By now, you’ve heard me tell you all about the benefits of wearing sunscreen. But there’s a particularly sun-exposed part of our bodies that sunscreen can’t protect: Our eyes. Letting too much sun sneak in through our lids can cause a variety of serious eye problems, including eye pain, cancer and blindness. Read closely to learn about how to keep on seeing the sun by shielding yourself from it.
The UV rays in sunlight pose just as much danger to our eyes as to your skin. The damage accumulates over your lifetime, so even though it starts early, its effects are usually felt in middle age or later. Cumulative light exposure is one of the reasons that people develop cataracts as they age. Cataracts cause clouding of the eye’s transparent lens, so as they grow, they block the light until eventually none can pass through. In fact, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world and can only be treated surgically. While aging is the greatest risk factor for cataracts, limiting your UV ray exposure can help slow their development.
Just like the rest of your body, the eye can get sunburned. In a condition called photokeratitis, the eye’s cornea is burned, resulting in severe eye pain, light sensitivity, blurred vision, redness and even the inability to open your eyes. Luckily, this condition usually resolves on its own, but it is painful.
Your eyelids aren’t immune to cancer either. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas can both occur on the eyelid, in addition to other potentially malignant growths. Squamous cell carcinoma can be particularly invasive, and in severe cases treating it may require removal of the eye.
Since they’re supposedly the windows to our soul, there’s no shame in being a little vain about our eyes. Keeping the skin around our eyes out of the sun will help slow the growth of those fine lines, wrinkles and bags that make us look older. And since none of us like the feel of sunscreen in our eyes, covering up with sunglasses is the surest way to protect that delicate eyelid skin.
So what can you do to keep your vision safe? As I’ve mentioned, sunglasses are absolutely the best way to keep your eyes in top shape. Many people think hats are sufficient to shield you from the sun, but they only block out about 50% of the light – not enough to protect your eyes from sun damage. In comparison, sunglasses that are correctly treated with UV protection block out 99-100% of UV rays.
Remembering to don those shades is particularly important in the summer, when we tend to spend more time outside, but don’t forget them during the rest of the year. It’s especially important to cover up any time you’re driving, out on the water or around snow, since the glare magnifies the sun’s effect on your eyes.
You don’t need to shell out your whole salary to look like a movie star – you can find stylish and safe glasses for just about any price, even at your local drugstore. Here are some tips for picking the perfect shades:
- For the best sun coverage, pick wraparound sunglasses. If those aren’t to your liking, pull fashion inspiration from icon Jackie O and opt for a larger lens with wide temples.
- Not all sunglasses are treated with UV protection, so make sure you check the label before you buy. It should advertise that it blocks out 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays. If it carries a ‘seal of acceptance’ from an optometric organization such as the American Optometric Association (AOA), it’s almost certainly good to go.
- UV protection is clear, so the color of the lenses won’t tell you anything about their protective power. But if you don’t want colors to look different, opt for gray lenses.
- Many standard eyeglasses and some contacts are also treated to provide UV protection, but you should still double up with sunglasses if possible.
Learn more about how to take care of the windows to your soul.