Not all sunglasses are created equal

Caitlin McCormack
·Caitlin McCormack
Not all sunglasses are created equal

You already know how important it is to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, but did you also know that your eyes require sun protection too?

Many of us will don a pair of shades when heading out the door on sunny days in order to help see more easily, but those sunglasses can also protect your vision -- if you're wearing the right pair.

But, did you know that not all sunglasses are created equal when it comes to protecting your eyes?

In fact, overexposure to UV rays can cause a whole host of health issues including age-related cataracts and degeneration of the cornea, abnormal growths on the eye's surface and even sunburns!

If serious enough or left untreated, this can result in blurred vision, irritation, redness, tearing, temporary vision loss and even blindness.

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If you're in the market for a new pair of shades, Doctors of Optometry has some tips to consider to ensure you're getting optimal protection without breaking the bank.

Don't be misled

Just because a pair of sunglasses is labelled "UV protection" does not mean they have safe and optimal levels of protection. Plus, many inexpensive lenses have imperfections that cause distortion and are made of materials that scratch easily, further reducing their efficacy.

How can you tell if your shades are up to the task? Dr. Michelle Georgi, a Doctor of Optometry in Manitoba says that most places that sell quality sunglasses often have a UV meter on site or access to one. She says that if you have sunglasses that you want to confirm are UV protective, you could ask to have them analyzed.

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"Also, the old phrase you get what you pay for really relates to sunglasses," she says. "Have you ever noticed that the thickness of the lens in a great pair of Ray-Bans is different than the flimsy piece of plastic in the sunglasses from the local kiosk in the mall? An optical lens is exactly that.

"The plastic or glass has been ground to a perfect curve, to minimize any distortion of light through that lens. The lens in the "cheapies" is a piece of plastic that was punched out of a sheet of plastic."

Stay informed

Getting regular eye exams can help you monitor your eye health, maintain good vision and keep up-to-date on the latest in UV protection. You may also be able to get a pair of prescription shades at little to no cost through your extended health plan (if you have one).

Shop savvy

"If you ensure your sunglass lenses are good quality, you can save money on the frame choice you make," says Georgi. "While designer sunglasses have some fabulous styles, if you're on a budget there are a lot of great looking sunglasses that fit well, and that you will see well through, that don't have a designer label."

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Georgi says shoppers should look for sunglasses or contact lenses that block out 99 to 100 per cent of UV-A and UV-B radiation and screen out 75 to 90 per cent of visible light for the best protection. They should also be looking for lenses that are perfectly matched in colour and free of any distortions or imperfections.

Speaking of lens colour – she notes that gray-coloured lenses are a top pick because they reduce light intensity without altering the colour of objects. This means they provide the most natural colour vision.

"If you buy decent quality sunglasses, they can last you more than one season, because good lenses won't scratch as easily."