Don’t Forget Your Sunglasses

July 17, 2014
Amber Bauer, ASCO staff

I’ve always been a vocal supporter of the $5 pair of sunglasses. Those things are practically indestructible and next to impossible to lose in my experience. I once had a pair fall off my head and get trampled on by a galloping horse, only to have a friend grab them off the ground and hand them back to me with barely a scratch visible. Astonishing really.

Recently, though, I’ve started hearing about how important sunglasses are from a health perspective since they help protect the eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is the number-one cause of skin cancers like melanoma and basal cell carcinoma; however, like nearly half of American adults, I hadn’t made the connection between long-term UV exposure and cataracts, melanoma of the eye, or other types of cancer of the eye and the skin around it.

I began to wonder: While I slather on SPF 50 sunscreen with practically a religious fervor, am I doing enough to protect my eyes from the sun? Well, it’s definitely not too late to start, so here’s what some of the experts have to say:

UVA and UVB protection are key. There are two types of UV radiation: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVB radiation causes sunburn and plays a role in the development of melanoma. UVA radiation penetrates the skin more deeply and contributes premature skin aging and wrinkling (definitely not something most people are looking to promote around their eyes!). Doctors and researchers suspect that UVA also plays a role in the development of skin cancer, but it has not been proven yet. Not all sunglasses provide the same UV protection. Always look for lenses that block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Some types of prescription glasses and contacts also provide UVA and UVB protection, but make sure to ask an eye care professional.

Style does matter. Let’s be honest. If your sunglasses don’t look good or aren’t comfortable, you aren’t going to wear them. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the bigger the lenses, the more of your eyes, eyelids, and surrounding skin that will be covered. Wraparound styles also provide increased protection for the sides of the eyes and eyelids.

It’s not all about price. Although it’s true you often get what you pay for, a good pair of sunglasses doesn’t have to cost a fortune. If, like me, you fear losing or breaking sunglasses, look into buying an inexpensive plastic pair that is easily replaceable. Avoid buying sunglasses from vintage stores and street vendors. They might up your hipster cred, but they can’t guarantee UV protection.

Always protect your eyes outside. You don’t just have to worry about the damaging effects of UV rays on sunny summer days. Just like you should always apply sunscreen, even on cloudy days, sunglasses are also a must. Think about putting on your shades throughout the year, including on overcast days.

Store sunglasses in a case. Throwing your sunglasses into a bag, purse, car console, or countertop can result in scratches and scrapes that decrease UV protection and warp lenses and frames. (I can only imagine what horse hooves would do!)

I think from now on, I will be extolling the virtues of the UV protecting power of my sunglasses rather than their price tag.

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