Posted by: courtneygrapperhaus | June 15, 2015

Sunglasses – Why they are important & What kind to buy

My husband works outdoors every day and wears sunglasses all the time. He was recently shopping for a new pair and was wondering what exactly are the important features in sunwear? Over the past few years we have written several posts about sunglasses (mostly about our children’s sunglasses) but we have never explained what key things to look for in a pair of sunglasses.

sun with sunglasses

First, let’s explore a bit about why sunglasses are important. Ultraviolet light, or UV radiation, is naturally emitted from the sun. The Earth’s atmosphere protects us from some of these rays, but not all of them. UV light has a shorter wavelength and higher energy than visible light.

Although designed to protect the eye, the eyelid’s skin is thin and contains many fragile tissues vulnerable to UV light. Inside the eye, the lens and cornea, both transparent, filter UV rays, but years of UV absorption can damage them. The lens, the eye’s focusing mechanism, can turn yellowish and cataractous. The cornea, the area in front at the outer layer of the eye, admits light and images to the retina. UV damage can cause cancers of the eye, intraocular melanoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and keratitis (corneal sunburn).

Since people with fair skin and light eyes have less melanin in their bodies they are more susceptible to eye disease and skin cancer than those with dark skin and eyes. Also, people who already have cataracts or macular degeneration should be especially careful in protecting their eyes from UV light.

Wikipedia (which is quickly becoming my favorite website) tells us that sunglasses date back to prehistoric time. Intuit people developed ivory glasses with narrow slits to reduce their exposure to sunlight. In the 12th century people in China wore smoky quartz glasses to protect their eyes from glare. In the 1920’s modern day sunglasses became a commonly found product. Foster Grant “is the original American sunglass brand” ( The company was the first to mass produce inexpensive sunglasses. Sam Foster began selling these on the beaches of Atlantic City, NJ. At first, sunglasses became popular because of fashion. “In 1937…only about 25% of American wearers needed them to protect their eyes” (Wikipedia). As time went on, however, more and more people began to wear them for protection.

Inuit sunglasses

Inuit sunglasses

There are a multitude of options for sunglasses in different shapes, sizes, colors and styles. Prices range anywhere from $1 at the local dollar store to hundreds of dollars for brands like Oakley and Maui Jim. When shopping for a pair of sunglasses, no matter your price point, there are a few key features to look for.

  • UVA and UVB protection. Look for sunglasses that protect 99% or more of UVA and UVB rays. If they are labeled “UV 400” or “UV Absorption up to 400nm” it means that they block 100% of UV light.
  • Polarization and Anti-Reflective Coating. Polarized lenses reduce the amount of glare from surfaces like car windows, pavement and water.
  • Impact Resistant. The FDA requires all sunglass lenses be impact-resistant. If you play sports or wear sunglasses on the job then you should consider special sunglasses designed for sports and safety.
  • Size and Shape. When trying on sunglasses, make sure the lenses fit close enough to the face to block stray light but far enough so they don’t touch the eyelashes. Wraparound styles are shaped to keep light from entering around the frames and protect your eyes from all angles.
  • Color and Shade. Just because a pair of sunglasses is dark grey does not mean they are a good quality pair of lenses. In fact, purchasing a pair of sunglasses that have inadequate dark lenses can even cause more harm than inadequate light lenses, or no lenses, because they cause the pupil to open wider, which lets in more unfiltered light.
  • Distortion Free. To check the quality of a pair of sunglasses, put them on and look at a straight edge. Move your head back and forth and your eyes from side to side. If you see the line wiggle the lenses are probably distorted. You can also take them into your local optical shop and ask them to check the quality of the lenses.

So what options exist in today’s market? Whether you wear prescription glasses or not you can find a variety of choices online and in stores. Here are a few of them…

  • Children’s sunglasses (children’s eyes are actually more sensitive to UV light than adult’s so it is very important to protect them from an early age)
  • Prescription Sunglasses or Reader Sunglasses
  • Prescription glasses with photochromic lenses (gradually change from clear to dark when exposed to UV Light)
  • Fit Over sunglasses (go over prescription glasses)
  • Clip On sunglasses (clip on to the frames of prescription glasses)
  • Flip Up sunglasses (clip on to the frames of prescription glasses and have a hinge so they can be flipped up when not in use)
  • Post-mydriatic (given out to patients after a dilation exam)
  • Sun Lenses (magnetically attach to prescription glasses)
  • Plano Sunglasses (sunglasses that do not correct vision and are meant to be worn on their own)

A few other safety measures can be taken when in the sun, such as wearing a large brimmed hat, sunscreen, and staying out of direct sunlight during the hours of 10 am and 2 pm.

Here are our previous posts on sunglasses



  1. National Sunglasses Day is Saturday June 27th!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: