With summertime upon us, it is the season to think about sun protection. While it has become common knowledge that prolonged sun exposure requires sunscreen for the skin – with a high SPF and multiple applications – we often overlook one of the most sensitive and important parts of our bodies when we step into the sun. Our eyes! The sun’s rays are dangerous and damaging to our eyes if we do not take certain steps to protecting them.

Why do the sun’s rays harm our eyes?

The sun’s light is made up of many types of rays that impact our eyes in different ways. Ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and blue light are all damaging rays that are found in sunshine. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA and UVB are the most damaging parts of sunlight for the eyes. They cause “cataracts, eyelid cancers and other skin cancers and are believed to play a part in macular degeneration”. Additionally, they cause wrinkles and sun damage to eyelids and the skin surrounding your eye, which can lead to skin cancer. Blue light damages the retina of the eye, and is believed to be a cause of macular degeneration.

Who is at risk?

While everyone is at risk from the sun’s damaging rays, the most likely to suffer consequences from their eyes’ exposure to the sun are those who spend the most time in the sun. According to Prevent Blindness, “the risk of sun related eye problems is highest for people who spend long hours in the sun”. Additionally, your risk is increased if you “have had cataract surgery, or if you are on certain medications that increase the eye’s sensitivity to light”. The Skin Cancer Foundation also indicates that “the fairer your skin, the greater your age, and the lighter your eyes, the higher your long-term risk”. Many factors play into our eye’s ability to withstand the sun’s rays, and it is important to take action to prevent damage.

How can we protect our eyes?

UV Protection for the Eyes and EyelidsWith so many risk factors surrounding our eye health and sunlight, it is important to do as much as we can to protect our eyes. The American Optometric Association recommends wearing a hat with a wide brim to provide shade for the eyes, as well as wearing sunglasses that meet the following requirements: “block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation, screen out 75 to 90 percent of [blue] light, have lenses that are perfectly matched in color and free of distortion and imperfection, and have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition”.  Your optician or eye care provider can assist you in selecting sunglasses that meet these criteria.

Summer is a season for fun in the sun. While our eye health should not deter us from enjoying the weather with friends and family, it is important to keep these risk factors in mind. Taking preventative steps now is certainly better than having to deal with the sun’s damaging effects in the future.