Sunglasses And UV Rays: What You Need To Know About Protecting Your Eyes

Most people are familiar with the fact that excessive exposure to the sun’s UV rays can result in sunburn as well as skin cancer. However, many people aren’t aware that UV rays can damage the eyes. Excessive exposure to UV rays has been associated with substantial eye conditions, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, pterygia, pingueculae, as well as photokeratitis.

Shielding Your Eyes from the Sun’s UV Rays

In order to ensure your eyes are protected from solar radiation, you should always wear sunglasses when outdoors. These sunglasses should restrict 100 percent of ultraviolet rays. Keep in mind that your eyes require protection even if it is cloudy outside because the UV rays have the ability to penetrate through the clouds.

Sunglass frames that have a form-fitting wraparound style offer the best protection since they minimize the amount of sunlight that can reach your eyes.

What Is UV?

Many individuals refer to UV radiation as UV light, but this specific term is technically inaccurate since you are unable to see UV rays. UV radiation is completely invisible.

There are three types of UV radiation, which are as follows.


This is the highest form of UV rays and can potentially be the most damaging to your skin and eyes. Luckily, the atmosphere’s ozone layer is able to block almost all of these rays. However, because of the weakening of the ozone layer, there is the potential that these high-energy UVC rays could reach the surface of the Earth and cause serious health problems related to this UV exposure. UVC wavelengths range anywhere from between 100 and 280 nanometers.


The wavelengths of UVB rays are a bit longer at somewhere between 280 and 215 nanometers, and they are lower energy than UVC rays. UVB rays are filtered partly by the ozone, though some of them are able to reach the surface of the Earth.

In small doses, these rays are able to stimulate melanin production, which helps the skin darken in color, helping to create a tan. However, in larger doses, these rays can result in a sunburn, increasing the danger of skin cancer developing. These rays can also result in wrinkles, discolorations of the skin, as well as other symptoms of early skin aging.

Overexposure to UVB radiation has been linked to a variety of eye issues, such as photokeratitis, pterygium, and pinguecula. Due to the fact that the cornea absorbs 100 percent of these rays, this particular form of ultraviolet radiation is not likely to result in macular degeneration or cataracts, which is associated with the exposure of UVA radiation.


UVA rays have the lowest energy of all the rays mentioned here and are the closest to light rays that are visible. UVA rays are able to move through the cornea of the eye and actually reach the eye’s lens and retina.

Overexposure to these rays has been associated to the developed of some cataracts. In addition, research has shown that it might play a significant role in macular degeneration development.

UV Risk Factors

Any individual who spends a lot of time outside is in danger for developing eye issues as a result of UV radiation. There are many factors that come into play when it comes to the dose of ultraviolet radiation that you get when you’re outside, including the following:

  • Geographic Location – In some areas, such as tropical areas closer to the equator, UV exposure is higher. The farther away from the Earth’s equator you are, the less of a risk there is.
  • Altitude – At higher altitudes, the UV exposure is higher.
  • Time of Day – When the sun is high, usually between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., UV radiation is at its highest.
  • Setting – As a general rule, open spaces have higher UV exposure, particularly when there are incredibly reflective surfaces, like sand and snow, present. UV exposure can actually almost double when ultraviolet rays are mirrored off the snow. In urban settings, UV exposure is not as likely due to tall buildings providing shade.
  • Medications – There are certain medications like diuretics, oral contraceptives, sulfa drugs, tranquilizers, and tetracycline, that can cause your body to be more sensitive to UV radiation.

Gauging UV Rays

In the U.S., the UV Index measures the risk for UV exposure. The UV Index was established by the EPA and NWS, and it predicts the UV radiation levels each day on a scale of 1 to 11+. The EPA publishes the UV Index on a daily basis and also publishes a UV Alert if the amount of solar radiation that particular day is anticipated to be remarkably high.

UV Protection Recommendations

  • UV Index 2 or Less – The risk level is low. It is recommended that you wear sunglasses, and if you tend to burn easily, you should use SPF 15+ sunscreen.
  • UV Index 3 – 5 – The risk level is moderate. It is recommended that you wear sunglasses, cover up, and wear sunscreen. At midday, which is when the sun is the strongest, you should remain in the shade.
  • UV Index 6 – 7 – The risk level is high. It is recommended that you wear a hat, sunglasses, cover up, and wear sunscreen. Do everything you can to minimize the time that you spend in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • UV Index 8 – 10 – The risk level is very high. It is recommended that you wear a hat, sunglasses, cover up, and wear sunscreen. Minimize the amount of time you are outdoors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • UV Index 11+ - The risk level is extreme. It is recommended that you wear a hat as well as sunglasses. You should apply SPF 15+ sunscreen generously every two hours, and avoid exposure to the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Children Need Protection from UV Rays, Too

The potential risk of skin and eye damage from solar radiation is cumulative, which means that the danger only continues to grow the longer that you are out in the sun in your lifetime. Keeping that in mind, it is particularly important that you ensure your children shield their eyes from UV rays, as children tend to spend more time outside than adults.

Actually, there are some experts that say due to the fact that children spend drastically more time outside that the majority of adults, as much as half of an individual’s lifetime exposure to ultraviolet rays can occur before they reach 18 years of age.

In addition, children are far more vulnerable to eye damage from ultraviolet rays due to the fact that the lens inside children’s eyes is purer than the lens in an adult’s eye, which allows more UV to enter deep into the eye.

Make certain that your children’s eyes are properly protected from UV rays with decent sunglasses or possibly photochromic lenses when they’re outside. In addition, you should encourage your children to wear a hat when it is particularly sunny outside to reduce the exposure to the sun even more.

Sunglasses Are the Ultimate Protection Against UV Radiation

To most effectively shield your eyes from ultraviolet rays, make sure that you are always wearing quality sunglasses outside. You will want to search for sunglasses that restrict 100 percent of all ultraviolet rays. If you need help, your eye doctor can assist you choosing the best sunglasses for your individual needs.

To ensure that as much of your skin around the eyes is protected, you will want to look for sunglasses with a form-fitting wraparound style or large lenses. Depending on your lifestyle, you may want to consider looking at sport or performance sunglasses.

The level of protection that the sunglasses provides is not related to the darkness or color of the lenses. For instance, a dark gray lens and an amber-colored lens will provide similar UV protection. Your eye doctor can confirm that the sunglass lenses that you have chosen offer full protection from UV radiation.

On top of wearing sunglasses, you should consider putting on a hat with a wide brim when the sun is out to minimize the exposure of UV rays by as much as half.

Additional Tips Regarding Sunglasses and UV Exposure

There are many myths that exist when it comes to protection for your eyes from the sun. Here are a few things to keep in mind moving forward:

  • All sunglasses do not block all UV rays. If you are uncertain regarding the amount of ultraviolet protection that yours offer, talk to your eye doctor. Many have tools that are able to measure how much ultraviolet radiation that the sunglasses are able to effectively block.
  • Whether you’re in the sun or the shade, make sure you’re running sunglasses. While it is true that shade decreases your exposure to HEV and UV to some extent, your eyes are still exposed to the rays that are reflected from various surfaces like roadways and buildings.
  • Sunglasses are also important during the wintertime, as fresh snow has the ability to reflect up to 80 percent of ultraviolet rays, which almost doubles your total exposure to UV radiation. If you snowboard or ski, it is crucial that you select the right lenses to ensure you’re adequately protecting from UV radiation while out in the snow.
  • Even in the event that your contacts are able to block out UV rays, it is important that you still wear sunglasses. Contact lenses that are designed to block UV rays only protect the part of the eye that is beneath the lens. UV radiation can still harm the eyelids and surrounding tissues. Sunglasses will ensure those tissues as well as the skin around the eyes are properly shielded from potential UV damage.
  • If you have dark eyes and skin, it is still recommended that you wear sunglasses. While you may at a reduced danger of skin cancer if you have dark skin, the risk of damage to your eyes is similar to that of an individual who has fair skin.

Begin with an Examination

Prior to investing in sunglasses, make an appointment with your eye doctor for an eye exam. All it takes is a minor change in your prescription or a small amount of refractive error to make a huge difference in providing you clear, comfortable outdoor vision.

To ensure that you are able to fully enjoy a beautiful, sunny day, ensure you have the correct sunglasses to shield your eyes from the damaging UV rays. For more information, contact Performance Vision.