Sports + Leisure

Why sunglasses are so important in winter

Glare from ice and snow makes sunglasses an essential accessory during the cold winter months

16 October 2020
  • Why sunglasses are so important in winter

Hats, gloves, scarves: when we think of winter, all of these essential accessories come to mind. But relatively few people think to add sunglasses to that list. Sunglasses are more of a summer accessory, right? Wrong! It's as important for us to protect our eyes in winter as it is during the warmer months. That's because UV radiation, which is so dangerous for our eyes, has a particularly aggressive effect from November to March.

In summer,  sunglasses  are an essential part of your outfit. That's not only because they look stylish, but also because they protect eyes from bright light. However, what many people don't realize is that damaging UV rays are much more dangerous in winter than in summer. In summer, green surroundings only reflect about 6% of light. For snow, though, that figure is nearly 95%. Only sunglasses lenses with high-quality UV protection provide eyes with effective protection against eye inflammation or more serious conditions. This is because sunlight, which contains high levels of UV energy, can cause damage to the retina. All of this means that money spent on high-quality sunglasses is a wise investment.

Things to look out for when buying sunglasses:

  • For sunglasses made in Europe, the CE symbol is important. This marking guarantees that the product provides at least the minimum standard level of protection. An EU directive specifies that this must be at least 380 nm. At this level, however, 78% of the radiation is still absorbed by the eye.
  • Because of this, prescription eyeglass lenses should ideally offer broad spectrum UV protection above 380 nm…ideally 400nm. Only lenses with this level of protection can fully filter out all dangerous UV waves
  • The sunglasses need to be sufficiently large, and they also need to fit the size and shape of your face. This is the only way to prevent light from entering the eyes from the side or from above.
  • The absorption factor plays an especially important role. It needs to be sufficiently high. How dark the prescription lenses need to be depends on personal preference, as well as the sunglasses' range of application, the area in which they will be worn, the type of sport being played, and other factors. An eye doctor can provide advice on this.
  • It's best to buy sunglasses at an eye doctor’s office. Random samples show again and again that eyeglasses sold by street vendors bear forged quality marks, and can cause health damage.

Choosing the right color

It's also important to choose the right color for the sunglasses' lenses. Lenses are graded in protection classes or categories. Yellow, green and blue lenses are not recommended for use in winter. They offer a protection class of only 0, 1, or 2, or belong to category S0, S1, or S2. Grey and brown lenses are advisable for winter use. They should belong to protection class 3, or category S3. They even provide sufficient protection in snowy conditions high up in the mountains. Protection class 4 or category S4 lenses are available for extremely sensitive eyes. However, prescription eyeglass lenses in this category are only necessary in cases where UV radiation levels are extreme; they may not be used while driving.

Beware of blue light

A good pair of sunglasses should also offer an adequate level of protection against blue light. This is because blue light can damage the macula, the point in the eye where vision is at its sharpest. If you already have a pair of sunglasses and aren't sure how much blue light they block out, you can ask an eye care professionalto test them for you.

An extra tip for  winter sports: if you wear glasses, you should either have ski goggles made up individually to suit your prescription, or buy ski goggles which are large enough for you to wear your own glasses underneath them. Some models feature foam supports which are ideal for eyeglass wearers, and have extra room at the side to accommodate eyeglass frames. These offer a good fit, and no pressure is put on the glasses under the ski goggles. Ski goggles should be closed at the sides in order to offer protection from drafts.

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