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Sunglasses have been popular with people for years, both for comfort and as a fashion accessory.

Ophthalmologists (medical eye doctors) now believe there is another reason to wear sunglasses – to protect the long-term health of your eyes.

Results from a dozen studies over the last 10 years suggest that long hours in the sun without proper eye protection increase your chances of developing eye disease.

In 1988, a group of ophthalmologists studied 838 Chesapeake Bay fishermen who had spent years working on the water. The fishermen who wore no eye protection had three times as many cataracts as those who wore sunglasses or a brimmed hat. A cataract is a clouding of the eye's natural lens.

Based on this study and others, ophthalmologists now recommend that you wear UV- absorbent sunglasses and a brimmed hat whenever you're in the sun long enough to get a suntan or a sunburn, especially if you live at a high elevation or near the equator

Conflicting claims

Manufacturers have developed new sunglasses designed to protect eyes from the sun's harmful effects. They promise protection from ultraviolet light and other kinds of natural radiation. It is more important to protect your eyes from some kinds of light than others.

"Blocks 99% of ultraviolet rays"

You should always buy sunglasses with this feature. Long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight is linked to eye disease.

Both plastic and glass lenses absorb some UV light, but UV absorption can be improved by adding chemicals to the lens material during manufacturing or by applying special lens coatings.

Shop for sunglasses that block 99 or 100% of all UV light. Some manufacturers' labels say "UV absorption up to 4OOnm." This is the same thing as 100% UV absorption.

"Blocks 90% of infrared rays"

Infrared wavelengths are invisible (they are longer than light rays that you can see) and produce heat.

Sunlight has low levels of infrared rays, and the eye tolerates infrared well. Some sunglasses manufacturers make health claims for their products based on infrared protection, but research has not shown a close connection between eye disease and infrared rays.


Whether blue light is harmful to the eye is still controversial.

Lenses that block all blue light are usually amber and make your surroundings look yellow or orange.

The tint supposedly makes distant objects appear more distinct, especially in snow or haze. For this reason, amber sunglasses are popular among skiers, hunters, boaters and pilots.


Polarized lenses cut reflected glare -sunlight that bounces off smooth surfaces like pavement or water. They can be particularly useful for driving and fishing.

Polarization has nothing to do with UV light absorption, but many polarized lenses are now combined with a UV-blocking substance. Check the label to make sure the lenses provide maximum UV protection.


Mirror finishes are thin layers of various metallic coatings on an ordinary lens. Although they do reduce the amount of visible light entering your eyes, do not assume they will fully protect you against UV radiation.


Wraparound glasses are shaped to keep light from shining around the frames and into your eyes.

Studies have shown that enough UV rays enter around ordinary eyeglass frames to reduce the benefits of protective lenses. Large-framed wraparound sunglasses can protect your eyes from all angles.


Gradient lenses are permanently shaded from top to bottom or from top and bottom toward the middle.

Single-gradient lenses (dark on top and lighter on the bottom) can cut glare from the sky but allow you to see clearly below. They are useful for driving because they don't dim your view of the dashboard. But they're not as good on snow or at the beach, especially if they're clear on the bottom.

Double-gradient lenses (dark on top and bottom and lighter in the middle) may be better for sports where light reflects up off the water or snow, such as sailing or skiing.

Double-gradient lenses are not recommended for driving, because they make the dashboard appear dim.

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