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If you were to take your best guess, who would you say was the first person to wear sunglasses? Ray Ban? Foster Grant? Oakley? Good guesses, perhaps, but all pretty far from the mark. It turns out that the earliest wearing of sunglasses started way back in 1430. And who were the kings of cool to be so fashion forward as to bring these must- have accessories into the public domain? Surprisingly, Chinese judges. Apparently, for centuries, these inscrutable masters wore dark colored quartz lenses to conceal their eye expressions in court. How’s that for some 15th-century smoke and mirrors?
It wasn’t until much later, during the 1930’s when the military started experimenting with sunscreens, that sunglasses came to be used for eye protection, and since then most of the society would rather be caught dead than without a pair of sunglasses on a rough day. However, there’s more than just the cool factor at play here. Sunglasses are functional as well as fashionable. Read on for some good rules for picking a pair that will serve as well as protect.
The sun gives off UV radiation, which boosts vitamin D, but can also damage your eyes. Before you pick your new shades from the rack, read the label. If your sunnies don’t claim to block 100% UVA and UVB rays, leave them in the store, no matter how good they look. Eye doctor Rachel Bishop says that’s the least you can expect your sunglasses to do. “You want both of those blocked 99 to 100%,” she says, “It’s not too much to expect your glasses to do that.”
Excessive UV light can lead to cataracts, and destroy the retina, which is the lining at the back of your eyes which helps you see clearly. Severe exposure can even cause tissue to grow over the eyeball.
It’s not only your eyes that are at risk but the skin around them. Bishop says UV light can cause changes in cells, which can thicken skin surrounding the eyes, and cause discomfort.
When light seeps through your glasses, it is not only annoying, it can be dangerous. A poorly fitting pair of sunglasses can let rays get into your skin and eyes. Optometrist Fraser Horn, OD, says, “I look at something that fits the face well. I don’t want it up touching the eyelashes, but I also don’t want it pushed way out. And I want something that lines up with your brow.” Wraparound sunglasses are ideal for blocking stray UV light, and can also keep out allergens.
These may be a good choice for reducing glare in the snow or at the beach, but they are not a substitute for UV protection. Even though you may be able to see well with them when there is a lot of light, they may make things like smartphones, dashboards, and computer screens more difficult to see.
Just because a lens is dark, it doesn’t mean it blocks UV rays. Your pupil controls how much light gets in your eyes. Darkened lenses can actually cause the pupil to open up and let in even more light. If those lenses aren’t labeled as effective against UV rays, you may be doing damage to the back of your eyes.
A 2014 survey done by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found that only 32% of kids are made to wear sunglasses rated to block UV rays. Says Bishop, “Whenever you’re thinking, ‘Hmm, I should be using a sunscreen, you should be wearing sunglasses, too. As a parent, you should be aware that kids start accumulating that sun damage as soon as there’s exposure. Kids wearing sunglasses is an important thing.”
How do you pick your shades? Let us know how you keep your cool while keeping your eyes protected.