How to pick your next pair of sunglasses

Safety | Wellness | June 6, 2018
What to look for in sunglasses to make you look good and see even better

Sunny weather might not come to mind when most people think of the Pacific Northwest, but there are still lots of reasons for those of us living here to wear sunglasses.

Even overcast days can be bright, according to Richard Bernheimer, MD, an ophthalmologist at PeaceHealth in Vancouver, Washington. Sunglasses can help cut the glare and protect your eyes from damage.

How do you choose a pair of sunglasses that can make you look good and see even better? Dr. Bernheimer shared insight on the following questions as you consider buying your next pair of shades:

When you’re shopping for sunglasses, what is No. 1 thing you look for?
“The No. 1 thing to look for is 100 percent UV protection. If it doesn’t say 100 percent UV protection, don’t buy them,” he said. He added that “99 percent is not the same as 100 percent.” In this case, insist on nothing less than 100 percent.

What is UV? What about UVA or UVB?
UV or ultraviolet light comes from the sun’s rays, but is invisible to humans and can damage a person’s skin and eyes.  Sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection will block both types. Learn more about how UV can damage eyes and about types of UV light.

Does color matter when it comes to sunglass lenses?
“Lens color is a personal preference,” said Dr. Bernheimer. Some people prefer certain colors because color can affect the tint of what they see. But some colors provide better contrast in certain situations. “But there’s no eye health benefit to a particular color choice, it’s just personal preference.”

Does the size of the lenses matter?
People definitely choose sunglasses with their own sense of fashion, but Dr. Bernheimer says bigger lenses give you better coverage.

What about polarized sunglasses? Are those better?
Polarized lenses are great for cutting down glare. If your activities involve water—be it a pool, lake, river, beach or even snow on the mountains—“you’ll want a polarized lens in addition to UV blocking. Polarized lenses will give you the best glare reduction,” he noted.

Should sunglass lenses be glass or plastic?
“The better quality sunglasses are made out of glass or a specific plastic made for glasses,” Dr. Bernheimer said. The material they’re made of will determine how sturdy they are or how long they will last. Depending on your activity, you might want a safety lens.

I wear prescription glasses. Do I have to buy prescription sunglasses?
According to Dr. Bernheimer, you have lots of choices. 

If you want prescription sunglasses, you can:

  • Choose a transition lens, which will change from clear to a dark shade, depending on the lighting you’re in. Transition lenses cost more, but you don’t have to buy two pair or swap between the two pair.
  • Buy a pair of prescription sunglasses, in your choice of frames, lens size and coating styles. However, he notes that lens size/style and frame choices might depend on your prescription as larger lenses can cause distortion with some higher prescriptions.

If you don’t want to go that route, you can choose the following to work with your existing prescription glasses:

  • Hood over—this oversized style fits over your glasses. The bonus with this is that it can also help block light from getting in from the side, said Dr. Bernheimer.
  • Clip-on—these shades match your existing frames and can clip or attach magnetically to your glasses.

Are cheap sunglasses better than no sunglasses?
“As long as they block 100 percent UV, yes, they are better than not wearing any,” he said.

What’s a reasonable price range for a quality pair of sunglasses?
“Price doesn’t matter for your basic 100-percent UV-blocking sunglasses,” he noted. High-quality non-prescription sunglasses can run $200 or more, depending on frame choice, special lens coatings and so forth.

What’s the best way to make sunglasses last longer? Can they last a lifetime?
“They can last a long time, depending on the materials they’re made of and how well you care for them,” Dr. Bernheimer said.

Plastic lenses and frames will be more prone to scratches and other damage. Care for your sunglasses the same as you would your regular prescription lenses:

  • Use a soft microfiber cloth (clean) lens cleaner or a drop of mild dish soap and water work.
  • Don’t use your shirt or towel or paper towel.
  • Keep your glasses in a case when you’re not wearing them.
  • Keep the lenses facing up (not down) to avoid scratches.

When you're wearing your glasses, you might consider using straps to keep them in place when you do activities that might cause them to fall or fly off.

What are the alternatives if someone doesn’t have or can’t afford sunglasses?

  • Wear a wide brim hat.
  • Stay in the shade or inside during peak sunny hours (10 a.m.-4 p.m. in most areas).

“Do anything to cover or shade your skin and eyes,” he said. “Don’t forget about reflected light. You can be under cover and still need protection from light that leaks in from the side.”

What about sunglasses for little ones?
“When kids are little, the problem is getting them to keep their glasses on,” he said. For babies, use wide rim hats and keep them under shaded cover. As children get older and as they see Mom or Dad modeling good sunglass use, they’ll be more apt to pick up good eye health habits too.

When’s the best time to buy sunglasses?
Trick question. Of course, the best time to buy is before you need them. Good optical shops carry sunglasses all year round, said Dr. Bernheimer. Watch for seasonal discounts or special deals, especially if you have your eye on a special brand or style.

Where should I buy sunglasses?
Your eye doctor and local optical shops are great sources since they know how to judge and offer good quality products. They can also offer expert guidance on various options. Bottom line, buy from a source you trust—as long as your purchase provides 100 percent UV protection—the No. 1 thing to look for in sunglasses.

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