Why You Really Need to Wear Sunglasses, According to Doctors

Sunglasses don't just accessorize your outfit or keep you from squinting—they're also essential for eye health.

Nothing transforms an outfit quite like a good pair of sunglasses. They may be the last accessorizing step before you run out the door, but sunglasses have the power to turn any old ensemble into an intentional look. This summer, a real range of styles from decades past are in vogue. With their signature upswept corners, cat-eye frames, once the fave of icons like Audrey Hepburn, accentuate the cheekbones and offer a playful sassiness. Aviators, popularized in the ’70s and ’80s by celebrities like George Michael, have androgynous wearability thanks to their retro round form and double metal bars. Extra-large frames—ranging in shape from square to rectangle to hexagonal—are reliably dramatic, while sleek sporty styles tap into the viral appeal of athleisure. But the greatest perk of all? Sunglasses preserve your eye health. “They’re one of those medical devices that are not only protective, but there is also a huge fashion side to it,” says Mahnia Madan, an optometrist at the Vancouver Eye Doctor clinic. “Ultraviolet [UV] rays from the sun can be harmful to our eyes, the inside of the eye and the delicate skin around the eyes.” Sunglasses act as a barrier between your eyes and that radiation.

The key to maximizing this protection? Find a pair you actually like. “The best sunglasses are the ones that you’re going to wear the most,” Madan says. Luckily, there are tons of 2023 eyewear trends that are both fashionable and functional—look no further than recent runways. Cat eyes went angular at Celine. Aviators were given a futuristic edge at Fendi and Saint Laurent. Colossal sunnies came down multiple runways, including Ralph Lauren and Off-White. Frames aren’t the only element of sunglasses reimagined this year—coloured lens were everywhere (Marni went all in on purple) and bring a statement-making contrast to any outfit. Better yet, Madan says that variations in tint don’t affect protection.

But whichever style you choose, it’s crucial that you use your sunglasses consistently—especially because eye health issues are an unavoidable part of aging.

“As we get older, we’re going to get some wrinkles, we’re going to get grey hair and we’re going to get cataracts,” says Madan. “Some people are also prone to having macular degeneration with aging [due to] genetic factors.” Both macular degeneration and cataracts—a clouding of the lens of the eye—cause fading vision and are exacerbated by sun exposure. UV rays can also cause dry eyes, eye sunburns, rosacea around the eyes and skin cancers around the eyelids. Along with vision issues, these conditions can cause your eyes to look red and irritated. “Sunglasses reduce our chances of getting these things, or delay the onset,” Madan says.

Repeated exposure to UV radiation also accelerates the loss of skin elasticity and collagen, causing it to stretch and sag. Around the eyes, this leads to crow’s feet and pigment spots. But wearing sunglasses—especially lenses that offer 100 percent UV protection—can slow down these effects. To find glasses with enough protection, Madan recommends checking the label to make sure they block 75 to 90 percent of visible light with UVB and UVA protection. And if it says “UV 400,” the glasses will protect your eyes against nearly all harmful rays. Equally important: When shopping, don’t underestimate fit and lens quality—they can make or break protection in the long run.

“Imagine looking through a really crisp glass versus a smudgy plastic sheet,” Madan says. Some brands, especially higher-end ones, invest in top-tier lenses, so they focus light better and cut down on issues like glare and blurriness. If you buy a pair at the dollar store, on the other hand, the label may tout the same UV protection but you could be compromising on comfort and crisp vision. Ultimately, sunglasses that feel good to you are sunglasses you’ll faithfully reach for. So how do you go about choosing them?

“If your budget allows, I recommend having a couple of different pairs,” says Madan. If you regularly partake in outdoor activities—especially around snow or water, which reflect UV rays and increase the amount of radiation—you should prioritize practicality. “You want a really sturdy frame that has a good wraparound so you’re getting protection from everywhere. You also want the lenses to be polarized: another kind of tint on top of the glasses that cuts glare,” she adds, noting that it’s best to cover as much skin around the eye as possible. An “everyday” pair for running errands and going for walks can be more stylish and less utilitarian (think: triangular cat eyes or delicate hexagonal silhouettes). “And if you’re going to have only one pair, you want to make it versatile,” Madan advises. For this, try bigger frames with ample coverage.

Sunglasses can’t help but make a statement—they sit at the very focal point of your face. But when it comes to choosing them, you don’t need to compromise safety for style; you can get yourself a pair that does both. Madan is fine with any kind of sunnies at all—”as long as you wear them.”

Find your perfect fit with these protective and chic sunnies.

Sunglasses Round Up | eye healthImage: Steph Martryniuk

From left to right:

Made of lightweight acetate, these angular cat-eye frames are on trend while being wide and functional enough to protect your eyes’ surrounding skin. They can be fitted with polarized lenses, and the frame is available in other shades. $219, bonlook.ca

These extra-large sunnies feature temples adorned with the brand’s signature “C” logo. Their size also offers plenty of skin protection. Dark tortoise frames complement the brown-tinted polarized lenses for a soft, warm finish. $260, fyidoctors.com

The aviator’s vintage appeal is reimagined with this pair’s modern bold hue. The lenses are polarized, while the double top bar and raised keyhole nose bridge provide a lightweight and comfortable fit. $73, clearly.ca

Unisex designs are often the most versatile. Take these frames by Walmart’s George line. Polarized lenses and a wrap design make them suitable for everyday activity, but with a sleek matte black finish, they also double as an on-the-go accessory. $18, walmart.ca

With rounded edges, this design puts a contemporary spin on the classic boxy shape. Contrasting orange temples and blue frames stand out and offer a comfortable medium fit. $169, available at all Canadian Oscar Wylee stores

With an exaggerated hexagonal design, these shades are as oversized as it gets. Combined with thin frames and elegant metal detailing, they’re also delicate and wearable. Frames come in light blue as well and lenses can be polarized. $229, bonlook.ca

Next: 8 Simple Tricks to Better Protect Yourself From the Sun

Originally Published in Best Health Canada