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Health answers: What sunglasses best protect eyes?

Q. What should I look for when choosing sunglasses to protect my eyes?

A. Most of us look for flattering frames when picking out sunglasses, but shades are more than a fashion statement. They also protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet radiation. Excessive exposure can cause sunburn-like damage to the eye or growths on the eye surface, and is linked to a higher risk of certain cataracts and possibly macular degeneration. UV light also damages the skin around the eyes, leading to premature aging. William Brown, an optometrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says that children and blue-eyed people are particularly susceptible to UV damage.

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The darkness of sunglass lenses won’t tell you anything about how well they block UV light, Brown says; even clear lenses can provide UV protection depending on their materials. “You really have to go by labels on the lenses,” he says. Look for lenses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Alternatively, lenses labeled “UV400” block all UVA and UVB radiation, as well as additional wavelengths at the edge of the visible spectrum.

Lenses aren’t the only consideration. “You want a frame that fits well and close to the face,” Brown says. Ditch the tiny frames: a larger frame that wraps around the face will keep out more light and can also protect the eyes from drying winds. Polarization on lenses doesn’t block UV but can prevent glare from light reflecting on surfaces.

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