunglasses,” says Dr. Lebar. “Plus, you are protecting the skin around your eyes as well.”

What are other ways to protect your eyes from the sun?

Sunglasses can protect you from UV rays, but it’s also important to:

  • Avoid looking directly at the sun
  • Be aware of other sources of UV light, like tanning beds and industrial sources, such as welding flame.
  • Adjust to your surroundings. High altitude is another place where eye and skin protection is critical. For every 1,000 meters of altitude, UV levels increase by approximately 10 percent.

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Written By: Holly Lebar OD