The Best Sunglasses for Sensitive Eyes

A big frame with a close fit provides the best protection.

Photo: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

Choosing the right pair of sunglasses is a lot like buying a car. You might want the super fast, flashy model, but it can leave you cursing your own ignorance when road conditions get tough. If your eyes are sensitive to the sun, they’re very smart. They're trying to keep you away from evil ultraviolet light, which not only causes those ugly spider web wrinkles around your eyes, but also damages your retina. So, rather than spending your money on an Elton John-like array of different sunglasses for different outfits, invest in one or two really good pairs that will give you the best protection.

Material Matters

OK, so those uber chic sunglasses make you look like a starlet ready to take on the paparazzi. Before you rush to the counter with credit card in hand, though, take a look at what the tag says about the composition of the lens, which is the most important aspect of sun protection. Standard optical plastic, also called CR-39, blocks only about 88 percent of damaging ultraviolet rays. Cheaper sunglasses often are made of an even worse material called tricacetate, which blocks only 40 percent of UV radiation. By contrast, polycarbonate – the stuff that bulletproof “glass” is made of -- blocks a full 100 percent of UV light. Some manufacturers cut costs by adding an anti-UV coating to cheaper plastic. This is effective for blocking UV light, but plastic shatters on impact and polycarbonate doesn’t – something that might make a difference if you get into a car accident or suffer a sports-related impact.

Color Options

Lens color is an area where you can surrender yourself to your fashion whims with impunity. The only things that matter are how the color looks with your wonderful visage and how it makes the world look to you. Color doesn’t affect UV protection at all. Gray and the gray-green combination called G-15 are the most neutral colors from a visual perspective, but sports enthusiasts and nature-lovers often prefer brown because it sharpens the edges of objects and gives the world a warm glow. If you’re a biking enthusiast, brown may make it easier for you to see road hazards. The downside: others can see your eyes through this lighter-colored lens.

Polarization and Anti-Glare

Polarization can be like an illusionist who uses “magic” to lure you into a trap. In essence, it functions like mini blinds in your sunglasses. The coating blocks horizontal rays but lets in vertical light. This sharpens images, reduces glare, brightens colors and makes you feel more comfortable, but the dirty secret is, it doesn’t protect you against the hazards of UV radiation. So you still need a UV-blocking material or coating. To make matters even more complicated, about 40 percent of glare comes from reflections off ground-level surfaces, such as the sidewalk, snow, water or sand. The polarization in your lenses doesn’t help with that. The best solution is a good anti-glare product on the back of the lens to absorb and realign these ground reflections.

Choosing the Right Frame

From a comfort and protection standpoint, bigger is definitely better. Think Jackie O. Get as much coverage as your face size can support to protect your eyes and the delicate skin surrounding them. Wrap-around styles are especially helpful because they block light from the sides as well as the front. Whatever style you choose, make sure that the top of the frame closely parallels your forehead so that light can’t slip through from above, and look for a style that hugs your cheeks to keep out reflected light from below the lens. It’s handy to bring a friend along when you choose sunglasses. Have her look at you from the side while you look straight ahead. If she can see your eyes, so can those evil UV rays. Just remember: big sunglasses are a lot more chic than wrinkles or eye damage!

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