Sunglasses are summertime essentials, right up there with water wings and a smoky backyard grill.
But whether for comfort, eye protection or just “the look,” throwing on any old pair of shades might not do the trick. We talked to Garrett Egland, certified master optician at Alpine Vision Center in Lewiston, and it turns out there’s more to sunglasses than you might think. Whether high-priced, custom shades or a desperate road-trip grab at a gas station, when it comes to your shades, here’s what NOT to wear:
1. Avoid sunglasses that hit below the brow.
Sunglasses that don’t meet your brow line can be hard on the eyes — literally. A low-sitting frame lets the sun’s rays in over the top, leaving the tops of your eyes unprotected. And, at least in this case, common sense doesn’t contradict with fashion sense.
2. Skip shades that don’t actually protect your eyes.
Just because the lenses are dark doesn’t mean those sunglasses will block eye-damaging ultraviolet rays. It’s the type of plastic, coating or polarization that gives you protection, so make sure your sunglasses offer 100 percent UV (sometimes called UV 400) protection.
Polarized lenses, which function almost like tiny venetian blinds, have built in UV protection and work well for most anyone, and are especially helpful if you’re driving, on the water or in the snow, when reflective glare can be an issue. Just don’t wear them while flying a commercial airplane or you’ll have a hard time reading your instruments.
3. Don’t wear frames that don’t fit.
If you want to make an optician cringe, tell them you ordered your sunglasses online. Trying on frames before buying not only ensures that they look good, but that they fit good as well.
Look for temples to be at a 90-degree angle from the front frame and a bridge that rests evenly on the nose — if there are parts that don’t touch, those points where all the weight sits will become uncomfortable. The earpiece and nose pad (on metal frames) can be adjusted for higher-end sunglasses — cheap sunglasses are likely to break under such coaxing.
Glasses that are too big will fall off more easily and slip when you start to sweat in the summer sun. To see if sunglasses are too big, put them on, look down and shake your head — well fitted frames won’t move. Also, if you want your well-fitted plastic frames to stay that way, don’t leave them on a hot dashboard where they can warp.
4. Don’t skip the sunglasses if you’re a kid or have light-colored eyes.
About 80 percent of eye damage from the sun happens before you’re 18 years old. That damage can result in melanoma, cataracts and other eye conditions. As you age, the eye develops some degree of UV protection — its own mild, built-in sunglasses. But kids’ eyes don’t have this ability. Similarly, those with light-colored eyes lack the pigment that help block UV rays, making them not only more sensitive to light, but also more vulnerable to sun damage.
5. Avoid frames that match your face shape and color.
If you want to protect your eyes and look good doing it, remember the rule of opposites. If you have a round face, round lenses will accentuate that fact, so pair it with another shape. In the same way, cat-eye shaped frames pull weight off the lower jaw, which is why women’s frames often have more of a V-shape across the top rather than a flat line. The rule of opposites applies with colors too: if you’ve got light hair and skin, skip the white and light-colored frames to avoid looking washed out. As a general rule, black and brown frames look good on everyone.
6. Don’t assume that expensive sunglasses are automatically better.
Check the fit and UV rating of any pair of sunglasses you buy. Like their higher-priced counterparts, cheap sunglasses can offer full UV protection and fit great — just don’t expect them to hold up as long to on again, off again use. Getting sunglasses from an optical shop allows you to customize style, fit and protection and generally includes a warranty.