5 Tips for Choosing Safer Sunglasses

McKenna Princing Fact Checked
Photo by alan King on Unsplash

If you think nothing deserves shade quite like buying a new pair of stylish sunglasses only to discover that you still have to squint while wearing them, you’re not the only one. While there are countless stylish pairs of sunnies out there, not all of them do the one thing they’re supposed to: protect your eyes from the sun.

Dr. Ashley McCain, an optometrist at the Karalis Johnson Retina Center at UW Medicine, understands the struggle.

“I love to have stylish sunglasses, too, but I also want to make sure they’re providing the protection I need,” she says.

Here are McCain’s tips and need-to-knows for finding the best pair of shades for your peepers.

Look for UV protection

By protection, she means lenses that filter out both UVA and UVB rays, the same kinds of rays sunscreen protects your skin from. UVA and UVB rays can be damaging to your eyes and contribute to conditions like cataracts, eye cancer and macular degeneration.

To know for sure that a pair will filter out all UV rays, look for a tag or sign that says the sunglasses have 100% UVA and UVB protection. Sometimes this will be worded differently, like saying the glasses protect your eyes from up to 400 nm, or nanometers, of light (which includes UVA and UVB light).

For reference, those cheap plastic sunglasses do offer some protection by filtering out up to around 40% of UV rays on average, McCain says. Wearing them is better than not wearing sunglasses at all, but they won’t keep your eyes completely safe.

Try special glasses for water and snow sports

If you’re out on the water or hitting the slopes on sunny days, you know all about the glare. Bright sun reflecting off either of these surfaces means that you’ll probably be squinting and have watery eyes, sometimes even if you’re wearing sunglasses (which you should be).

One solution is to try sunglasses with polarized or mirrored lenses, which deflect some of the light. Different glasses have different tints on the lenses — like yellow or red — so try on a few pairs to see what feels most comfortable.

See? You really can view the world through rose-colored (sun)glasses.

Get your thrifted glasses tested

If, like McCain herself, you enjoy thrifting inexpensive and unique sunglasses, you may wonder if they actually provide full coverage. There’s a way to find out.

“Some optical shops have a machine that can read off if the sunglasses provide 100% UV protection,” McCain says.

If the lenses don’t offer much protection but you love the frames, consider getting the lenses replaced.

Skip the small sunglasses trend

You’ve probably seen those super-thin, cat-eye glasses that all the celebrities have been wearing recently. And while they may look cool, they’re not the most practical eyewear in terms of function.

Sunglasses with larger lenses offer more protection than sunglasses with smaller lenses, McCain says. Wraparound styles add even more protection by covering your peripheral vision.

So go ahead, rock those giant frames.

Wear sunglasses on cloudy days, too

Pacific Northwesterners aren’t used to a lot of sun exposure, so when that large yellow orb does make an appearance, most of us are rushing for our sunglasses because it’s just so bright.

Jokes aside, this region undoubtedly has more overcast days than clear ones. But even cloudy days can be bright enough to warrant wearing sunglasses, McCain says.

Think of it like sunscreen: If you’re going to be outside a lot on a cloudy day, it’s still a good idea to wear sunscreen because UV light is still shining through the clouds.

Wearing your sunglasses at night, however, is entirely up to you.