Prevention » Information Sheets » Sunglasses and Eye Protection

Sunglasses and Eye Protection

Prevention » Information Sheets » Sunglasses and Eye Protection

Sunglasses and Eye Protection

To protect eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, Cancer Council ACT recommends sunglasses that are:

  • close fitting
  • wrap-around and cover as much of the eye area as possible
  • meet Australian Standard 1067: 2003 (Sunglasses: Category 2, 3 or 4), and
  • are marked EPF (eye protection factor) 10.

Always use sunglasses in combination with other sun protection measures; shade, clothing, hats and sunscreen.

How does UV radiation affect the eyes?

Repeated exposure of the eyes to too much solar UV radiation can cause short-term complaints such as:

  • mild irritations
  • excessive blinking
  • swelling
  • difficulty looking at strong light1
  • acute photokeratopathy, also known as sunburn of the cornea or snowblindness.

Over long periods it can lead to more serious damage to the eyes2-3 such as:

  • cataracts, or cloudiness of the lens 7
  • cancer of the conjunctiva, the membrane covering the white part of the eye
  • pterygium (pronounced tur-rig-i-um) – an overgrowth of the conjunctiva on to the cornea 8,9
  • solar keratopathy, or cloudiness of the cornea
  • skin cancer of the eyelids and around the eyes
  • occular melanoma 4

The link between solar UV radiation and some eye cancers is clear, however the evidence that UV radiation is a risk factor for ocular melanoma is weaker. For more information refer to Cancer Council Australia’s updated Position Statement: Eye Protection. Cancer Council recommends protecting the eyes from solar UV radiation at all times when outdoors during daylight hours. UV exposure to the eyes is dependent on a number of factors and is not closely correlated to ambient UV levels and The UV Index.

How can I reduce UV radiation exposure to my eyes?

A close fitting wrap around pair of sunglasses which meet Australian Standard AS 1067 (Sunglasses: Category 2, 3 or 4) and a broad-brimmed hat can reduce UV radiation exposure to the eyes by up to 98%. 5 Even wearing just a hat with a brim that shades the eyes can reduce direct UV radiation to the eyes by 50%. 3

The Australian Standard measures how much UV radiation goes through the lens, and defines lens width and height measurements for effective eye protection. The use of wraparound, close fitting, large sunglasses, helps to reduce reflected UV radiation and glare which passes around the edge of the sunglasses and reaches the eyes. Sunglasses labelled EPF10 (eye protection factor rating 10) exceed the requirements of the Australian Standard and may provide even greater protection11.

The colour or darkness of the lenses does not indicate the level of sun protection: you will need to check the label. To reduce glare you may require a darker tinted sunglass lens or polarised lenses. These lenses do not offer more UV protection.

Swimming goggles with EPF10 are also available.

If you wear prescription glasses, consider adding a UV-protective coating, buying prescription sunglasses or buying protective shades (fit overs) that can be worn over your glasses. You can also buy photochromatic (transition) lenses with UV radiation protection; these will change colour when you are in bright sunlight and stay clear indoors or at night. It is important to note, transition lenses work less effectively in cars because of UV radiation absorption by windscreens and to a lesser extent, the side windows. There are lower levels of UV radiation inside cars and this will affect the lenses.

Some contact lenses have built-in UV radiation protection. However it is recommended that you still wear sunglasses over the top to protect the rest of the eye.

Sunglasses should not be worn at night as your vision will be reduced.

Children and sunglasses

Since eye damage from UV radiation builds over time, it is important to protect the eyes of children.

Sunglasses designed for babies and toddlers have soft elastic to keep them in place. It is important to choose a style that stays on securely so that the arms don’t become a safety hazard.

Toy or fashion labeled glasses do not meet the requirements for sunglasses under the Australian Standard 5,6,7 and therefore should not be used to provide sun protection.

Some young children may be reluctant to wear sunglasses. You can still protect their eyes by putting on a hat and staying in the shade.

Eye protection for outdoor workers

Some outdoor workers need protection from flying particles, dust, splashing materials and harmful gases. They should wear sunglasses that comply with both the Australian Standard 1067 and the Australian/New Zealand Standard 1337 (eye protectors for industrial applications). 7

Eye protection in solariums

Eye goggles should always be worn in a solarium (solarium use is not recommended). If the eyes are exposed to UVA radiation from a solarium, the cornea and the conjunctiva may be briefly inflamed, and sight can sometimes be permanently damaged.

Solariums emit harmful levels of UV radiation that can be four to five times as strong as the midday summer sun in Canberra. This is the equivalent of the UV Index being 50 and above. The more your skin is exposed to UV radiation from any source, the greater your risk of skin cancer.

Eye protection in sport

A variety of sports sunglasses that are designed to suit specific sports including golf, cycling, cricket and sailing are available.

Further information and resources

Speak to your optometrist, ophthalmologist or GP about how to protect your eyes from UV radiation. For further information or advice contact Cancer Council 13 11 20.

This information is based on current available evidence at the time of review. For more information view Cancer Council Australia's Position Statement: Eye Protection.

This information can be photocopied for distribution.

References

1. Cains S. Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists policy statement on sunglasses. Med J Aust 1992; 157: 343–4.

2. Taylor H. Climatic droplet keratopathy and pterygium. Aust J Ophthalmol 1981;9:199–206.

3. Taylor H. The biological effects of UVB on the eye. Photochem Photobiol 1989; 50: 489–92.

4. Vajdic CM, Kricker A, Giblin M, McKenzie J, Aitken J, Giles GG, Armstrong BK. Incidence of ocular melanoma in Australia from 1990 to 1998. Int J Cancer. 2003; 105 (1):117–22.

5. Australian Standard AS 1067 (2003) (Sunglasses and Fashion Spectacles)

6. Choice. Eye Safety. Sunglasses. Choice Magazine 1999; October: 8–11

7. Hollows F, Moran D. Cataract – the ultraviolet risk factor. Lancet 1981; ii: 1249–50

8. Coroneo M. Pterygium as an early indicator of ultraviolet insolation: a hypothesis. Br J Ophthalmol 1993;77: 734–9.

9. Roberts T, Coroneo M. Pterygium: the curse of the Australian sun lover. Modern Medicine 1999; September:31–5.

10. Cancer Council Australia and The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO), Position Statement: Eye Protection, 2013.

Last updated July 2015