choosing new sunglasses

Some dark glasses are better than others – get UV protection.

You need to protect your eyes from UV rays with the same determination you use to protect your skin. The fairer and lighter your eyes, the more careful you need to be. UV radiation can penetrate clouds so you should wear sunglasses outside most of the time, year round. UV rays reflect off water, sand, snow and pavement – so your hat is not entirely protecting your eyes. The downside to too much UV ray exposure is that your eyes will more susceptible to cataracts and cancer. Plus, sunglasses can be chic. Here’s what you need to look for when choosing new sunglasses – beyond the frames.

100% UV protection: Your sun glasses should come from a reputable manufacturer and give 100% UVA and UVB protection. Alternatively, the label can say UV 400, which means the lens absorbs wavelengths up to 400 nanometers. With these UV protections, your glasses will block all harmful UV rays.

Go big: Lenses only protect your eyes if they stop the bright light from coming in. Look for wrap-around glasses or large lenses (Jackie O. was on to something!). You want to stop bright light coming to your eyes from all angles.

How dark? Darker lenses block out more visible light than lighter tints, but they can offer the same protection from UV rays. You may want very dark lenses for a sunny day on the water and lenses with a lighter tint to avoid squinting on a bright cloudy day.

Peripheral vision? If you are going to drive while wearing your sunglasses, consider a pair with skinny ear-pieces so that you can look to the side.

Optical quality? A defect in your lens can be annoying – sort of like permanently dirty glasses. To test a lens, focus on a pattern with one or more horizontal and vertical lines. Move you head back and forth and up and down. If the line wiggles, choose another pair.

Impact protection? All sunglass lenses must be impact resistant (which is not the same as shatterproof). Polycarbonate plastic sunglasses are used in protective sports glasses. They can scratch easily, so look for ones with a protective coating.

Polarized? While polarization has no impact on UV protection, polarized lenses reduce reflected glare so they are restful to your eyes on the water, snow or when driving down a highway. You need to be sure that these lenses have the maximum UV protection.

Gradient lenses? Glasses which are darker at the top and lighter at the bottom are good for driving because they keep powerful sunlight out and allow you to look down at the dashboard. You need to verify their UV protection.

Mirrored shades? A mirror finish will reduce the amount of visible light getting into your eyes, but you need to verify the UV protection they offer.

Contact lenses. Some contact lenses provide UV protection.

Protections from infrared rays? Infrared wavelengths are invisible and produce heat. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that research has not shown a close connection between eye disease and infrared rays. Focus on UV protection.

Amber lenses? These tinted lenses block out blue light and make the world look yellow or orange. It may allow you to see more clearly into the distance. Skiers, pilots and sailors often wear them. Again, make sure that there is adequate UV protection.

What else do I need to know? A brimmed hat helps protect eyes from UV rays. We are exposed to at least three times the level of ultraviolet radiation in the summer months. Skiing and other winter sports with reflection from snow and ice expose us to high levels of UV radiation. UV rays are more intense at high altitudes – be even more careful to have protection for your eyes.

For more UV protection, see this article on clothing.

Sun protective clothing