"People could be jeopardising their eye health by choosing cheap, fashion-led sunnies that offer no protection. Your eyes are extremely valuable and some damage can be irreversible"
Dr Andy Hepworth - Eye Expert, Essilor
Leading eye expert Dr Andy Hepworth from Essilor explains how to ensure you’re protecting your eyes sufficiently in the summer and what to look for when choosing sunglasses.
“People could be jeopardising their eye health by choosing cheap, fashion-led sunnies that offer no protection. Your eyes are extremely valuable and some damage can be irreversible so it’s vital that people are choosing the right lenses.
“As well as being a popular fashion accessory, sunglasses are designed to protect eyes from over exposure to UV light that can lead to premature ageing, plus serious eye health issues such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Excessive UV exposure also has been linked to corneal sunburn and retinal tissue damage. It can also cause eye strain and headaches. UVA rays are less damaging than intensive UVB rays but eyes need to be protected from both.
“Shockingly, research shows that only 40 per cent of people cite protecting their eyes as a reason for wearing sunglasses, with a further 30 per cent of those questioned completely unaware of the damage that UV rays can do.
“Your eyes have a natural filter, crested by the cornea and crystalline lens. This filter absorbs UV light to protect the retina. However, it is wearing the right sunglasses that will block UV rays from reaching your eyes in the first place, helping to prevent any potential damage to your cornea and crystalline lens.
“Sun burn on the skin indicates that you have over exposed it to the sun – but it’s less easy to see the damage you’re doing to eyes so it’s vital that we increase knowledge on this area of health. There has been increased awareness around wearing suntan lotion with UV protection and we want to increase awareness around eye protection too.
“For optimum eye health you should be wearing sunglasses all year round”, adds Dr Hepworth, “but as we head into Summer, now is the perfect time to check that your existing pair of sunglasses have the correct level of protection and perhaps ditch those that don’t.”
How to check the UV levels of sunglasses
The easiest way is check the label on your sunglasses, if buying new, or if you still have the box and paperwork.
You can also take your sunglasses to an eye care professional and opticians who can measure the UV filters using specialist equipment. Scratched lenses may not be offering full protection as light may be filtering through.
There are some simple checks that can be carried out at home with a UV flashlight.
Five tips for buying sunglasses
“When it comes to buying a new pair of sunglasses you may think you are spoilt for choice, with an array of colours and frame styles. But the first thing to remember is that not all sunglasses are created equal – here’s what to look for when buying sunglasses.
- Only buy glasses that show the UV protection, which will be indicated on the label or shown on the product description.
- The minimum should ideally be UV 400 protection, which blocks nearly 100% of the sun’s harmful ultra violet rays, with both UVA and UVB protection.
- Just don’t assume all cheap sunglasses provide this level of protection, even if a sticker on the lenses says, ‘blocks UV’. Remember just because lenses are ‘dark’ in colour it doesn’t automatically mean they offer the right protection.
- It is not always the ‘price’ that indicates the quality and UV protection. Some lower cost sunglasses can offer the right UV protection. All sunglasses sold in the UK should have a CE mark on them to indicate that they comply with regulatory standards, blocking out 95% of all UV rays below 380 nanometres.
- As well as UV protection it’s also important that that you can see clearly whilst wearing sunglasses. You can also select different types of lenses that are right for your specific visual needs, such as polarised and prescription.
“If you’re buying new sunglasses, the best place to start is at your opticians. If you haven’t had an eye test in the past 12 months then first and foremost you should get your eyes tested as you may benefit from prescription sunglass lenses or specialist coatings or lenses. Your optician can advise what other specialist lens types will suit your eyes. Larger frames or those that wrap around the eye will generally provide better protection – even from the sides.”
As well as protecting your eyes from UV damage, advances in lens technology now mean that sunglasses can do so much more:
Increase driving safety by reducing glare with polarised lenses
“Sunlight can create glare which is caused when the sun’s rays bounce of flat surfaces such as a road. This which can be distracting and dangerous – especially if you’re driving. It can also create issues for people who suffer from light sensitivity, also known as photophobia.
“We advise having polarised lenses. The technology behind these lenses can counteract glare from the sun reflecting off horizontal surfaces. Xperio Polarised technology only allows vertical light through the lens – making it safer driving and providing a high level of UV protection.
Try tinted lenses
“The latest in tinted lens technology means that your sunglasses can be stylish and effective without compromising on clarity, colour and contrast. For example, Essicolour Tints have been created in collaboration with the Natural History Museum in Paris using the colour rendering index range to respect natural colour balance. These lenses will reduce distortion to give the very best clarity, whilst muting brightness from the sun. You can even opt to have a graduated tint making for a trend-led finish, with a dark tint at the top that gets increasingly lighter towards the bottom portion of the lens. Mirrored finishes are also available.
Consider photochromic lenses for the ultimate convenience
“Photochromic lenses, also known as light adaptive lenses, are hugely convenient – they automatically adapt to changing light conditions, meaning that you don’t have to switch between glasses and sunglasses as you move between indoor and outdoor spaces.
“When these lenses are exposed to UV light, the molecules in the lens change and cause it to darken – this works even on overcast days and ensures you’re receiving optimal UV protection in all conditions. Most photochromic lenses typically won’t darken in the car as windshields block most UV light but there are some specialist lenses available that will work from behind a windshield so make sure that you look into all options available.
“If you think that these kind of lenses are for older generations then stop right there. Light intelligent lenses have come a long way in recent years with mirrored lenses and light tints available for those who are looking to put a more fashion conscious twist on this leading technology.”
Dr Hepworth is an optical specialist for Essilor.