Are Sunglasses Bad for You?

Dr. Matthew Sharpe- Founder of SharpeVision

By Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe

February 28, 2022

There’s one reason why sunglasses may be bad for you, and you’ll be shocked what it is.

For several generations, we have known of the potentially harmful rays of the sun that can cause skin cancers, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and others. These skin cancers can be fatal (in the case of melanoma), or disfiguring (in the case of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas).

Sunscreen products have been developed to block varying degrees of intensity of sunlight. They have been made water-resistant, odorless, colorless, and readily available. They are often present in makeup, lip balm, creams, gels, sprays and lotions. (Although they are pretty expensive, they are absolutely necessary!) We have been educated and had it drilled into our heads that ultraviolet rays cause premature aging, skin cancer, but we still often stubbornly refuse to wear sunscreen.

Protecting our eyes is also an extremely important part of protecting our overall health. The damaging rays of the sun can cause all sorts of problems in our eyes including premature aging of the skin around our eyes, skin cancers of the eyelids which can sadly cause loss of the eyelids, necessitating reconstructive surgery. Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is correlated to sun exposure. Premature cataracts are especially related to sun exposure.

Equatorial Countries Need Sunglasses

In the equatorial regions of the world, where the sun radiation is many times stronger than in the northern United States, some people develop dense cataracts in their 30s or 40s. Often those same people may develop something called a “Pterygium” that is a pinkish colored triangle of tissue that grows out on the cornea (the clear part of your eye that covers the iris/colored part of your eye).

For that reason, I’d say that mostly the opposite of sunglasses bad for eyes is true.

Sometimes people will wonder if wearing sunglasses all the time or wearing sunglasses indoors is bad for you. I can’t think of any reason why it would be. Here are my thoughts.

Is it bad to wear sunglasses at night?

Much like the 1983 Corey Hart song, “Sunglasses at Night,” it makes no sense whatsoever, but wearing sunglasses at night is not dangerous to your eyes. Well, maybe it’s dangerous if you bump into things or hurt yourself because it’s hard enough to see at night without sunglasses at night! Why would you do that? Corey Hart’s song gives no insight either as to one good reason why you’d do this. So, wearing sunglasses at night bad for eyes? No, but might be bad for your shins when you bang into that coffee table. “Watch you weave then breathe your story lines?” That’s about as close as you’ll get to an explanation as to why someone would wear sunglasses at night.

Can wearing sunglasses damage your eyes?

There is one instance I can imagine that is extraordinarily unlikely but potentially could happen. That would be if you bought extremely cheap or counterfeit sunglasses that somehow subverted the import system and they didn’t have the US Government mandated ultraviolet light filters that all US made or properly imported sunglasses are required to have. If you wear sunglasses indoors, it shouldn’t matter if they have the UVA & UVB filters, as you will be minimally exposed to the suns damaging rays. Wearing sunglasses inside bad for eyes- that is a stretch of the imagination.

20 Pretty Good Reasons to Wear Sunglasses 

  1. Preventative measure against eyelid skin cancer
  2. Prevents cancer of the conjunctiva (the clear membrane over the white of your eye)
  3. Prevents Cataracts: the evidence that the ultraviolet rays of the sun can speed development of cataracts is abundant. Around the equator the incidence of cataracts in young people is many times higher than it is in northern climes. Unfortunately this is also the area of the world where access to healthcare and cataract surgeons is not as good. The result is a that many millions of people are completely cataract blind, and could be made to see clearly if not for the lack of access to the surgery. The Himalayan Cataract Project is an amazing organization whose mission it is to cure cataract blindness throughout the world.
  4. Prevents Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Sadly, many of our esteemed senior citizens suffer from ARMD and have their central vision slowly ebb away as the ARMD progresses. Recent advances are helpful in slowing or stopping the progress, but the treatment leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to ARMD. Sunglasses may be one of your best bets to prevent you from getting ARMD. Fortunately for those with more pigmented skin such as people of African or Asian descent, ARMD is rare.
  5. Prevents (slows) aging of the skin around your eyes
  6. Prevents Snow-blindness: basically a sun-burn on the surface of your eyes (not fun at all) which can be the result of a hike in a mountain or skiing even a short while without eye protection. Snow blindness is real, and if you ever (hopefully not) get it, you won’t do that again. The diagnosis includes exposure to some extremely bright light, and symptoms such as burning, watery, and red eyes that lasts usually 24-48 hours. Treatment is cool compresses, stay in a dark room, keep eyes closed, artificial tears, and maybe a mild steroid drop for a day or two.
  7. Safer and more comfortable driving in strong sunlight with sunglasses 
  8. You’ll be a better fisherman! With polarized sunglasses, you can see better under the water. Yes, there’s a filter in polarized sunglasses that filters mainly reflected light, so that the glare from the water is greatly reduced, and you can see those fish under the water much better.
  9. Prevents headaches: when you’re constantly squinting due to bright sunlight in your eyes, you can develop headaches due to muscle strain.
  10. Eye protection from trauma-Super important! Sunglasses, like any glasses or goggles can protect you from flying objects. Tennis balls, racquetballs and other sports that incorporate balls are a leading cause of eye injuries worldwide. Wear them whenever you’re outdoors even if it doesn’t seem that bright outside.
  11. Fashion! There are many ways to express yourself through your personal style, and none may be more obvious than your choice of eyewear. Sunglasses have been required wardrobe staples since the beginning of fashion. Celebrities have worn sunglasses by the millions, have been spokespersons for every fashion brand in existence. Sunglasses are arguably the coolest thing you own. Make them count!
  12. Disguise! A close second reason to number 11 above (and used to great effect) is that celebrities use sunglasses to hide from paparazzi. That and a hat (also a great sunscreen protective tool) can be used to sometimes avoid a nosy paparazzo (singular form of paparazzi-see you actually learned something today!) Ever read People Magazine? They’ll all be wear sunglasses.
  13. We’ll skip this unlucky number
  14. Get better at Poker: many professional poker players wear sunglasses to avoid being seen. Since “The eyes are the window to the soul” poker players don’t want someone to see any emotion, so they wear sunglasses to keep their “poker face” hidden.
  15. Costumes: wearing sunglasses as part of a Halloween costume has become very common. Spider-Man, Flash, Iron man and others have worn them on various occasions.
  16. Wind protection: whenever I see someone in the movies riding a motorcycle without any helmet or eye protection, I cringe. It simply isn’t possible to ride a motorcycle over 10-15 miles an hour without your eyes having serious problems. Bad and dangerous combo!
  17. Keeping water out of your eyes: ever think your sunglasses will stay on when you go to the beach and then head out into the waves to play a little bit? I did that not only once, but twice. And I lost two pairs of sunglasses to the waves. But have I learned my lesson? Probably not!
  18. Tinted swim goggles or mask: having darkened swim goggles or swim mask can make your day at the pool or day at the beach much more pleasurable. The discomfort of strong sunlight can be pretty intense and as we’ve said, the filters can protect you from damage from the sun.
  19. Have you gotten this far? I’m impressed! Two more reasons to wear sunglasses. They are required when working around flash welders. I’ve seen many patients over the years who “Only looked at it for a second!” when coming to see me about burning their eyes when working around or observing someone welding. These are actually not typical sunglasses, but arc welding helmet or goggles.
  20. Can cover up blemishes around your eyes: or after you’ve had blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery to remove wrinkles or to fix droopy eyelids)

As you can see, wearing sunglasses at night, during the day or any time at all can be helpful. Wearing sunglasses at night is discouraged when it could impair your ability to see the potentially danger things around you, or keep you from driving safely.

Dr. Matthew Sharpe- Founder of SharpeVision

Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe

Dr. Matthew Sharpe is an Ophthalmologist specializing in refractive surgery and the owner SharpeVision MODERN LASIK & LENS, with offices in Seattle, Austin, and Chicago. Dr. Sharpe is a world traveler, pianist, marathon runner, motorcyclist, and fluent French speaker. He enjoys every second of life, but finds he is happiest at home cheering on The Ohio State Buckeyes with his wife, three children, and four dogs.
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