Summer is here, and we know we should bring sunscreen to protect our skin from harmful UV rays, as well as other outdoor gear to protect us from the elements, but what about our eyes? Without proper defense, your eyes can, in fact, get sunburned or damaged even worse, so we recommend taking as many precautions as you can. Don’t worry, we’ve got all our best advice below on how to protect your eyes from sun UV exposure.
How do sunglasses protect your eyes?
Eye protection may not get as much attention as sunscreen does when addressing how to best protect ourselves from the sun, but it’s of equal importance. That’s because the sun can make a serious impact on your eye health. In the same way, sunscreen helps deflect the sun’s powerful (and often harmful) rays off the surface of our skin, so too does proper eyewear. So what exactly are the risks of being in the sun without proper sunglass protection, and how do you know your sunnies are doing an adequate job of safeguarding your eyes?
Your eyes also have the ability to get sunburned just like your skin (scientific name photokeratitis), which is a risk you run by going without sunglasses, or wearing ones without proper shielding mechanisms or tinted lenses. You can identify this by your eyes feeling itchy, dry, gritty, or sensitive to light after a long day of sun exposure. This stems from inflammation of the cornea, which controls entry of light into the eye.
The lens of the eye holds its primary function of helping us focus on light and make out clear images around us. A cataract occurs when this lens becomes blurry. Studies have shown that strong UV radiation from sunlight increases the risk of cataracts developing.
Macular degeneration contributes to many cases of vision loss, and occurs when the macula breaks down, which is the center of the retina and in charge of clear, sharp vision. While the risk of both macular degeneration and cataracts increases with age, there’s an increased risk of macular degeneration with unprotected and extensive UV light exposure. However, with solid eye protection, all of these health conditions are preventable.
UVA vs UVB rays
You now know the role UV exposure plays in eye care and understanding how to protect your eyes, but did you know there are different types of UV rays? According to the American Cancer Society, there are three main forms of Ultraviolet Radiation. Radiation refers to energy emission from a given source, such as the sun, and ranges from being low-energy to high-energy. UV radiation sits in the middle of this energy spectrum, and is divided into three sub-groups: UVA rays, UVB rays, and UVC rays.
Most of the UV rays you encounter when outside are UVA rays with a small amount of UVB. While 95% of UV rays are categorized as UVA, both can cause severe eye damage. UVB rays, on one hand, have a shorter wavelength and can pass through your cornea into the lens and retina (as well as through the outer layer of your skin). And while UVA rays feature a longer wavelength, they can still cause eye damage, negatively impact vision, and have the ability to reach the middle layer of your skin.
Do all sunglasses have UV protection?
So, you may already know, but protective eyewear, sunglasses, is important in protecting your eyes from UV rays. Although not all sunglasses have UV protection, these days most sunglasses come with UV protection embedded in the lens themselves, rather than just being coated on. Additionally, most brands leave nothing to the imagination and explicitly state “UV protection” on their label. It’s best to find lenses that already have full protection, rather than coating it on later. All Revant lenses feature integrated UV protection that keeps your eyes safe from 100% of UVA, UVB, and UVC rays, ensuring the highest level of safety for your eyes.
Choosing sunglasses that protect your vision (focus on lenses)
In eye care, choosing proper protective sunglasses or replacement lenses can prevent harmful sun rays from causing damage to your eyes. Full UV protection is a multi-faceted approach, with the most important elements being:
- UV coating: Nearly non-negotiable when it comes to eye protection, we highly recommend adding UV coating to your plastic lenses to block harmful UV rays. Note: polycarbonate lenses already come equipped with UV protection.
- Mirror coating: This coating functions as a mirror (surprise, surprise) by reflecting light away from the eyes, but it’s also a great barrier in which UV light is unable to pass through. This reduces eye strain.
- Anti-reflective coating: Known as AR for short, this form of coating blocks harsh reflections, affording the wearer with a much clearer picture because light is not reflecting off the lenses back into the eyes.
- Polarized vs Non Polarized lenses: Polarization is a similar mechanism to AR in that it filters out and blocks reflected light, eliminating eye strain and making certain activities much easier, such as driving or skiing, where bright reflective surfaces are more common.