What Types of Sunglasses Are Available to Me? Why Should I Wear Them?

We hear a lot about how too much sun can damage our skin and lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. There is often less talk about the damage done to our eyes and why we should wear sunglasses. Here are some things to think about. Sunglasses are often seen as a fashion statement, but there are some very good health reasons why you should consider wearing them any time you are outdoors, even if it is cloudy.

  • Prolonged exposure to UV light noticeably increases your risk of developing macular degeneration or cataracts as you age. About 20 percent of cataracts are caused by extended exposure. It can also worsen astigmatism.
  • Sunglasses can reduce glare and improve contrast, particularly if you have existing vision issues such as glaucoma or retinitis pigmentosa. This can improve your overall vision.
  • Some people find that wearing sunglasses during the day makes it easier to drive at night.
  • The skin of the eyelids is thin and particularly vulnerable to skin cancer.
  • Long hours at the beach or skiing can cause photokeratitis. This means your cornea gets sunburned. It is extremely painful and can cause temporary vision loss. Symptoms include red eyes, a gritty feeling in the eyes, light sensitivity, and tearing. Photokeratitis is generally temporary, but unpleasant.
  • UV exposure can cause a condition called pterygium, where a growth develops on the white of your eye. This can eventually cause vision loss.

Both UV-A and UV-B wavelengths can cause damage. UV-B is mostly absorbed by your cornea and lens, which can increase your risk of cataracts. UV-A goes right through the cornea and can damage your retina.

Smiling girl in sunglasses taking selfie

What About Those Drugstore Sunglasses?

The easiest thing to do might be to buy cheap sunglasses at a drugstore. However, these cheap sunglasses (unless you are in a situation where you forgot your sunglasses, in which case, they’re better than nothing) can have a range of problems.

  • The lenses are not properly ground and polished. This can give some users headaches or eye strain. In general, the lens material is of poorer quality, and produces less clarity of vision.
  • Not all drugstore sunglasses block enough UV light. Sunglasses should block at least 99 percent of UV light. UV absorption up to 400 nm is another way of putting it.
  • Drugstore sunglasses also tend to look cheap.

Never buy sunglasses from street vendors, as the chances are they are not UV rated and will do you no good at all. In fact, dark glasses that lack UV protection can increase your risk of vision damage due to the fact that they cause your pupil to dilate further, exposing more of your retina to the UV light. Your optometrist can test the UV protection of a pair of sunglasses in their office, but the best thing to do is buy “emergency” sunglasses from somebody reputable, such as a chain drugstore or a sunglass store, rather than from a street vendor. As one last note, children’s sunglasses are even more likely not to provide proper protection or to be mislabeled.

What Type of Sunglasses Should You Get?

The question as to what kind of sunglasses you should buy depends on a variety of things. Here are some things you should take into account:

Darkness of Tint

The darkness of the lens has no connection to UV protection. However, the shade does affect glare protection. If you are getting glasses to go to the beach or skiing, you want a darker lens than you might for everyday use in order to reduce glare. In contrast, some people may find excessively dark lenses to be uncomfortable.

Color of Tint

Again, the color of the lens does not directly relate to UV protection. The best thing to do is try a variety of color lenses and see which one has the least impact on your color vision. For most people, grey is the best color, as it tints all colors equally. If you are worried about blue light protection, get yellowish or amber lenses. However, remember that blue light during the day is good for you, and blue light protection is probably something you need more indoors. Consider getting blue light protection on your computer or reading glasses. If you are color blind, you may find brown lenses to be the best, as they appear to increase contrast for people with color deficiency. Obviously, you can also take aesthetics into consideration here, if all else is equal. While the color does not affect your health, it can affect your visual clarity.


Polarized lenses do not protect from UV light. What they do is substantially reduce glare. This is very helpful when driving, as it reduces the reflected glare from the road or other vehicles. Fishermen also benefit a lot from polarized lenses, which literally allow you to see further into the water. Many prescription eyeglasses are polarized.

Impact Resistance

Any pair of sunglasses from a reputable vendor will be made with impact-resistant plastic lenses. However, if you engage in contact sports or in anything that might result in a fall, such as cycling or horseback riding, you may want to invest in polycarbonate lenses. Make sure to get the scratch resistant coating. These lenses are much less likely to break in the event of an accident. Polycarbonate lenses may also be a good idea for regular eyeglasses for some people.


Most eye doctors will recommend that you wear wraparound sunglasses, as normal sunglasses leave you vulnerable to light coming around the edges of the frame. It is also possible to get wraparound sunglasses that fit over your prescription glasses. This is handy if you have a very strong prescription that would make prescription sunglasses a lot more expensive. If you have to use a tanning parlor (generally a bad idea), you should wear wraparound glasses. Finally, wraparound sunglasses can also provide more protection to your eyes from impact. They are a very good idea if you are involved in sports that might involve impact or the risk of dust and debris around your eyes.


Mirrored shades provide no extra UV protection but reduce glare as well as being a striking fashion statement. They are very good for the beach or while sailing, when you might have to deal with a lot of glare from the water.


Photochromic lenses darken when the light increases and the reverse. Some people find them very useful for glare reduction, although the extended darkening and lightening time (one minute to darken and five to lighten) can cause issues. For example, they may cause safety issues if you are driving and go through a tunnel. Not all photochromic lenses offer UV protection, but most do, and they continue to protect your eyes even when they are in light mode. Make sure your photochromic lenses come from a reputable brand and are stated to offer protection.


Gradient lenses are somewhat special. They come in single and double gradients. Single gradient lenses are dark on top and lighter on the bottom and are primarily designed for driving. The lighter lower part of the lens allows you to see the dashboard more clearly. Double-gradient lenses are dark on the top and the bottom and lighter in the middle. Double-gradient lenses are primarily useful for sailing or skiing but should never be used for driving.

Woman in sunglasses and hat

Do I Need Sunglasses?

So, as you can see, the specific type of sunglasses lens you should get depends on your lifestyle and your vision. For this reason, it is best to purchase your sunglasses from your eye doctor. Your eye doctor can make appropriate recommendations and will help you make a decision as to color, tint, and whether you need anything special. Bear in mind that many modern eyeglass materials actually have good U/V protection built in. The tinting on sunglasses has nothing to do with UV protection but is, rather, to give other benefits such as glare reduction. However, many people are still more comfortable wearing actual sunglasses, especially on a bright day. Sunglasses can also be a great fashion statement.

Your need for sunglasses increases if you:

  • Live in the desert or at altitude. It is a good idea to invest in a good pair of sunglasses for a trip to Arizona, New Mexico, or the western mountains, where levels of both UV exposure and glare are higher.
  • Work outside most of the time.
  • Engage in skiing, mountain climbing, beach activities or watersports.
  • Are a welder or similar.
  • Have had cataract surgery.
  • Take certain prescription drugs that can increase sensitivity to light or UV.
  • Are a child or teenager, as they tend to spend more time outdoors and have even more sensitive skin. Significant damage can be done by allowing your children to play outside for extended periods without eye protection.

Talk to your eye doctor when you have your examination about the level of UV protection you need. Even if you do not need glasses for other reasons, you want to get high-quality lenses made using the same techniques used to make prescription glasses. If you are looking for advice on the best sunglasses for you or your family, contact Eye Consultants of Atlanta today!