Sunglasses – Are they just a fashion statement?

Author: Dr Anitha Arvind


Figure 1: Sunglasses, more than just a fashion accessory

Sunglasses are more than a fashion accessory for all those looking out to buy a pair! Besides making fashion statements, sunglasses protect the wearers’ eyes from the harmful effects of sun rays, reduce eye strain, improve vision, and offer protection. Before we debate branded versus non branded sunglasses, let us understand why our eyes need protection from sunlight?

Sunglasses – Are they just a fashion statement (1)

Why do we need protection from sun rays??

Sun is the essence of life for all living things, including humans. Too much of anything is harmful, which is also true with sunlight. Over-exposure to sunlight can cause various eye problems, including cataract, non-cancerous growths like pinguecula and pterygium, macular degeneration, and even the cancer of eyes and eyelids.


Understanding the radiations

The Ultraviolet and the Infrared radiations of the sun are the ones from which we need protection daily.


Figure 2: The electromagnetic Spectrum: Radiation is much more than what meets the eye.

The X radiation and other radiations are not commonly encountered, and protection against these are available as safety spectacles at the workplace.


Figure 3: Sources of electromagnetic radiation

Infrared Radiation (IR) is one of the longer wavelength radiations and they emit heat. Hence a person can experience the heat when exposed to these radiations like those experienced by furnace workers. Long term exposure to IR radiations results in heat cataracts, whereas exposure to large doses of IR exposure can damage the inner layers of the eye, namely the retina and choroid.

The Ultraviolet Radiations (UV) are the shorter wavelength radiations. They do not produce heat, and the person is unaware of his/her exposure to the same. The atmosphere’s ozone layer offers protection to UV-C, which is the most harmful part of the UV radiations.

The UV-B & UV-C are absorbed by the anterior segment of the eye, namely the cornea and the lens, but large doses of these radiations or long term exposure to these radiations can result in cataract, certain non-cancerous growths, as well as cancer of the eyes and eyelids and hence protection in the form of broad-brimmed hats & sunglasses are required.


Most of the harmful effects of sunlight occur gradually over many years of exposure. A few occur when exposed to large doses of sunlight over a short period of time, as in snow blindness when a large dose of sunlight reflected from the snow reaches the eye, causing photokeratitis.

The sun’s ultraviolet radiations are the main culprits in causing a variety of problems to humans. Hence, the market is flooded with sun protection creams and lotions. Unfortunately, these don’t help protect the eyes, so protection is available through sunglasses.

As with sun protection lotions, the optical industry is flooded with a plethora of sunglasses available on the roadside to designer sunglasses offered at swanky stores across the globe.

Who needs protection from the sun?

Be it young or old, everybody needs protective eyewear against the sun’s harmful effects. Maximum exposure to the sun takes place by the age of 18; hence, children need their sun protection. The sun’s harmful rays reach the eyes in two ways, either by directly looking at the source that is the sun or from light reflected from a surface like sand, road, metal, water or snow.

Damaging artificial light

Few artificial sources like welding, UV lamps etc., produce UV light while furnaces and explosion sites produce IR radiation which again harms the eyes. People who are outdoors for work or pleasure are exposed to direct, and indirect sources of radiation, need their share of protection as well.

Snow blindness

Snow reflects sunlight and is a significant source of UV radiation; hence, people living or holidaying in snowy areas need to protect their eyes from the sun’s harmful effects.

Post-cataract surgery

People who have had their cataracts removed need more protection as their natural lens, which absorbs some part of the UV radiation, has been removed; hence they need protection in the form of UV coated intraocular lenses commonly used nowadays as well sunglasses.

Which tint is best on sunglasses?

The choice of tint controls the amount of light reaching the eye, so an ideal sunglass is one which

– Does not affect vision

– Does not alter colour recognition

– Provides adequate protection from the harmful effects of sunlight

The colour of the sunglasses could be a personal choice, or the one suggested for best optimal performance and is not a direct indicator of sun protection factor. Some of the tints which are best for sunglasses are as follows-

1. Brown/green/grey – Good under bright sunlight and do not distort colours

2. Yellow/Amber- Good under low to moderate sunlight, enhances contrast in low brightness conditions

3. Rose – Good under low light conditions and enhances contrast.


Figure 4: The sky’s the limit with sunglasses’ options these days!

Sports and tints

Sports activities require tinted glasses as it enhances the wearer’s performance. For example, a yellow-tinted lens offers a good contrast of black and white targets and could boost the performance of a shooter or an archer. Brown tints are suitable for skiers and golfers, while green and grey tints are suitable for any sport under bright light. Few sports may not allow tinted glasses to be used.

The best tint for sunglasses depends on the environmental and lighting conditions and could be a personal choice too! It would be wise for the buyer to consult their Optometrist/Dispensing Optician for the proper tint selection for their sunglasses.

What are polaroid sunglasses?

Polarized sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses are specialized sunglasses that have a unique film to reduce the glare from surfaces such as roads, water, snow, metallic surfaces etc. They also offer protection against the sun’s harmful UV radiations and promote comfort in wear. Polarized sunglasses are recommended for daily wear only and for those who spend long hours outdoors, especially near water bodies and snow. However, these are not recommended for those working with LED displays as they alter the wearer’s perception. Ask for a demonstration of the polarized sunglasses before choosing to buy one.

What is the difference between polarized sunglasses and regular sunglasses?

Polaroid sunglasses eliminate the glare reflecting from the surface and promote visual comfort. In contrast, sunglasses only reduce the glare’s intensity whilst retaining the glare. Each has its pros and cons. It is best to discuss with your optometrist/optician to decide the best pair for one.

Do sunglasses come with a prescription?

Yes, today, all types of sunglasses are available as single vision, bifocal or multifocal (progressive lens) prescriptions with a wide range of tint (colour) options to choose from. Polarized sunglasses also come with a prescription.

Branded versus non branded sunglasses

Sunglasses come in a range of prices and brands, so how does one decide which is better! A branded pair is expensive compared to a non-branded one as we pay for the quality of lenses, frames, and the technology used in its manufacture.

A brand ensures quality in terms of the material of lenses, frames, and design chosen. A few non branded sunglasses also offer good variety and provide quality sun protection. Every pair of good sunglasses comes with a UV protection indicator, be it a costly one or not, so check them before purchase.

There are a couple of cheap sunglasses available with roadside vendors which do more harm than good! They offer little or no protection from the harmful UV rays and even alter the wearer’s colour perception. These sunglasses use cheap metal frames, which could also cause allergic reactions to the wearers’ skin.

Why are branded sunglasses so expensive?

– Quality: All branded sunglasses go through stringent quality check procedures during every stage of manufacture, and they do not compromise on quality in both lenses as well as frames

– Sun protection: They offer the required protection against harmful radiations as promised

– Brand: a brand stands for its values, identity and trustworthiness; hence the price to maintain the same


Figure 5: Branded sunglasses: Worth the price?

To conclude, sunglasses are more than a fashion accessory and offer huge benefits by protecting against the sun’s harmful radiations. It is best to visit an optical outlet offering a wide choice of sunglasses to choose from. It is always wise to discuss your requirements with the optometrist/optician who can help by recommending the best pair of sunglasses.

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