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Made in the shades: How to select safer sunglasses

A woman wearing sunglasses. A cat wearing sunglasses. Text reads: It's cool to protect your eyes.

July 21, 2019—Squinting in the sun and shopping for shades? Then don't lose sight of this: Sunglasses are more than a fashion statement. They can protect your eyes from some serious harm.

That's because the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays are not merely bad for your skin—they're also bad for your eyes. Too much exposure to those rays can raise your risk of cataracts, as well as macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. UV light can also cause cancer around your eyes.

But not all sunglasses protect eyes equally. You have to choose the right pair. So keep these tips from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) in mind:

1. Don't settle for less than 100%. Before you even look at the price tag, check the label. Does it guarantee that the sunglasses block 100% of both UVA and UVB rays? If not, leave them on the rack.

When it comes to selecting safe shades, this is the most important consideration, the AAO cautions. But most people buying sunglasses don't check to see if they block UV rays, an AAO survey showed.

2. Go large. Opt for oversize or wraparound styles, which provide the most coverage from UV light. Wraparound styles in particular can help cut down on UV rays reaching your eyes.

3. Don't be fooled by color. While they may look great, don't assume very dark lenses block more UV rays. That goes for amber-, green- or gray-tinted lenses too. Look at the numbers, not the colors.

4. Be clear about glare. That's what polarized shades cut—glare coming off reflective surfaces like water or pavement. But polarization—just like tinting—doesn't cut UV light.

5. They don't have to be pricey. Less costly shades can protect your peepers just as much as pricier ones. What matters is a clearly marked label specifying 100% UV protection.

A final tip: Once you settle on those shades, be sure to wear them anytime you're outdoors—all year-round, even on cloudy days. The sun's rays can still pass through clouds. And they can hurt your eyes in any season—not just summer.

Now that you've brushed up on the basics of sunglasses, take our quiz to see how much you've learned.

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