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As lockdown restrictions loosen, one of the quickest ways to return to some semblance of normalcy is to spend more time outdoors. While the blazing sun might feel comforting on our skin after being cooped up for so long, it’s not doing any favors for our eye health, according to the journal Clinical Ophthalmology. Luckily, Michelle Andreoli, MD, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and comprehensive ophthalmologist at Wheaton Eye Clinic in Illinois, explained that “over time, the general public has become more aware of the dangers associated with sun and ultraviolet (UV) exposure. With this, more people are wearing sunglasses and sunblock as protection.”
The numbers show that folks are, in fact, incorporating sunglasses into their accessory arsenal more than ever: The sunglasses industry hit an all-time high market value of $147 billion this year, and Grand View Research expects that number to rise by a compound annual growth rate of eight percent until 2027. The report identified several factors contributing to the boom of sunglasses: E-commerce stores are making it easier than ever to try on styles before you buy using online imaging tools. Stiff competition forces brands to continuously innovate their eyewear technology (think: transitional lenses and sustainable materials). And consumers are increasingly viewing eyewear as a style essential. Does that mean sunglasses are necessary? Experts unequivocally say yes. “All people should be wearing sunglasses any time they are outside, even if the day is overcast or cloudy,” said Andreoli, explaining that sunglasses decrease the damage caused to the eye by the sun and the sun’s UV rays.
Thankfully, wearing sunglasses can keep you safe while looking stylish. According to Ashley Brissette, MD, also a clinical spokesperson for the AAO, cornea specialist and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medicine, some of the most flattering styles for a woman’s face are considered cat eye, rounded and aviator. However, she notes, style guidance is really genderless and ultimately relies on your preferences and tastes.
“Typically, women's glasses have been larger squares and men's are more of a wrap-around, action figure shape,” she said, noting that this binary is slowly fading as sunglasses companies begin updating their styles to reflect the modern sartorial reality. “There are a lot of options that look equally good on women or men,” she said. “It depends more on your face shape and what you'll use them for.”
Why you should buy sunglasses
On top of the aforementioned reasons causing an increased popularity for sunglasses, there are some specific reasons to consider sporting a pair regularly.
Help prevent cancer and disease. Brissette said long-term exposure to UV radiation in sunlight is linked to cancers of the eye — either on the eyelid, around the eye or on the eyeball itself — as well as other conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration and a painful sunburn around the eyes called photokeratitis.
Reduce squinting and protect sensitive eyes. Our eyes' natural defense against bright rays is to squint. According to Brissette, squinting itself isn’t harmful but it can cause tension or fatigue around the eyes, as well as potentially trigger a headache or migraine around the eye region. She also notes that those with lighter-colored eyes tend to experience more sensitivity so they will especially benefit from sunglasses or tinted lenses. Sun exposure and prolonged squinting can lead to wrinkles in the skin around the eyes, she explained, “so [it’s] another good reason to wear sunglasses.”
How to shop for sunglasses
If you’re looking to invest in a new pair of shades or have been meaning to upgrade yours, there are some essentials to keep in mind so you buy the perfect sunglasses for you.
Identify the right UV protection. The most important factor to consider is the UV protection level of the lens.
- Brissette said to look for 100-percent UV on all lenses.
- Some labels claim UV absorption up to 400nm, which is equivalent to 100-percent UV protection.
Nicole Ryan, the sunglasses buyer at REI, said most premium sunglasses brands (as opposed to value brands) likes Ray Ban, Maui Jim and Oakley offer UVA, UVB and UVC protection. Largely speaking, here’s how each UV protection type works for you:
- UVA protection helps reduce the signs of aging
- UVB protection helps stave off burning
- UVC protection helps protect against cancer
Look for the perfect fit. When trying to find a perfect frame, Andreoli said to consider how heavy a frame feels on your face, how the frame fits against your temples and over your ears, how the area around the nose fits and whether it is large enough to easily fit a bifocal, a thicker style of lens often used for vision correction and treating certain eye conditions.
With sunglasses, bigger is better. Smaller ‘90s-style frames might be en vogue right now, but they aren’t ideal from a safety perspective. The more of your skin’s surface area your lens is able to protect, the more you’ll reduce your risk of skin cancer and other forms of damage, according to Brissette. The same idea applies to wraparound lenses that protect your peripheral vision — Brissette said they help cut down or prevent the UV rays from entering the side of your eye. And right now, sunglasses that cover more of your eyes could help reduce droplets — like those associated with coronavirus — from reaching your eyeballs, one reason behind the increasing popularity of face shields.
Look for the right lens. Jet black lenses on jet black frames might look like a trendy way of hiding from the paparazzi, but they aren’t ideal for every activity, according to Brissette. “Specific tinted lenses can be better for sports,” she said. “For example, amber, green or gray lenses increase contrast, which may be useful for athletes who play sports such as baseball or golf, where you need the UV protection but can help improve contrast for following the ball.”
For super sunny days, you’ll also want to look for a dark or more opaque-looking lens. On less sunny or overcast days, a mid-tint lens will work just fine. Ryan said many budget sunglasses just “dim the lights” and make everything darker, whereas a higher end brand enhances the colors and details your eye sees naturally.
For certain occasions, Andreoli also suggests considering polarized lenses, which reduce glare coming off reflective surfaces like water or pavement. She notes that they do not offer more protection from the sun, but can make activities like driving or being on the water safer or more enjoyable.
Consider the activity. Ryan said if you lead a more active lifestyle, you’ll want to look for lightweight nylon frames that offer comfort and flexibility.
- For instance, if you’re a runner, you’d want something like a rimless style that’s lightweight and will stay in place.
- If fishing is more your thing, Ryan said you’d need broader coverage to protect against the large amounts of glare and reflected light from the water.
“A wrap frame for full coverage would be ideal, while the lenses should be polarized glass for glare elimination and the clearest optics,” she said.
Choose what you like. Frame selection is part science and part art. “Most glasses frame shapes vary in color selection as well as size. There is no clear advantage to one material over another in an adult,” Andreoli said. “Most importantly, someone should love the way the glasses look, because they will likely be worn every day.”
Best sunglasses to shop in 2020
To help guide your shopping for a new pair of sunglasses, we’ve rounded up the best expert-approved sunglasses suited for a range of activities, budgets, and tastes — and they all offer 100-percent UV protection.
Best women’s sunglasses
Whether you’re dipping your toes into the lake, hitting the pavement or staying put, here are some of the best sunglasses out now from brands like Ray-Ban, Maui Jim and more.
Best everyday women’s sunglasses: Sunski Dipsea
These sunglasses from Sunski Dipsea feature a classic round shape that Ryan said works on so many different face types. “They're super lightweight, and offer good coverage without dominating your face,” she said, adding that the brand turns scrap plastic into recycled frames, keeping more waste out of landfills.
Best women’s sunglasses to wear with face masks: Maui Jim
Ryan considers these “modified aviators perfect for petite faces,” making them also ideal to wear with face masks. She notes they’re made of durable pure titanium that’s easy to clean and renders them scratch- and shatter-resistant, as well. The highly-rated sunglasses offer HEV (high-energy visible light) protection.
Best oversized women’s sunglasses: Ray-Ban
Ray-Ban glasses are usually celebrated for their iconic aviator style, but Ryan recommends this alternative because its “oversized, round lenses are flattering in a classic style that blocks 100 percent of harmful UV rays.” While they do come in nine colorways, you’re able to customize your frames to your liking for an added fee, be it the addition of a mirrored lens or a temple tip change.
Best women’s designer sunglasses: Maui Jim
Because Ryan said these sunglasses contain embedded nose pads, a lightweight nylon frame and spring hinges, they’re likely to stay put on your nose no matter how rigorous the activity. “[It’s a] classic cat eye shape that’s a great fit for many face shapes,” she said.
Best sustainable women’s sunglasses : Zeal Bennet
Ryan describes these highly-rated slight cat eye frames as a great choice “from street to summit” since they boast impact-resistant lenses and frames from plant-based materials, as well as polarized lenses to reduce glare on the sunniest days. A rubber padding on the nose ensures they stay put. Great for your eye health and the planet, Zeal will plant a tree in national forests for every pair of sunglasses purchased.
Best women’s sunglasses for sensitive eyes: Toroe Eyewear
Brissette said that, generally, those with lighter colored eyes are prone to experiencing more sensitivity to light. In that (glasses) case, you’d want darker-tinted glasses to offset the discomfort, she said, like an ultra-dark pair from Toroe Eyewear (they’re also water-, scratch- and shatter-resistant). In certain jurisdictions like the EU and Australia, they are classified as Category 4 lenses, which provide protection against sources of major sun glare.
Best women’s sunglasses for driving: Le Specs
When you’re driving, you don’t want any funky tinted lenses that could potentially tamper with your perception of the road, and as a result, your safety. Our experts say neutral-hued polarized lenses (like these from Le Specs) can help keep you focused on what’s ahead while enhancing colors and objects your eyes naturally see—minimal glare included.
Best women’s prescription glasses: Zenni Square
Brissette said you should be wearing sunglasses every day you go outside, so convenience is key in helping you reach that goal. While two-in-one shampoo and conditioner might not be the most high-fashion way to go about convenience, this Zenni prescription eyeglass set with clip-on sunglasses lenses certainly fits the bill. A trendy acetate lens surrounds gradient lenses, all bound together by a metal brow bar sunshade for increased protection and comfort.
Best affordable women’s sunglasses: Goodr
Ryan loves this pair for its classic shape, performance and bold color and style. “They’re affordable and easy, all while being carbon neutral,” she said, recommending them for everything from the road to the trail to a trip to the taco truck. With product names like Sweater Vest For Your Face, Flamingos on a Booze Cruise and Tiger Blood Transfusion, you’ll have as much fun picking out your preferred style as you will wearing them.
Best women’s sunglasses for overcast days: Burberry
Let’s (literally) face it: Not many of us remember to apply sunscreen on cloudy days. Pop on a pair of these oversized Burberry sunglasses with a light lilac gradient tint (that our experts say is helpful on cloudy days), and you’ll benefit from extra protection at your cheekbone and temple from its chunky — and stylish — arms hugging your face.
Best women’s sunglasses for running: HULISLEM
Running is challenging enough — don’t let your sunnies weigh you down. Swap your everyday pair for this feather-light, semi-rimless pair made with polycarbonate lenses. “Glass lenses are super clear, but tend to be heavy. High-quality polycarbonate lenses can offer excellent clarity and save weight,” Ryan explained.
Best men’s sunglasses
Our top expert-approved men’s sunglasses offer all the protection you need to help you enjoy your favorite outdoor activities.
Best men’s aviator sunglasses: Ray-Ban
Ryan recommends these “classic, cool and iconic” sunglasses that were originally designed for US Aviators in 1937. Available in 13 colors, the Ray-Ban Aviator Classic Polarized sunglasses also block out harmful blue light while reducing glare and eye strain.
Best men’s sunglasses for skiing: Oakley
These Oakley sunglasses are designed to pair well with a hat so your skiing tuque and helmet shouldn’t get in the way of the optimal, vivid-hued vision these sunglasses provide. The brand’s proprietary Prizm Lens technology promises to reduce glare and provide color contrast, which experts say can help optimize visibility and increase safety, be it on the slopes, the putting green or the pitcher’s mound.
Best men’s sunglasses for swimming: Adidas
Swimming is a double threat when it comes to sun exposure: You have UV rays directly above you while the water reflects glaring light back into your eyes. A solid pair of wraparound glasses like the Evil Eye Halfrim Pro Ls by Adidas are designed to provide all-around protection, according to Brissette. A built-in sweat blocker band will also keep sweat — and pool or ocean water — out of your eyes.
Best men’s affordable sunglasses: Warby Parker
Warby Parker just happens to have a stellar reputation in the eyewear market, and their affordable price is just a bonus. “The label or cost doesn’t matter,” said Brissette. “What matters is that they offer 100-percent UV protection.” This pair protects you from harmful rays, and features scratch-resistant lenses. If you’re unsure of your size, the brand will allow you to try on both the medium and wide models.
Best men’s prescription sunglasses: Zenni Optical
Buying prescription sunglasses from Zenni is a total breeze because each pair comes with your choice of basic prescription. These Premium Square Sunglasses meet our experts’ criteria for a solid pair in other ways, too: a gradient dark gray tint will keep you from squinting on sunny days and a lightweight frame and nose pad will give you that barely-there feeling.
Best men’s sunglasses to wear with a mask: Blupond
With Blupond, you can wear your mask freely without constantly removing your lenses to wipe them off. The smaller frame will stay out of your mask’s way, and the anti-fog coating will enhance your visibility. These sunglasses might also help reduce the onset of headaches or migraines, a feature Brissette attributes to eye strain and squinting given their semi-polarized lenses that reduce glare and their tint to eliminate distortion.
Best men’s sunglasses for running: Nike
“If you’re a runner, you’d likely want the lightest weight possible that also has good grip to stay in place,” said Ryan. With wraparound frames to block sunlight from entering your eye at all angles, these expert-approved sunnies should help keep you safe during long runs. Built-in lens frame openings and floating nose pads promote ventilation while your choice of six tinted lens varieties increases vision clarity.