Summer can never arrive soon enough! Whether you’re reading outside at home, or enjoying a quiet spot in a park or at the beach, you deserve to soak up that fresh air and vitamin D. Just make sure you’re protected from the sun — and that includes your eyes.
We all know that it’s important to wear sunscreen. Sunburns are uncomfortable, and a visible reminder that sunlight can be harmful to your skin because of UV radiation. All it takes is one sunburn, and most people become extra careful with their sunscreen application for the rest of the season.
Sun damage to your eyes is just as serious as a sunburn is to your skin! Even if you don’t have immediate symptoms, the damage is happening, and it’s cumulative; its effects just often don’t show up until later in life.
Let’s look at exactly how light affects your eyes, and what you can do to protect them all year round.
What is UV light?
Ultraviolet (UV) light is a type of electromagnetic radiation. The name comes from the fact that it’s just past the end of the ‘visible light spectrum’ — the rainbow that ranges from red to violet. Ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye, with a wavelength between visible light and X-rays.
UV light primarily comes from the sun, but is also emitted by tanning beds, welding torches, and (in low, harmless doses) incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs.
There are two types of UV light that are important to understand:
- UVA rays have the least energy, but can penetrate your skin the deepest. They’re guilty of prematurely aging your skin. They’re also believed to cause indirect damage to skin cell DNA, and play a role in some skin cancers. UVA rays are the main type of light used in tanning beds.
- UVB rays have higher energy than UVA rays, and can directly damage skin cell DNA. They’re the main cause of sunburns, and thought to cause or contribute to most skin cancers.
Around 95% of the UV rays that come from the sun are UVA, and about 5% are UVB.
When do you need UV eye protection the most?
The short answer is all the time! The amount of UV exposure your eyes and skin could get depends on a variety of factors.
UV rays are the strongest between 10am and 4pm, and during the spring and summer months. They’re also stronger closer to the equator, or in countries impacted by holes in the ozone layer (the Earth’s natural UV filter). Plan extra cautiously for trips to equatorial countries like Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, and Indonesia, and ozone-depleted countries like Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and South Africa. (And before you take off for that amazing destination, read more about our travel tips for contact lens wearers!)
UV rays are sneaky, too. Your eyes can be exposed to UV rays reflecting off of water, sand, pavement, and grass… basically all the surfaces of summer.
But don’t assume this is just a summer concern — UV rays can also increase at higher elevations, penetrate clouds, and reflect off of snow. According to the World Health Organization, snow nearly doubles your UV exposure! There’s a condition called photokeratitis which is a sunburn on your eye. It’s also known as ‘snow blindness’ because it most often affects people who enjoy sports like skiing and snowboarding, not realizing that they need UV eye protection even on overcast winter days.
UVA rays (the ones that cause wrinkles) can also easily penetrate windows, which is important to keep in mind when you’re working or reading next to a window, or in a vehicle.
Some prescriptions can also increase your photosensitivity — which means you need even more UV protection while taking them. Common medications used to treat acne, infections, heart conditions, and arthritis may increase UV sensitivity in your skin and eyes. Even over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen (both popular for relieving menstrual cramps) can put you at increased risk!
There’s good news, though: despite the rumors you may have heard, skin care products with retinol don’t make you more susceptible to UV rays — but they can make your skin more sensitive to irritation in general.
What are the effects of UV damage on your eyes?
If you stare at the sun or a reflective surface for too long, you’ll definitely notice the harm right away. But in most cases, the damage caused by UV rays on your eyes isn’t often instantly visible — people discover the effects of a lifetime of UV damage to their eyes in their 50s or 60s, when they develop a serious condition.
- Cataracts make your eye cloudy and yellow, slowly deteriorating your vision. UV rays are believed to cause at least 10% of cataract cases.
- Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in adults over 60. A tiny portion of the back of your eye deteriorates, and it’s caused by cumulative UV exposure.
- Conjunctival cancers are a cancer on your eye, and UV rays are believed to be a key cause.
How can I protect my eyes from UV rays?
The good news is that it’s relatively easy and affordable to shield yourself against UV damage.
Here’s our best advice for year-round UV eye protection:
- If you wear contacts, choose a brand with high UVA and UVB protection ✅
All Aveo daily contacts have built-in UV blocker that exceeds Class II standards, protecting your eyes from 97% of UVB and 87% of UVA radiation, on average.
- Always pair your contacts with UV-shielding sunglasses 😎
Shades can make a great accessory to any outfit. Don’t forget that you face UV exposure on overcast days, too!
- Wear hats with wide brims 👒
Put a hat by your backpack, near the door, or in your car — somewhere that makes it easy to not forget!
- Bring an umbrella ⛱️
Throw your own shade in a good way by bringing a fun umbrella or parasol on your walks, to the park, or to the beach!
- Use UV eye protection designed for your sport 🏅 ⛷️ 🏂
There are stylish, UV-shielding goggles and sunglasses made for land, water, and snow sports — so go get you some.