Why it's important to wear sunglasses

Sunglasses are not just a cool fashion accessory – they also protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays.

Did you know that eyes can get sunburned too? Your eyes and the skin around them are very sensitive and can be easily damaged by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, UV radiation levels are particularly high from September to April, about 3 times higher than in the winter. However, even when it’s cloudy and/or cooler you still have to be careful about your exposure to UV radiation. 

Sunglasses aren’t just important for adults – they’re also important for children of all ages to wear. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat also adds another layer of protection for your eyes (and face).

Image credit: Pixabay

There are some compelling reasons why you should wear sunglasses:

1. Reduce the risk of eye disease

Too much UV light can cause serious damage including:

  • increased risk of cataracts – clouding of the lens in your eye
  • pterygium or surfer's eye – benign growths on the surface of the eye
  • macular degeneration (a condition that affects the central vision)
  • rarely, cancer of the cornea or conjunctiva
  • basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) of the skin surrounding the eye.

When buying sunglasses, the colour of the lens doesn’t matter as darker lenses won’t necessarily offer more protection.

What is important is whether they meet the sunglasses standard for protection against UV radiation (the standard is voluntary in New Zealand but mandatory in Australia). So, make sure your sunglasses:

  • meet the the Australia/New Zealand Standard for sunglasses and fashion spectacles (AS/NZS 1067.2:2016) – check the label and/or ask the retailer whether the sunglasses meet this standard
  • are comfortable and don’t distort your vision
  • are close-fitting or wrap-around to offer the greatest protection from UV rays entering your eyes from the side of your sunglasses.

2. Protect against skin cancer

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 10 percent of all skin cancers are found on the eyelid. That's why it's so important to protect the skin around your eyes from UV damage.

3. Prevent headaches and migraines

Bright sunlight, glare and reflected light on surfaces like the ocean can cause headaches and migraines. Sunglasses help reduce the likelihood of this happening. Sunglasses also reduce eye strain and fatigue, resulting in a more enjoyable outdoor experience.

4. Protect against other elements

Sunglasses not only protect against harmful UV rays, but they also protect your eyes against other elements such as wind, dust, dirt and sand, which can cause eye irritation and possible infection.

5. Younger looking skin

Sun damage prematurely ages your skin, especially the delicate skin around your eyes. The sun can cause your skin to lose its elasticity and become thinner due to collagen breaking down. In addition, squinting because of the sun causes fine lines and wrinkles to appear prematurely.

6. Safer driving

Whether it’s a short trip to the shops or a long road trip, be sure to wear your sunglasses to reduce glare and make it more comfortable and safer to drive. Be aware that some of the darker tinted sunglasses are not recommended for driving at night or under dull light conditions.

7. Sunglasses aren't just for the beach

As a general rule, when you are outdoors you should take your sunglasses with you. Many surfaces reflect light such as snow, water, road surfaces and car windshields. When you're doing some outdoor sports, such as cycling or road running, it's a good idea to wear proper-fitting glasses to minimise dust, dirt and glare. In fact, in most outdoor situation, sunglasses are a must for good eye health.

8. Sunglasses don't have to be expensive

Some cheaper sunglasses work as well as more expensive models. Consumer NZ found that some cheap sunnies still gave good quality protection. Those labelled as 100% UV-blocking are a better choice than designer store sunglasses with no protection.

References

  1. Sunglasses Consumer, NZ, 2015
  2. It's a wrap: What to look for in UV protection sunglasses MoleMap NZ, 2019
  3. Tips for choosing the best sunglasses American Academy of Opthalmology, US, 2021
  4. 7 reasons why you should wear sunglasses Auckland Eye, NZ, 2018
  5. Eye protection in the sun Health Navigator, NZ
  6. What’s the deal with sunglasses? Wellington Eye Centre, NZ, 2020
  7. Fact sheet – eye protection Cancer Council Australia 
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.