Sunglasses serve the dual purpose of protecting our eyes from harmful rays and making us look like we’ve stepped out of a classic Hollywood movie. But don’t be fooled by cheap imitations. Not all sunglasses are created equal. And while it may be tempting to pick up a pair (or three) from the sale rack at the dollar store or your friendly neighborhood gas station, they might not have the protection you need to keep your eyes safe from the sun.
I sat down with optometrist Dr. Janelle Routhier to get the scoop on shades.
First of all, did you know that even if you’re wearing sunglasses, light can reflect off the back surface of your lenses and lead to sunburn on your eyes? Neither did I, until Routhier told me that a lot of inexpensive sunglasses are only coated on the front side of the lens, not the back.
Not only can those reflected rays do damage to your eyes, but the same goes for the delicate skin around your eyes, which can mean premature wrinkles. Routhier recommends Xperio polarized lenses, which have UV coating on the backside as well and are available through your optometrist.
Let’s backtrack a little though and talk about getting sunburn on your eyes. In short: Yes, it’s possible and yes, it’s painful.
“If your eyes are sunburned, you know it,” Routhier said, adding that it’s different than getting sunburn on the skin around your eyes. Your eyes turn red, but because of inflammation, not actual burning, she noted, and they can feel painful, watery and itchy with an accompanying burning sensation.
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This can happen when “the front part of your eye—the cornea—gets burned by UV light and it’s to the point where you can’t keep your eyes open,” Routhier explained. Generally, it takes around 24 hours to heal, and in the meantime, you can use unpreserved artificial tears, she said.
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Routhier clarified that some sunglasses are better than no sunglasses, so if the cheap kind are the only ones available, definitely opt for those over squinting. She also recommended what she calls the “trifecta of protecting your eyes”—combining wearing a hat and sunscreen with sunglasses.