Sunglasses: Fifty Shades of Plastic
by Win Minter
First of all, the main purpose of wearing sunglasses is to look cool, don’t let anyone tell you different. Yeah, there’s those pesky cataract producing UV rays that can shrivel your eyeballs into little black runny raisins, but that’s not as important as looking mysterious, aloof and secret service sinister. Now that we’ve established that, let’s look at the secondary reasons why wearing sunglasses every time you leave home is a good idea.
What exactly are UV (ultraviolet) rays? You have to ask? You should have been paying more attention in sixth grade Earth Science, but you didn’t, so now you’re going to have to Google it. I’ll wait.
Back? Good. You probably read that they’re part of the electromagnetic light spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun, and that there’s UVA and UVB, blah, blah, blah. Forget all that. What you really need to know is what they really are: cosmic death rays hell bent on your absolute destruction, and they’re constantly present, no matter the season or the weather. If you think you can’t get sun damage on a cloudy day, tell that to the rays – they aren’t listening.
You slather SPF 50 all over your naked skin before going out in the sun, but what about your naked eyes? All that ultraviolet is outside waiting for you to come out and play, but just remember, ultraviolet is not your friend. We could easily call it ultraviolent. It’s one of those mean girls who used to torment you in high school. It’ll blister your eyelids with skin cancer without batting an eye. It’ll bake a blinding set of cloudy cataracts on your lens. It’ll put a WWF hurtin’ on your macula lutea, the area of your eyes that basically allow you to, uh, see stuff. Then there’s Pterygium, a very sexy abnormal growth of tissue on the white part of your eye, and Photokeratitis, basically an eyeball sunburn. Just from the sound of those words you know you don’t want them.
Now that you’re terrified, you’re ready to go buy a pair of shades; what are you looking for? As you walk past that $5 pair at Crazy Sammy’s Beachwear & Petting Zoo, just keep walking. Not only do they not look cool, they do your eyes more harm than good.
Turns out our pupils dilate behind dark lenses, and those cheap hunks of plastic will actually let in more damaging rays than if you weren’t wearing sunglasses at all. Really cheap lenses are stamped out of a mold rather than ground and polished, and they’ll distort your otherwise beautiful world. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and fork over $383,609 for a pair of Dolce & Gabanna’s (they actually exist), but there happens to be a wide array of options in just about every price range. Just stay away from those five-dollar specials, you cheap schmuck.
Look for a pair that will block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB light. Find something that meets ANSI (American National Standards Institute) Z80.3 blocking requirements. Try to get UV 400 protection – which blocks light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers.
After that you need to pick the right lens hue. The coating on the lens that blocks UV rays is clear, so a darker lens isn’t necessarily more effective than a lighter one. But hue does play an important role in color perception. Yellow or rose tints can make it difficult to distinguish changes in traffic lights. Gray, green and brown lenses minimize color distortion, and are better for driving.
And, as I’m sure you boater-and-fisherholics already know by now, go for Polarized lenses if you spend a lot of time on the water. Polarized lenses reduce glare by filtering out reflected sunlight that bounces off the water surface. They also cut down on glare from flat, smooth surfaces like pavement or car hoods. The downside is that it can be hard to read your cell phone, GPS device or liquid crystal displays on dashboards and ATM machines. But be aware that polarization has nothing – nada, zilch – to do with UV protection, so make sure all that other good protection stuff is also on the label.
To test optical quality, focus on a vertical edge or line, and move your head back and forth letting your eyes sweep across the lens. If there’s any wiggle in the line then the lenses probably have an optical defect, so ditch ‘em. Wraparound glasses offer the best protection because they block more of the light from the sides.
Sunglasses with large lenses and wide
templates are next-best, especially if they come down to your cheekbones. John Lennon looked really cool in his small round shades, but he was no eye doctor. Frames should fit snugly on your nose and ears without pinching or rubbing, so choose something that fits close to your face in the brow area. However, if your eyelashes are touching the lens you should either get a larger frame or trim your eyelashes.
The big lesson here is don’t go cheap, but you don’t need to break the bank. Remember, sunglasses are like pens, cell phones and car keys – someday you’ll walk off and leave them somewhere, guaranteed. It’s a dangerous, hostile world out there, and mostly it’s gunning for your eyes. But forget all that. Even though it’s certain wearing shades will save your peepers from certain destruction, the important thing is you’ll look marvelous doing it.