Many people think of sunglasses as a summer accessory. However, while sunglasses may be stylish, they are not merely a fashion accessory, and they are not just meant to be worn in the summer. Studies show that sun exposure, regardless of the season, may increase the risk of developing cataracts, snow blindness, and growths on the eyes, including cancer. Therefore, it is important to protect your eyes from UV radiation year-round by wearing appropriate eye gear.

Even if you know you should be wearing sunglasses year-round, you may not think to grab a pair when it is cloudy outside, and it certainly is not the first thought most people have when there is snow on the ground. However, you should make protecting your eyes a priority no matter the weather. Exposure to UV radiation can be high even on cloudy days, and sun reflecting off snow can be especially harsh on your eyes.

Read: Exposure to UV Rays can cause Cataracts.

Skiers and Snowboarders have High risks of UV Damage

The risk of UV damage is particularly high for skiers and snowboarders. If you plan on skiing or snowboarding this winter, you should take extra precautions for a couple of reasons. First, excessive exposure to UV light reflected off snow can damage the eye’s front surface called the cornea, which can lead to a variety of serious conditions. Second, exposure to UV radiation increases with elevation. We recommend that you check your sunglasses and ski goggles to make sure they contain proper UV protection.

It is important to realize that not all eyewear is made equally. When shopping for sunglasses, for example, you should consider the following factors. 

  • 100% UV Protection:  Always look for the sticker or tag with the percent of UV protection on it, and choose a pair that blocks out 100% of UV rays. According to a 2014 study by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, fewer than half of people buying sunglasses bother to check whether the lenses protect from ultraviolet light. This is bad news, because wearing sunglasses without UV protection is more dangerous than not wearing sunglasses at all. When you do not wear sunglasses, you are forced to squint, and your pupils constrict, which limits the light getting in and provides your eyes with at least some protection. When you wear sunglasses without UV protection, they shade your eyes, which causes your pupils to dilate, letting in significantly more harmful light than if you were to skip the sunglasses altogether.
  • The Bigger the Better: The more coverage your sunglasses provide, the less exposure to harmful rays your eyes receive. For the best coverage, consider buying oversized or wraparound–style glasses, which help block out UV rays entering from the side.
  • Darker is not safer: Darker lenses do not protect better against UV rays. Instead of focusing on the darkness of the lenses, focus on the percentage of UV protection.
  • Polarized lenses cut glare, not UV: Polarization does not reduce UV exposure, but it can still make you safer by reducing glare, which makes activities like driving and being on the water safer and more enjoyable.
  • Color Does Not Matter: Color does not make a difference in terms of UV protection. However, while colored lenses do not block out more sun, they can increase contrast, which can come in handy for athletes who play sports that require aim and precision.
  • They Don’t Have to Be Expensive: When it comes to sunglasses, expensive does not necessarily mean better. Less expensive pairs that are 100% UV-blocking can be just as effective as their pricier counterparts.

With all of this in mind, it is time to check out your own sunglasses to make sure they are protecting you from UV rays. Once you have a pair you can rely on, make sure you leave them somewhere where you will not forget them on your way out the door.

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