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Sunglasses and Your Vision: Why You ‘Gotta Wear Shades’

When you’re cool, the sun shines on you all day, so you need to keep those peepers protected! Sunglasses keep the windows to your soul from getting cloudy.

Of course, we know that the first cool thing about sunglasses is that they’re the best way to cut the sun’s glare from reflecting off surfaces and shining right into our eyes. They are also good for hiding what we’re thinking, or covering up the bloodshot eyes that give away a late night out, or to disguise ourselves altogether. Shades are even a form of expression—the shapes and sizes and colors can be a very personal fashion statement to many as they set the trends for each year’s new styles.

The Evolution of Sunglasses

Interestingly enough, sunglasses have been around for centuries, and, they’ve always had a variety of uses which set them apart—depending on the civilization you’re checking into. Though there is evidence of the prehistoric use of walrus ivory glasses to block the harsh sun’s rays in the Artic and Alaskan regions, our earliest historical references come from Rome and ancient China.

Dark glasses were used to observe gladiator fights in Nero’s Rome and to hide the faces of interrogators in ancient China. In the 1800’s, yellow lenses were prescribed for those with syphilis, as light sensitivity was a symptom. Polarized filters were first produced in 1936, and Ray-Ban created polarized anti-glare aviators during WWII which later achieved popularity with the masses.

A Little Bit of Solar History

It’s hard to believe that the brilliant star at the center of our world’s solar system was formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago. Though it is 109 times larger than the earth, we tend to take it for granted as something that rises and sets and keeps us warm.

There’s good reason for that bit of confidence in our personal star. The visible surface of the sun maintains a temperature of about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while the core (at 27 million Fahrenheit) is fueled by nuclear reactions. At this rate, the sun will keep its status quo for another five billion years – not exactly something to lose sleep over!

Something we should be concerned with is that as the sun ages, it is getting brighter. Whether or not you believe in global warming, our civilization has definitely impacted the ozone layer, the one that keeps us safe from oh-so-many things. If you’ve been around for more than forty years, then you have to have noticed how much more sunburned you get from a day at the beach than you used to. Now, you also need to remember the fact that—in addition to skin cancer and sunburn—the radiation from ultraviolet light rays can also do significant damage to your eyes.

Ultraviolet Light and Your Eyes

To better understand the sun’s radiation, and the damage that it can provoke, you need to first understand the various impacts from its three categories of invisible light.

UVA penetrates deep into your skin, which creates a tan but can also lead to wrinkles and other results attributed to premature aging. About 95% of the sunlight that reaches the Earth is made up of UVA light. These rays are powerful enough to reach through the cornea and cause harm to the lens and retina.

UVB is mostly absorbed by the epidermis and is more harmful than UVA – causing burning, blistering, eye damage, and even cancer.

UVC light plays a key role in cataract genesis, macular degeneration, and potential creation of free radicals (which have a direct impact on our DNA), giving it the ability to disrupt structures such as collagen—prevalent in the cornea and conjunctiva—as well as glycans such as hyaluronic acid.

Both UVB and UVC rays affect our DNA molecules, and have the greatest chance of altering our skin tissues. Luckily, only 5% of these types of sunlight are able to reach the earth. Unfortunately, as the ozone layer is depleted, more and more UVC energy is able to reach the human population and cause health issues such as cataracts, skin cancer, and other eye maladies.

Why Sunglasses Matter

Since most humans get approximately 75% of their exposure to UV by the time they turn 18 years of age, it’s important that children and teens properly protect their eyes with the right pair of sunglasses.

In addition to cataracts and macular degeneration, at least 10% of cancers related to the skin are shown to be harmful to the eyelid. Sunglass protection can also lessen the signs of aging by protecting the skin around the eyes from wrinkling prematurely. Photokeratitis is another eye ailment that is caused by the sun burning the eyes. While it can be temporary, it’s extremely painful and symptoms include light sensitivity, blurred vision, and the feeling that you have sand or dirt in your eye.

While you may not be able to feel the sun’s rays on certain days, the UV rays still remain. In fact, people usually get worse sunburns on cloudy days—probably mostly due to the fact that they don’t think precautions are necessary when the brightness isn’t evident.

Picking out proper sunglasses begins with the right fit. A poor fit can allow damaging UV rays to seep underneath and cause damage to your eyes. In addition to fitting your face, the glasses should be in line with your brow. They should also provide your eyes with 100 percent UV protection. This includes both UVB and UVA rays.

So what are you waiting for? Slip those shades on and give a thumbs up to good eye health!

The sun isn't all peril and danger. The sun is a lot of love too! Find out more about vitamin D!

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