If you saw me in my signature pink Coach sunglasses, you’d probably think: “Who is that movie star in those cool pink shades? Maybe she’s the world’s first short supermodel? She looks so fabulous, that she must be famous.”
Oh. You weren’t thinking that? Not even the supermodel part? Alrighty then. Those sunglasses sure make me feel famous, though. For one thing, when I wear them, I could be any age, really. I mean, I’m pretty sure that if you can’t see my eyes, and the now permanent dark circles, I could be mistaken for 25. Maybe even 24.
Unfortunately, my shades are not meant to disguise my famous face or a night on the town. Instead, they artfully disguise a lack of early morning makeup. And luggage. My eyes have luggage now. Awesome.
That’s why I was more than a little bummed when the gorgeous Dr. Mirwat Sami, Houston Board-certified Ophthalmologist specializing in Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, suggested that my favorite sunnies might be doing more harm than good. Turns out, shades are for more than just hiding behind. “Excessive exposure to UV light from sand or pavement reflections can burn the eye’s surface. Think of it like sunburn on the skin, and as the damage accumulates over the years, you can do some real harm to your eyesight without even knowing or feeling it. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends quality sunglasses as a preventative, provided they screen out 99% to 100% of UV light.”
Wow. I kind of actually like my eyesight. Even though it allows me to see the bags. Fortunately, I only wear fancy sunglasses, so I’m pretty much set, right. Dr. Sami isn’t so sure. “Approach fancy designer brands with caution, especially if the company is better known for handbags than eyewear. You’re probably paying more for the name and the logo than for the quality of the lens and glasses.” Surely, Dr. Sami isn’t suggesting I toss my classic Gucci shades. Fortunately, no. She’s simply suggesting they’re overpriced.
And I’m okay with that.
The other end of the price spectrum also has its pitfalls. Dr. Sami suggests avoiding sidewalk vendors, no matter how tempting those Tom Ford knockoffs might be. “The tinted lenses will relax your pupils, letting more damaging radiation hit your retina than if you were wearing no glasses at all. Buy sunglasses from a well established vendor. Even a chain drugstore is fine.”
So if price isn’t an indicator of a quality pair of shades, then what is? Read on, as Dr. Sami helps you pick a winning pair, whatever your budget.
7 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Pair of Sunglasses
1. Shop by Numbers
Look for a UVA-UVB protection rating. Imagine going out on a bright day without any sunscreen, then staying out for hours. Sounds foolish, right? Well, that’s exactly what you’ll do to your eyes if you overlook UVA and UVB protection in your sunglasses. Dr. Sami says to, “Look for a tag or label that says your lenses block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB radiation. The label should read either “UV 400” or “100% UV protection.” Don’t be fooled if the glasses merely say “UV protective.” That’s not sufficient, and in fact, may mean they’re no good at all.”
2. Prescription is Preferred
For the best eye protection, get a prescription pair. The FDA regulates sunglasses to the extent that manufacturers who sell over-the-counter, nonprescription pairs can only claim they reduce eye strain and eye fatigue due to glare. Other labels that claim UV protection need proof and proper labeling.
3. Try Tapered Lenses
Are the lenses tapered? Many cheap shades have inferior optical quality. Dr. Sami says that, “ Good lenses require careful manufacturing control that includes “decentering,” or tapering the lenses. Inexpensive plastic lenses will strain your eyes. You might not notice it at first, but after a while, subtle fatigue or even severe eyestrain and headaches will set in.”
4. Darker Isn’t Better
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. Dr. Sami says that, “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”.
5. Cover Your Eyes
Choose the right style. Ideally, your sunglasses should cover the sides of your eyes to prevent stray light from entering. Wraparound lenses are best, but if that’s not an appealing style, look for close-fitting glasses with wide lenses. Avoid models with small lenses, such as John Lennon -style sunglasses.
6. Measure Your Favorites
Test old sunglasses. If you already have a favorite pair but don’t know what kind of protection they offer, ask your local eyewear store if they have a UV meter. This device can measure the UV protection of your glasses and help you determine whether you should buy a new pair. Dr. Sami says that, “Most opticians have such a meter and can do this very easily,”
7. Pick the Right Pair for Your Budget
Dr. Sami quotes the chair of ophthalmology at Tufts University as saying that: “For about $40 you can get a pair that offers 100% protection against ultra-violet rays. If you spend maybe $70 you should be able to get a pair with decent quality polarizing lenses that cut out glare. Beyond that, the medical benefits tail off pretty fast.”
With Dr. Sami’s list in mind, here, my picks for sunglasses that combine protection and style, starting at just $30.
I hope Dr. Sami’s expert tips will help you select your next pair of sunnies. Just remember: A designer label doesn’t necessarily equal adequate protection. Look for either “UV 400” or “100% UV protection, and polarized lenses are also a plus! Protecting your vision from the sun is just as important as protecting your skin. After all, if you can’t see, how will you choose your shoes?
For more information on Dr. Mirwat Sami, visit her site at www.houstonoculofacial.com.