Wellbeing, Sun Safety
Cost isn’t a factor, but protection is.
Contrary to popular belief, spending more on sunglasses doesn’t always mean you’re getting superior eye protection. A recent study by Consumer NZ tested 60 pairs of sunglasses ranging in price from $2 to $270 and the results were rather surprising.
48 pairs of sunglasses met all the standard’s requirements across a wide range of price tags, providing good eye protection and robust frames, including sunglasses costing $6 or less. 12 pairs failed the test, including some surprisingly expensive options, but tests showed that plenty of cheap sunnies offered decent protection.
So if you’re in the market for a new pair of sunnies, it might pay to run your eyes over their research results first.
Above: wrap around sunglasses provide the best protection, particularly in reflective environments such as snow, sand and water
How does sunlight harm our eyes?
The sun’s harmful UV rays don’t just damage skin: they can also damage your eyes. If your eyes are overexposed to UV radiation, the protective layer on the front surface of the eye may be damaged, at least temporarily.
Short-term over-exposure to UV rays can cause photokeratitis or “snow blindness”. This is sunburn of the cornea, a temporary but often painful condition. This risk increases when UV is reflected from below, by water, sand, or snow, because UV rays bypass the protection that caps or hats provide – a very good reason to wear sunglasses in bright conditions.
Long-term exposure to UV radiation in very bright sunlight over many years may result in eye problems such as cataracts, which cause a gradual clouding of the natural lens of the eye - or a pterygium, a growth on the surface of the eye. Long-term sun exposure can also contribute to macular degeneration of the retina, a leading cause of blindness in later life.
What’s more, it can lead to skin cancers including melanoma on or around the eye (which is rare but it does happen). In fact, the eyelid region accounts for 5% to 105 of all skin cancers.(1)
Did you know? Harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure to the eyes peaks in the early morning and later afternoon for most of the year – not in the middle of the day – because of the angle of the sun in relation to the eyes at those times. Plus the danger continues to grow as we spend more time in the sun throughout our lives, with cumulative UV damage.(2)
Above: children's eyes need protection too
So, what should you look for in a pair of sunglasses?
1. Don’t go by price. Sunglasses don’t have to cost a lot of money to work well - a cheaper price tag isn’t always a sign of lesser quality, and vice versa.
2. Do look for standards. Look for sunglasses that comply with Australian standards, as these are more stringent than New Zealand’s voluntary standards. Sunnies should be comfortable and not distort or discolour your vision
3. Look for the highest protection. Not all sunglasses protect against UV radiation, so always check the label for the sun protection rating. Look for a label that lists both the type and the amount of UV protection – ideally 100 percent!
4. Bigger is better. The more coverage from sunglasses, the less sun damage inflicted on the eyes and the delicate skin around them. Consider buying oversized glasses or wraparound-style glasses, which help cut down on the UV rays entering the eye from the side. And don’t forget to wear a broad-brimmed hat – it blocks up to 50 percent of UV from the eyes.
5. Lens colour doesn’t matter. While very dark lenses may look cool, they don’t necessarily block more UV rays. Some sunglasses come with amber, green or grey lenses – these don’t block more sun but can increase contrast, which may be useful if you play sports such as cricket or golf.
6. Polarized lenses cut glare, not UV. Polarization reduces glare coming off reflective surfaces like water or pavement. This doesn’t offer more protection from the sun, but can make activities like driving or being on the water safer and more enjoyable.
7. Avoid “UV400” claims. Some sunglasses claim they are “UV400”, but according to the New Zealand Association of Optometrists (NZAO) there is no accepted definition of “UV400”, so this is just marketing spin.
8. Little eyes need protection too! Children of all ages need to wear sunglasses as much as adults do. Children often spend a lot of time in the sun (think school sports days etc) and they tend to have larger pupils and clearer lenses than adults, so they’re more susceptible to retinal damage as more UV can penetrate deep into their eyes2. Wrap‐around styles are better as they also protect the delicate skin around a child’s eyes.
For children, it’s important to choose sunglasses that are comfortable, fit well and they’ll be happy to wear, so if possible, involve them in choosing a pair. And make sure they also wear a broad-brimmed hat or a cap with sides to protect their eyes (and face and neck) from the sun on all sides.
Above: large sunglasses are better than small sunglasses at protecting your eyes
Are our standards up to standard?
In Australia, all sunglasses must comply with Australian and New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS 1067:2003) since July 2019. However, in New Zealand, meeting this standard is voluntary: there is currently no regulation or testing in New Zealand, meaning sunglasses that meet no standard at all can be sold here - something that will hopefully change.
The New Zealand Association of Optometrists is pushing for the AS/NZ Standard to be made mandatory. The association believes consumers should have a guarantee sunglasses are of reasonable quality and will protect their eyes without impairing vision – and that companies should test each batch of sunglasses to ensure consistent production standards.(3)
Above: a wide-brimmed hat can block up to 50% of UV rays from the eyes
Don’t forget to slip, slop, slap and WRAP!
Remember, whatever the season, if it’s sunny and bright outside – or even if it’s overcast – always follow the SunSmart guidelines:
Sources: 1. www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/for-your-eyes/how-sunlight-damages-the-eyes. 2. Kanazawa Medical University, Japan, 2012. 3. ‘Children, adults under 30 years of age, and pseudophakic individuals with UV-transmitting IOLs should wear sunglasses in bright environments’(www.ajo.com/article/S0002-9394(09)00892-7/abstract?cc=y?cc=y). 4. NZ Association of Optometrists: https://www.nzao.co.nz/sites/default/files/Sunglasses.pdf
Note: This quick questionnaire is designed to give you an idea of your personal skin cancer risk factors.
It isn’t intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis – please contact us if you have any questions about your skin cancer risk.
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