How to Pick Good Sunglasses

Medically Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on November 17, 2015

Sure, there’s a cool factor at play here. But when you slip on your favorite pair of shades before you go outside -- every time you go outside -- there’s more going on than just a nice look. It matters for a lot of reasons.

First, you'll ward off those little wrinkles at the corners of your eyes. They come from too much time in the sun. You'll protect the whites of your eyes from damage and block that eyeball-searing ultraviolet (UV) light.

So grab those shades before you head for the beach, or the park, or anywhere outside -- whether it’s bright or cloudy. And buy some for the kids in your life, too.

Follow these rules to pick a pair that look good and protect your peepers.

The sun gives off UV radiation that you can’t see or feel. In small doses, it boosts vitamin D. But too much of it can cause problems like sunburn and skin cancer. It can also damage your eyes.

Before you even check the price tag, read the label. Do these glasses block 100% of both UVA and UVB rays? If not, leave them on the rack.

“You want both of those blocked 99 to 100%,” says eye doctor Rachel Bishop, MD. “It’s not too much to expect your glasses to do that.”

Too much UV light can cause cataracts. It can also destroy the retina, the lining at the back of your eyes that helps you see clearly. It could even cause tissue to grow over your eyeball.

UV light can cause changes in cells that lead to skin cancer, Bishop says. It may not lead to cancer in your eyes, but it can thicken tissues around them and cause discomfort.

A pair that doesn’t fit well can let UV rays seep onto your skin and into your eyes.

“I look at something that fits the face well,” says optometrist Fraser Horn, OD. “I don’t want it up touching the eyelashes, but I also don’t want it pushed way out. And I want something that lines up with your brow.”

Sunglasses that wrap around your eyes can help block stray UV light. They can also keep out sand and allergens. Those things aren’t good for your eyes, either.

These reduce glare at the beach, in the snow, or out on the water. But they don’t take the place of UV protection.

You might see better through them when there’s tons of light around. But they can make it harder to see things like computer screens, smartphones, or dashboards.

Just because a lens is almost black doesn’t mean it blocks UV rays. So again, read that label.

Your pupil, the black dot at the center of your eye, controls how much light gets in. When you wear darkened lenses, the pupil opens more to let in more light. If your sunglasses aren’t rated to block UV rays, you might let even more into the back of your eye.

What’s best: Shatterproof glass? Plastic? Some newfangled polycarbonate material? Again, it’s a matter of taste. How well they help you see matters a lot, too. Some lenses, especially the more curved ones, can cause distortion. But that’s not always the case.

“If you’re stopping by the gas station on the way to the lake to pick up sunglasses, you’re more likely to have something of lesser quality,” Horn says. But a higher price tag doesn’t always equal great image quality, he adds.

When you pick out your new shades, remember this: Get some for the kids you know. And be sure they wear them, sunny or not.

A 2014 survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found that only 32% of parents make their kids wear sunglasses that are rated to block UV light.

“Whenever you’re thinking, ‘Hmmm, I should be using sunscreen,’ you should be wearing sunglasses,” too, Bishop says. “As a parent, you should be aware that [kids] start accumulating that sun damage just as soon as there’s exposure. Kids wearing sunglasses is an important thing.”

Plus, it's a pretty cool look.

Show Sources


United States Environmental Protection Agency: “UV Radiation.”

Rachel Bishop, MD, chief, Consult Services Section, National Eye Institute, Bethesda, MD.

Fraser Horn, OD, associate dean of academic programs, Pacific University Oregon.

National Eye Institute: “Keeping Your Eyes Healthy: Wear Sunglasses.”

University of Kellogg Eye Center: “The Eye.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology: “How to Choose the Best Sunglasses,” “Sun Smart UV Safety Infographic.”

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