A good pair of sunglasses is an investment – a high quality pair can last several years if cared for correctly.
But there are lots of factors to consider when it comes to choosing new sunglasses.
Whilst expensive sunglasses tend to be made of high-quality materials, and therefore tend to be more durable, even inexpensive sunglasses in the UK are required to offer good UV protection.
So are designer sunspecs really worth the high price tag?
What UV protection do sunglasses provide?
You may wear sunglasses to provide some comfort from bright sunlight, or for fashion purposes, but a good pair of sunglasses should offer maximum UV protection.
The sun emits many wavelengths of light, but it is the UV wavelengths which are harmful to your eyes. UVA and UVB rays both penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. UV radiation has the capability to cause chemical reactions within living tissue. Overexposure to UV can affect the eyes in many ways. An example of the effects of short-term overexposure is a condition called Photokeratitis, which is a type of sunburn that affects the outer layer of the cornea and the conjunctiva.
Long-term overexposure to UV increases your risk of developing eye conditions such as Cataracts, age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), and some types of cancer. For maximum protection, sunglasses should be worn in combination with a wide-brimmed hat or cap and plenty of sun cream.
Children under 16 are particularly at risk for UV damage to the eyes – this is because their pupils are larger and the media in the eye are clearer, so more light and therefore UV radiation gets to the retina. So in addition to sun hats and sun cream, children should wear sunglasses from the earliest age possible!
Can you wear sunglasses in Winter?
Wearing sunglasses is as important in the winter months as it is during the summer.
Bright autumn and winter days when the sun is lower in the sky can be particularly uncomfortable, especially if you are driving, and when we do get snowy weather light and UV rays are reflected more causing increased visual discomfort. In some cases overexposure to UV can result in a condition called Photokeratitis, in which the Epithelial cells of the cornea are damaged causing pain that can vary from mild discomfort to severe pain.
When Photokeratitis occurs as a result of UV overexposure in snowy conditions this is often referred to as ‘Snow Blindness.’
It can cause symptoms for 24-48 hours (some symptoms can last around one week), and whilst there is usually no permanent damage it can be extremely painful – so it is always best to ensure you are wearing UV protective sunglasses in snowy weather conditions.
So how can you tell if sunglasses offer UV protection? In the UK, you should look out for a UKCA or CE marking. This indicates that the sunglass lenses in the frame at the time of purchase meet the British and European standards respectively for UV protection. For the best protection, look out for sunspecs labelled UV400, as this offers almost 100% protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
All of our prescription sunglass lenses offer the maximum possible UVA and UVB protection to UV400.
What are tint categories for sunglasses?
Darker lenses do not mean better UV protection!
It is important to remember that even on a cloudy day, UV is still in the atmosphere. Various depths and colours of lens tint are available to suit changing weather conditions, hobbies, lifestyles and individual preferences.
The depth of tint is categorised as follows:
- Category 0 – Clear or Very Light Tinted Lenses – for fashion and indoor use
- Category 1 – Lightly Tinted Lenses – for overcast days
- Category 2 – Moderately Tinted Lenses – for days with sunny spells/light cloud cover
- Category 3 – Dark Tinted Lenses – for bright days
- Category 4 – Very Dark Tinted Lenses – for intense sunshine
Category 4 tints are best suited for snow sport activities such as skiing and snowboarding, but they are unsuitable for driving as the tint is too dark to see clearly.
Category 3 is the most popular as it gives good comfort from bright sunshine but remains suitable for driving. It is important to remember that the depth of the tint does not affect the UV protection properties of the lens, therefore it is important to ensure that your lenses have both an appropriate tint depth for your needs, whilst maintaining UV protection.
When it comes to tint colours, a spectrum is available. The most popular colours are grey, brown and green. Grey tints are the most neutral and therefore do not impact on colour perception, they just deepen the tone; whereas brown lens tints provide a warmer hue which some people prefer to a cooler grey tone. Green tints are another popular choice, as they can help with contrast enhancement, particularly for golfing.
Can my prescription sunglasses come with different frames?
There’s almost as wide a selection of frames available for sun specs as there are for normal specs.
When considering purchasing sunglasses, frame fit, shape, colour, style and durability are all important factors to consider.
Shape, colour and style come down to personal preference – but a well-fitting frame will be more comfortable to wear, which often means you are more likely to wear the sunglasses! A Dispensing Optician will be able to ensure that the frame is appropriate for you. An important factor is the size of the lenses – you need to ensure that the size allows for good protection, so that UV rays cannot reach your eyes from above the frame or to the side.
The lenses may offer UV protection, but if the frame does not fit well, you may be exposing yourself to UV as a result. For optimal protection, a wrap around frame that reaches just above the eyebrows or fits against the brow bone is best.
Frame materials of more expensive or designer sunglasses are often of better quality, utilising superior manufacturing techniques and ultimately producing a high-quality finish. This means that designer sunglasses can often be more durable, lasting for years to come if looked after.
Sunglasses & Your Vision
Do expensive sunglasses offer a better visual experience?
In addition to the frames, designer sunglasses are often constructed with higher-quality lens materials and certain optional lens coatings, meaning that expensive sunglasses might, in fact, offer a better visual experience.
It is important to remember that both premium and low-cost shades offer sufficient UV ray protection and sometimes include polarising lenses. But these extra features are not necessarily indicative of the overall quality of the lenses, and some coatings are more effectively applied and therefore longer lasting than others.
For example, less expensive non-prescription sunglasses offer the same level of UV protection as pricier options, but they are unlikely to have scratch-resistant lenses. Over time, you might end up with lenses marred by scratches and this will affect the quality of your vision.
Inexpensive polarised sunglasses help to reduce glare, but the coating may be manufactured in the cheapest way to the front or back surfaces of the lenses rather that in between layers of the lens. This can make cheaper polarised sunglasses more prone to distortion, scratches, separation of layers and warping.
High-end sunglasses are typically manufactured using more advanced methods, often with additional lens coatings already which will help to keep the lenses in good shape and in turn more resistant to superficial wear and tear. They may also have glass or polycarbonate lenses that will withstand daily use for years to come.
Expensive sunglasses also may offer the option for prescription and/or photochromic lenses so you can step out into the sun with the clearest vision possible.
If you are unsure whether your current sun protection is adequate, please call the practice on 0191 232 7615 and book an appointment with one of our Dispensing Opticians. They will be able to assess whether your sunglasses are likely to be sufficient to protect your eyes as much as possible.
We have a wide range of sunglasses in the practice which can be purchased to use as non-prescription sunspecs or if you wish, they can be glazed with prescription sunglass lenses.