Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Are Sunglasses Bad For You?



Short answer

Sunglasses are not bad for you; on the contrary, they are crucial for protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays that can lead to serious conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and cancers. Look for sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays and consider factors like polarization, wraparound styles, and lens material for additional comfort. They can also reduce glare, enhance contrast, regulate light intensity, and prevent dry eyes, significantly mitigating eye strain and promoting visual comfort.



Long answer

Protection Factor: How Sunglasses Guard Against UV Rays

Sunglasses are more than just a stylish accessory – they are a critical part of your eye health toolkit. Understanding the role they play in guarding against Ultraviolet (UV) rays can help you make informed decisions about which pair to choose and when to wear them.

The first thing to know is that there are two types of UV light that can harm your eyes – UVA and UVB rays. Overexposure to these rays can lead to serious eye conditions, including cataracts, macular degeneration, and even cancer of the eyelids and skin around the eyes. Here's how sunglasses act as a protective barrier:

  • UV Protection Layer: Quality sunglasses come with a special coating that blocks out nearly 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation. Ensuring your sunglasses have a label or sticker indicating this level of protection is essential.
  • Polarization: While polarization itself doesn't block UV rays, polarized lenses reduce glare from reflective surfaces – making it more comfortable for your eyes on sunny days, especially when driving or near water.
  • Wraparound Style: The shape of your sunglasses can also offer additional protection. Wraparound styles prevent sunlight from entering the sides and top of the glasses, which can be particularly beneficial for outdoor sports and activities.
  • Lens Material: Materials like polycarbonate inherently provide UV protection, while others like glass and plastic can have UV-blocking coatings added.
  • Color and Darkness of Lens: Interestingly, the color and darkness of the lens don't correlate with UV protection. Dark lenses without adequate UV coatings can actually be more harmful because they cause the pupil to dilate, which allows more harmful UV rays to enter the eye.
  • Oversized or Close-fitting Frames: Larger, close-fitting frames reduce UV exposure to the eyes and delicate skin around them by covering a larger portion of your face.

It's not just enough to don a pair of sunglasses when it's sunny – the sun emits UV radiation all year round, even on cloudy or rainy days. In fact, you still need protection for your eyes when the sun is behind clouds, as UV rays can penetrate atmospheric conditions. Snow, sand, water, and even concrete can reflect UV rays and increase exposure.

Retinal exposure to UV rays can lead to photokeratitis, which is essentially a sunburn of the eyes. This painful condition can be prevented by wearing sunglasses that offer proper UV protection. Investing in a pair of sunglasses with good UV protection is not just a fashion statement, but a health necessity.

Eye health experts and optometrists alike emphasize the importance of wearing UV-blocking sunglasses. Moreover, several studies have shown that cumulative exposure to UV rays without proper eye protection can significantly increase the chances of developing the aforementioned eye conditions. For example, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that individuals who spent more extended periods of time outdoors without eye protection had a higher incidence of cataracts.

When selecting sunglasses, it is crucial to avoid the common misconception that higher-priced sunglasses always provide better UV protection. Instead, what you need to look for are glasses that offer 100% UVA and UVB protection, which can be found at a variety of price points. Always check for a label or certification mark confirming UV protection before making your purchase.

In essence, sunglasses serve as vital protective gear for our eyes. Just as we apply sunscreen to protect our skin, we should put on sunglasses to shield our eyes from the invisible yet potentially dangerous UV rays. Whether you're running errands, hitting the slopes, or lounging on the beach, remember to sport those shades, and ensure that they offer the protection your eyes need.

Eye Strain and the Role of Sunglasses in Visual Comfort

When it comes to protecting our eyes and ensuring visual comfort, sunglasses play a pivotal role. Eye strain, also known as asthenopia, can result from overexerting the eyes during activities that require intense focus or include exposure to harsh lighting conditions. Prolonged exposure to bright sunlight can lead to symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, and an overall sensation of discomfort in the eyes. Let's delve into the ways in which sunglasses can mitigate eye strain and promote visual comfort:

Filtering Harmful UV Rays: The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) rays that can be harmful to the eyes. Long-term exposure to UV light increases the risk of developing eye conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Quality sunglasses offer UV protection, filtering out these harmful rays and reducing the risk of eye damage. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, sunglasses should block out 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation for optimal protection.

Reducing Glare: Glare from the sun can cause significant eye strain, especially when it reflects off of surfaces like water, sand, or pavement. Polarized sunglasses can be particularly helpful in these scenarios. They contain a special filter that blocks intense reflected light, reducing glare and easing the strain on your eyes.

Enhancing Contrast: Sunglasses with certain tints can improve visual clarity and contrast, helping to reduce eye strain. For example, brown or amber-tinted lenses can enhance contrast in outdoor activities, which is beneficial for sports enthusiasts and drivers alike.

Regulating Light Intensity: In bright outdoor settings, our pupils constrict to regulate the amount of light entering the eyes. Wearing sunglasses assists in this process by limiting light exposure, which in turn can prevent the symptoms of eye strain like squinting and constant adjustment to varying light conditions.

Preventing Dry-Eye Syndrome: Windy environments and exposure to air conditioning or heaters can dry out the eyes. Sunglasses act as a physical barrier against the wind and other elements, helping to retain moisture on the eye surface and keeping the eyes more comfortable in challenging conditions.

While utilizing sunglasses for visual comfort is important, not all sunglasses are created equal. It's essential to choose a pair that offers the right features for your needs. Consider these tips for selecting sunglasses to combat eye strain:

  • Look for the UV protection label: Ensure that your sunglasses have a clear label indicating 100% UV protection.
  • Choose the right tint: Depending on your usual activities, select a tint that enhances vision for those specific conditions.
  • Consider larger frames: Larger frames or wraparound styles can offer better protection against stray light entering from the sides.

It is clear that sunglasses serve more than just a sartorial purpose; they are essential tools for maintaining eye health and visual comfort. In the face of eye strain, a suitable pair of sunglasses can be your first line of defence, ensuring that your eyes remain protected and comfortable throughout your daily pursuits.

Potential Risks of Low-Quality Lens Materials

In the quest for eye protection against the sun's harsh rays, not all sunglasses are created equal. The lens materials and the quality of these materials play a crucial role in the efficacy and safety of eye-wear. While opting for a bargain pair of shades might seem economical, inexpensive or low-quality lens materials could potentially harm your vision and overall eye health.

1. Inadequate UV Protection: One of the primary risks associated with low-quality lens materials is insufficient ultraviolet (UV) protection. A study in the Optometry and Vision Science journal found that not all sunglasses meet the necessary standards for effective UV protection. Over time, exposure to UV rays can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, and other ocular issues.

2. Distorted Vision: Poor-quality lenses can have imperfections and irregularities that distort your vision. Visual distortion can lead to eye strain, headaches, and even dizziness. It's crucial to ensure lenses are optically correct to avoid these risks.

3. Fragility and Breakage: Sunglasses made with inferior materials can be more prone to breaking. A breakage can not only mean an unexpected expense but also a safety hazard if it occurs during activities like driving or sports.

4. Vulnerability to Scratches: Low-quality lenses often lack a protective coating, making them more susceptible to scratches that can impair vision. Scratch-resistant coatings are particularly important for maintaining clear vision and prolonging the life of the sunglasses.

5. Chemical Exposure: Cheap sunglasses may be made with materials that haven't been sufficiently tested for safety and can release harmful chemicals. For instance, bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical sometimes found in plastics and can be associated with adverse health effects.

6. Color Distortion: Colored lenses that are of low quality may distort color perception, which can alter visibility when distinguishing colors—important for tasks such as driving, where recognizing traffic lights and signs is essential.

To safeguard your eyes from these potential risks, you should seek sunglasses that mention 100% UV protection or UV400 rating, indicating they block light rays up to 400 nanometers. Inspect the lenses for uniformity and choose brands that are reputable and perhaps even recommend by eye care professionals. While it might require a higher initial investment, the health benefits and durability of higher-quality sunglasses are a worthwhile trade-off for maintaining long-term eye health.

Blue Light Filtering: Necessity or Marketing Gimmick?

When it comes to protecting our eyes, blue light filtering is a term that's been floating around with increasing frequency. These filters are often built into sunglasses, aiming to block or minimize blue light exposure from the sun and digital screens. The big question is - are these filters a necessary feature for eye protection, or just another marketing strategy to differentiate products in a crowded market?

Understanding Blue Light

First, let's understand what blue light is. It's a part of the visible light spectrum, with a wavelength between approximately 380 and 500 nanometers, making it one of the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths. Natural sources of blue light include the sun, which is why the sky appears blue. In the digital age, we're also exposed to significant amounts of blue light from screens like smartphones, tablets, and computers, as well as from LED and fluorescent lighting.

The Debate Around Blue Light Exposure

Experts are divided on whether blue light actually poses a significant risk to eye health. Some studies suggest that overexposure to blue light can contribute to digital eye strain, which can cause symptoms like dry eyes, headache, and blurred vision. There's also concern that prolonged exposure to blue light could damage retinal cells, potentially leading to conditions like age-related macular degeneration.

However, other research indicates that the amount of blue light from screens is only a fraction of what we're exposed to from the sun, and it's not strong enough to cause permanent damage to our eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology currently does not endorse any kind of special eyewear for computer users, citing the lack of scientific evidence demonstrating harm from blue light emitted by digital devices.

Marketing versus Measured Benefits

Many sunglasses brands tout blue light blocking as a key feature, suggesting that it's crucial for protecting eyes from harm. These claims often leverage the public's concern about increased screen time and the potential negative health effects. While it's true that reducing blue light exposure, especially before bedtime, can help improve sleep quality, the extent to which blue light filters are beneficial during the daytime – particularly through sunglasses – remains uncertain.

When Might Blue Light Filters Be Helpful?

  • For Sensitive Individuals: People with a high sensitivity to light or those who have had cataract surgery might find relief with blue light filtering lenses, as they can reduce glare and increase contrast.
  • Improved Sleep Patterns: Wearing blue light filtering glasses in the evening hours can help maintain the body's natural circadian rhythm by reducing the blue light exposure that suppresses melatonin production.
  • Reduced Digital Eye Strain: Some individuals may experience less eye strain with blue light filtering glasses during prolonged digital device usage, though this can also be achieved by taking regular screen breaks and practicing the 20-20-20 rule (every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds).

Professionals' Perspective on Blue Light Filters

Ophthalmologists and optometrists may not universally recommend blue light filtering lenses, but some do acknowledge that they can help certain individuals with specific needs. The consensus is that more research is needed to fully understand the effects of blue light on the eyes and to solidify recommendations for the general public.

Ultimately, while blue light filtering might offer some benefits for a subset of the population, the necessity of these features in sunglasses is yet to be conclusively proven. It's worth considering individual sensitivity, lifestyle, and the potential placebo effect when deciding if sunglasses with blue light filters are worth the investment.

The Psychological Impact of Wearing Sunglasses Outdoors

When we slip on a pair of sunglasses before stepping outside, our focus is often on comfort and eye protection. But alongside the physical benefits, there's a psychological component to wearing sunglasses that merits exploration. So, let's delve into how shielding our eyes from the sun can impact our mental well-being and behavior.

Firstly, consider the boost in confidence that comes from wearing sunglasses. For many people, sunglasses serve as a stylish accessory that can complement their outfit and enhance their personal image. This, in one aspect, may contribute to a heightened sense of self-assurance and a positive self-image.

Moreover, sunglasses have been found to provide a sense of anonymity, which can influence our behavior in social settings. Psychologists have suggested that, akin to the effects of being in a crowd, sunglasses can evoke a phenomenon known as "deindividuation." This can lead to a reduction in self-consciousness and an increase in impulsive behavior, as indicated by studies reflecting more risk-taking behaviors when identities are concealed.

On the flip side, the anonymity afforded by sunglasses may also have therapeutic benefits for individuals with social anxiety. By creating a psychological barrier between themselves and others, people might feel more protected and less exposed to scrutiny, enabling them to navigate social situations with less stress.

Furthermore, exposure to natural light is known to have mood-boosting effects by increasing serotonin levels, which sunglasses can potentially mitigate. However, it is worth mentioning that wearing sunglasses doesn't fully prevent this natural light from reaching our eyes, so the mood-enhancing benefits might still occur even with sunnies on.

In terms of color perception and psychological impact, the tint of your sunglasses lenses can play a role as well. For instance, blue-tinted lenses might promote a calming effect, while amber or brown might enhance one's mood due to a warmer visual environment. Consequently, the choice of lens tint may subconsciously affect emotional well-being.

Let's break down these psychological impacts into key points:

  • Confidence: Stylish sunglasses can make an individual feel more confident and self-assured.
  • Anonymity: Sunglasses provide a level of anonymity which may influence social behavior and reduce inhibitions.
  • Social Anxiety: They may act as a coping mechanism for those with social anxiety by creating a sensation of 'safety.'
  • Mood Regulation: While they could potentially limit the mood-boosting effects of sunlight, the effect is generally minimal as light still reaches the eyes.
  • Color Perception: Lens tints can influence mood and perception, possibly providing psychological benefits or comfort.

In summary, the psychological effects of wearing sunglasses outdoors are multifaceted, meshing aspects of personal style, social dynamics, and emotional well-being. The role of sunglasses goes beyond mere sun protection, quietly shaping our psychological landscape in subtle but noteworthy ways.

Frequently asked questions

Wraparound sunglasses are particularly beneficial in scenarios where you're exposed to sunlight from various angles, such as outdoor sports, skiing, cycling, and water sports. Their design prevents sunlight from entering through the sides and top, offering superior protection against reflections from surfaces like water and snow, and ensuring a wider field of covered vision.

Yes, lens tints can subconsciously affect your mood. For instance, blue-tinted lenses may induce a calming effect, while amber or brown tints might elevate your mood due to the perception of a warmer visual environment. However, it's important to note that these effects are subtle and personal; they may vary from one individual to another.

No, the price of sunglasses does not necessarily correlate with the level of UV protection. It is possible to find sunglasses at various price points that offer 100% UVA and UVB protection. The key is to look for a label or sticker that indicates this level of protection, rather than assuming that a higher price guarantees better shielding against UV rays.

Sunglasses prevent long-term damage by blocking nearly 100% of UVA and UVB radiation, which can cause conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration over time. Quality sunglasses with a UV protection layer shield the eyes from these harmful rays. Additionally, materials like polycarbonate and proper lens coatings further enhance UV protection, safeguarding your eyes for the long haul.

Ask a question about Sunglasses and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • mild visual discomfort
  • temporary dark adaptation issues
  • potential glare in low-quality lenses

Ingredients to be aware of

  • bpa in lens materials
  • inadequate uv coatings in low-quality sunglasses


  • uv protection
  • reduced risk of eye conditions
  • decreased glare and eye strain
  • enhanced visual comfort
  • potential for mood regulation

Healthier alternatives

  • sunglasses with 100% uva and uvb protection
  • uv400-rated lenses
  • polarized lenses
  • quality lens materials

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 03-08-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Desmond Richard
Published on: 03-08-2024

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