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When you're choosing sunglasses, does UV protection matter?

Yes, ultraviolet (UV) eye protection matters. UV radiation from the sun can damage not only the skin of your eyelid but also the cornea, lens and other parts of the eye. UV exposure also contributes to the development of certain types of cataracts and possibly macular degeneration.

When you're choosing sunglasses, look for UV-protection details on product labels. Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Skip sunglasses that neglect to offer details about their UV protection. Keep in mind that the color and degree of darkness sunglasses provide have nothing to do with the sunglasses' ability to block UV rays. Also, opt for wraparound sunglasses or close-fitting sunglasses with wide lenses that protect your eyes from every angle.

Standard prescription eyeglasses in the U.S. are treated to provide UV protection while retaining a clear, nontinted appearance. Some contact lenses also offer UV protection, but should be worn in combination with sunglasses to maximize protection. Of course, UV protection isn't the only consideration when it comes to selecting sunglasses. In addition to UV protection, consider these extras:

Blue-blocking lenses.
Blue-blocking lenses can make distant objects easier to see, especially in snow or haze. They're popular with skiers, boaters and hunters. Lenses that block all blue light are tinted amber.However, when driving, it's recommended that tinted sunglasses be gray to ensure proper traffic light recognition.

Polarized lenses.
Polarized lenses reduce reflected glare, such as sunlight that bounces off snow or water. They're useful for skiing, driving and fishing.

Photochromic lenses.
These lenses darken or lighten as the amount of available light changes. However, they take time to adjust to different light conditions.

Polycarbonate lenses.
Polycarbonate lenses offer impact protection during potentially hazardous sports and activities.

Mirror-coated lenses.
Mirror-coated lenses reduce visible light.

Gradient lenses.
Single-gradient lenses, which are dark on the top and lighter on the bottom, reduce glare while allowing you to see clearly. They're useful for driving, but not sports. Double-gradient lenses are dark on the top and bottom and lighter in the middle.They're useful to wear during water or winter sports, but not for driving.  

Shopping for Sunglasses? Look for UV Labels

ROCHESTER, Minn. — For shielding eyes from sunlight, not all sunglasses are created equal. In the July issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, Amir Khan, M.D., Mayo Clinic ophthalmologist, discusses some considerations for purchasing sunglasses to help ensure good eye health.

Ultraviolet (UV) light rays from the sun not only can damage the skin, they can also harm the eyes. Long-term exposure to UV light increases the risk of cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens. Some experts believe UV rays increase the risk of macular degeneration, a chronic disease that affects the central vision.

Sunglasses are an easy and effective way to protect against UV rays. "It's best to wear sunglasses any time you're outside and need sun protection," says Dr. Khan. He offers tips for purchasing sunglasses:

Label check:
Look for sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB, the two types of UV rays found in sunlight. The sunglasses should block 99 to 100 percent of these rays. If the label or sticker has no UV information, it's probably best to look for a different pair.

The cost of sunglasses is most often a function of fashion. Higher price doesn't mean better UV protection.

Glare reduction:
Polarized lenses can cut the glare that reflects off water or snow a feature many people appreciate. But glare reduction doesn't equal UV protection. Check the label for both features.

Lens color:
The color or darkness of the lenses doesn't indicate UV protection. In fact, the coating that blocks UV light is clear.

Good fit:
Wraparound glasses or sunglasses that fit closely around the eyes will block the most UV rays.       



To help make the experience of buying a pair of sunglasses a little less confusing, here's the truth about some of the most common myths about sunglasses:

➨Myth #1: Sunglasses with 100% UV protection are expensive

False: You do not have to pay a premium for proper UV protection. While more expensive sunglasses may offer more stylish frames, higher quality lenses, sharper images and less glare, it is very easy to find inexpensive glasses that offer 100% UV protection. The TODAY show purchased several pairs of glasses for $19.99 at a national sporting goods store. When tested, they lived up to their claim of 100% UV protection.

Even two pairs of $5 glasses from a Times Square souvenirs shop also made good on their 100% UV protection claim. However, one of the $5 pair of sunglasses had a “100%” sticker on the lens and turned out to not offer the advertised level of protection. So if you do buy an inexpensive pair of glasses, you might want to have them tested by an eye care professional

➨Myth #2: Lenses with darker tints are more protective than lenses with a lighter tint

False: The tint of the lens has nothing to do with the UV protection of the glasses. A clear lens with no tint and 100% UV protection is better for your eyes than dark, heavily tinted sunglasses without UV protection. In fact, dark lenses without adequate UV protection are actually worse for your eyes than not wearing glasses at all, because the dark tint causes your pupils to become dilated, thus exposing your eyes to more harmful UV light.

➨Myth #3: You should have UV coating put on your lenses for extra protection

False: If your glasses already have UV protection, they do not need to have added protection put on them.

➨Myth #4: Photochromic lenses don't block out UV rays as well as regular sunglasses

False: As long as they offer 100% UV protection, photochromic (such as Transitions-brand lenses) lenses provide the same level of UV protection as regular sunglasses.

➨Myth #5: Polarized, anti-glare lenses are all you need to protect your eyes from UV rays

False: While polarized and anti-glare lenses may offer better image clarity, a more comfortable viewing experience and give you better vision when driving or playing sports, they have nothing to do with UV protection. That being said, most polarized lenses also offer adequate UV protection. Again, if you are in doubt, have your sunglasses checked by an eye care professional

➨Myth #6: Lens color is important when it comes to blocking UV rays

False: Just like lens tint, lens color has nothing to do with protecting your eyes from UV rays.

➨Myth #7: Yellow- or amber-tinted “Blue Blocker” lenses offer more protection than regular sunglasses

False: While some experts argue that the so-called “Blue Blocker” lenses block additional light waves that are harmful, research has yet to prove this for certain, and “Blue Blockers” are currently viewed by most experts as a personal preference choice.

➨Myth #8: Children don't need sunglasses as much as adults

False: Children often spend even more time in the sun than adults, and need proper UV protection just as much. It is also far more common to find cheap children's sunglasses that do not provide adequate UV protection. Always have your children's sunglasses tested for proper UV protection.

➨Myth #9: You don't need sunglasses on a cloudy day

False: UV rays are just as potent on a cloudy day as they are on a clear day, and proper eye and skin protection is always needed.