June 27 – National Sunglasses Day

Posted on June 27, 2016

Sunglasses can be fun!

They are often very cool.

They can make our eyes more comfortable in glary places like beaches and sunlit snow fields. And they can make us safer when drivers can see the road, signs, pedestrians, and other cars better on sunny days – especially when the sun is low in sky.

But...sunglasses are good for your eyes?

The Vision Council is taking advantage of National Sunglasses Day to point out that sunglasses help protect our eyes from harmful UV light. Ultraviolet rays have been linked to such things as cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye problems. Even the highest energy visible light may cause macular degeneration; this is called HEV (for High-Energy Visible) or blue light.

By the way, the very best way to protect your eyes (or to protect your identity, if you are famous and want to go unnoticed) is to wear a hat AND sunglasses. Also, wrap-around sunglasses protect more than the more typical open-sided styles.

Actress Meg Ryan avoids recognition with shades and hat...

Not all sunglasses are equal...

Of course you want a style you like and a fit that is comfortable, but you really should pay the most attention to the UV protection offered by sunglasses. Look for 100% UV protection labels (which sometimes are labeled UV 400). Those lenses will protect from both kinds of ultraviolet light.

Apparently a consumer-protection test was run on sunglasses; all of the expensive and moderate sunglasses labeled “100% UV protection” really did offer the protection. Most of the bargain-basement sunglasses with that label did, too – but at least one $5 pair did not. If you have any doubts, an optometrist can easily and quickly test your shades.

By the way, here are some sunglasses factors that have nothing to do with UV protection:
  • being polarized – this can help you see better but does not guarantee UV protection
  • being anti-glare – ditto the above
  • being a particular color or darker tint – there is no proof that particular colors of sunglasses (not even the amber “Blue Blocker” lenses), nor that darker-tinted sunglasses, do a better job of protecting your eyes than other colors or tints.
Kids' eyes need protection from UV radiation just as much as adults' eyes do!!

Modern or...?

Of course sunglasses with UV protection are pretty modern, but there were some early forms of eye protection invented over the course of history. Inuit people had to cope with a lot of sun-on-snow glare, and they often wore “glasses” made out of walrus ivory; they would view the world through narrow slits. The Roman emperor Nero watched gladiator fights through emeralds; I'm pretty sure he wasn't thinking of protecting his eyes from radiation! Another sort of early sunglasses was invented in 12th Century China; these were flat panes of smoky quartz.
Inuit snow goggles

It wasn't until the 1900s that sunglasses were used by loads of people. They were first mass produced in 1929, and polarized lenses became available in 1936. Ray Ban invented anti-glare sunglasses for aviators during World War II, and his aviator-style shades also caught on with the general public.

Also on this date:

Mathematician Augustus DeMorgan's birthday

Djibouti's Independence Day

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