The answer is… maybe.
First let’s look at why sunglasses are important.
- Everyone is at risk of damaging their eyes from UV radiation. This can result in a number of eye diseases such as cataracts, skin cancer on the eyelids, macular degeneration, corneal sunburn and excess tissue growth (pterygium).
- Research shows that by 20 years of age, the average eye has received 80% of their lifetime’s UV exposure for several reasons. Children have larger pupils, sensitive skin, and a more transparent lens that doesn’t block as many rays, so they are most at risk! The effects of UV overexposure are usually cumulative and don’t show up until later in life.
- Surfaces like water, snow, sand and the ground can all reflect UV rays from the sun, so a hat does not take the place of sun protection. Also, UV rays can easily pass through clouds.
So, sunglasses are a crucial part of UV protection, but how do you know if yours are doing the job?
Well, the truth is, you can’t tell how much UV protection a pair of sunglasses will provide by the price, colour, or darkness of the lenses! You need to read the label – as per Health Canada, manufacturers follow voluntary industry standards when labeling these products.
The words “UV blocking” are not enough! Look for eyewear that filters 100% UV-A and UV-B rays, since both kinds can be harmful to your sight. Many people aren’t aware that sunglasses that don’t adequately block UV light can be worse for your eyes than not wearing sunglasses at all! This is because dark lenses shade your eyes, causing your pupils to dilate and let in even more UV rays.
Inexpensive sunwear can provide excellent UV protection – the difference in cost often pertains to the quality of the lenses (ie. level of distortion, glare, clarity of vision and color). However, there is some added risk to buying low quality lenses because the UV protection is often a spray-on coating which can wear off over time and give a false sense of security.
So, always look for the 100% UV-A and UV-B blocking label (aka UV-400), but to be absolutely sure, it’s a good idea to bring your sunglasses in to your Optometrist and have them measured for UV protection.