How to Choose the Best Preventative Sunglasses

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause cumulative damage to your eyes as you age, but you can protect your vision by wearing sunglasses every day, even in cloudy weather. Here's what you need to know about choosing the best sunglasses to slow the development of age-related cataracts and prevent eye problems over time.

Young man wearing earbud and cell phone arm band backlit against the sunshine
RichVintage / Getty Images

UV Radiation and the Aging Eye

As we get older, our eyes undergo physiological changes that can cause vision problems and eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

Ultraviolet light from the sun carries three types of radiation, UVA, UVB (which causes photoaging and wrinkling of our skin), and UVC rays. Since UV light carries more energy than visible light, it can do greater damage to our eyes.

As we age, the damage has more time to accumulate. A cataract, (cloudiness of the lens) for example, is believed to be caused by many years of exposure to bright sunlight.

Sunglasses designed to block 100% of UVA and UVB rays can help protect your eyes from UV damage.

Does Lens Darkness Matter?

While very dark lenses might seem to offer protection, the darkness of the lens only affects visible light, not ultraviolet light.

Natalie Hutchings, Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Optometry and Vision Science, says dark lenses can actually cause the pupil of your eye to get larger to let in more light, making UV protection even more important.

"Degree of darkness and lens color or tint are not the factors which protect your eyes," she tells me. "It's crucial to choose glasses which block 100% all of the UV light, both UVA and UVB. This protection can be a function of the material the glasses are made of, the thickness of the material, or it may be a coating on the lens — even in lenses without any color or tint at all. It's the 100% UV blockage you should look for on the label, since you can't tell whether they have it just by looking at the glasses."

Tips for Choosing the Best Sunglasses

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the best sunglasses offer:

  • 100% UV protection
  • High optical quality (lenses are free of manufacturing defects like bubbles or waves that could bother your eyes
  • Scratch-resistant lenses
  • A larger frame that offers more coverage of eye area

In addition, pick sunglasses that are comfortable and fit your face properly, because you'll be more inclined to wear them.

The skin around the eyes is thin and sensitive to light, and larger sunglasses and/or wrap-around sunglasses covering the skin around the eyes may help prevent skin aging changes and melanoma.

The ​Effectiveness of Polarized Lenses

Hutchings says polarized lenses work in visible light (not UV rays), by blocking out polarized light that is reflected off of a horizontal surface, like snow, water or a hot road. Consider polarized lenses if you ski, live near water, or find them more comfortable while driving.

While these lenses are usually more expensive, you may find you prefer them if you are sensitive to glare and/or have lighter color eyes.

When You Should Wear Sunglasses to Protect Your Eyes

The AAO recommends wearing sunglasses anytime you are outdoors, particularly in the summer, when the level of UV radiation is triple that of other times of the year. In addition, you should wear sunglasses when on the water or in the snow, when light rays are reflected.

Older adults with cataracts and those who are more light-sensitive may find they need to wear sunglasses more often than they used to, says Natalie Hutchings, because light passing through the cornea and lens is scattered to a greater degree. This scattering effect can be distracting and annoying, but it is alleviated with the use of sunglasses, especially larger ones that block light coming in from the sides.

If you are more light-sensitive lately, see your eye doctor, because it could be a sign of a problem.

Wearing Sunglasses After Cataract Surgery

During cataract surgery, a new intraocular lens (IOL) is inserted to replace the old cloudy lens. Most intraocular lenses now absorb UV light.

If you had your cataract surgery some time ago, your lens may not absorb UV light, and you should wear sunglasses that offer that protection.

The AAO recommends wearing protective sunglasses after cataract surgery, even for people who have UV-absorbing lenses.

Other Ways to Protect Your Eyes From the Sun

Sunglasses offer just one form of protection for aging eyes. Health Canada and other agencies advise also wearing a visor or wide-brimmed hat when you're outdoors and avoiding times of brightest and most intense sunlight, such as summer days between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. (when the UV index is highest).

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Giannos SA, Kraft ER, Lyons LJ, Gupta PK. Spectral Evaluation of Eyeglass Blocking Efficiency of Ultraviolet/High-energy Visible Blue Light for Ocular ProtectionOptom Vis Sci. 2019;96(7):513–522. doi:10.1097/OPX.0000000000001393

  6. How to pick the best sunglasses to protect your eyes. American Academy of Ophthalmology [internet]. 2019.

  7. Boyd K. What are polarized lenses for?. American Academy of Ophthalmology [internet]. 2019.

  8. Turbert D. Sunglasses: protection from UV eye damage. American Academy of Ophthalmology [internet]. 2014.

  9. Li X, Kelly D, Nolan JM, Dennison JL, Beatty S. The evidence informing the surgeon's selection of intraocular lens on the basis of light transmittance propertiesEye (Lond). 2017;31(2):258–272. doi:10.1038/eye.2016.266

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Additional Reading
  • Aging and Your Eyes. US National Institute on Aging Public Information Sheet.

  • Natalie Hutchings. Associate Professor, School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo. Interview conducted by phone May 21, 2013.

  • Sunglasses: Protection from UV Eye Damage. American Academy of Ophthalmology Public Information Sheet.

  • Sunglasses. Health Canada Public Information Sheet.

By Sharon Basaraba
Sharon Basaraba is an award-winning reporter and senior scientific communications advisor for Alberta Health Services in Alberta, Canada.