When choosing sunglasses, it’s tempting to put fashion first. But don’t forget their most important function: providing protection for your peepers. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage both the cornea and the retina of the eye, as well as contribute to the development of certain types of cataracts. While everyone’s eyes are at risk, some of us are even more so: If you spend a lot of time in the sun, have had cataract surgery or certain retina disorders, or if you take medications that can increase the eye’s sensitivity to light (such as tetracycline, birth control pills, sulfa drugs, diuretics, or tranquilizers), make sure to throw on some shades every time you’re outside.
How can you be sure your pair is affording you adequate protection? Just follow these sunglasses-shopping tips from Monica L. Monica, MD, PhD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
1. Look for a label
Sunglasses should have lenses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays, and they need to carry a tag or sticker stating they do. Fortunately, you don’t have to pay a lot to get this level of protection. “The industry standard is such that even less-expensive sunglasses are made to block this much UV,” says Dr. Monica. That means whether you purchase your pair at a department store or drugstore, or in a high-end boutique, your eyes will be safe if you seek out these tags.
4. Seek out recycled shades
While buying secondhand shades might seem like the greenest way to go, Dr. Monica advises against buying used frames unless they are marked with a sticker that says they block the proper amount of UV. If there isn’t a tag, you can’t be sure they’re protective unless you bring them to an eye-care expert who can check them with a photometer. If it’s time for a new pair and you want an ecofriendly choice, ICU Eyewear makes sunglasses from reclaimed materials that cost only $21.95. And iWood’s frames are made from sustainable wood, though the price ($350) is pretty steep.
5. Repair or donate instead of tossing
It is possible to have sunglasses repaired by a professional, so if you spent enough on nice shades, bring them to an expert who may be able to buff out scratches or repair broken parts. When they’re beyond repair, though, don’t just toss them in the trash. Keep them out of the landfill and give them a second life by donating them instead. The Lion’s Club and Unite for Sight both accept gently used sunglasses and send them to those who are unable to purchase their own pair, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Keep Reading: How to Avoid Dangerous Sunscreen