Your eyes and the sensitive skin around them can be damaged if exposed to too much sunlight. While cancer of the eye is rare, basal cell carcinoma of the surrounding skin is relatively common.

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is associated with cataracts and a condition known as pterygium. It can cause the short-term condition known as snow-blindness, which can follow a day’s skiing without wearing appropriate eye protection.

A wide-brimmed hat can reduce UVR to the eyes by up to half, but good quality sunglasses provide considerably more protection. Ideally, the lenses should cut out 100 percent of UVR, but it is not just the lenses which provide protection. The shape of the glasses is also an important factor. Up to 35 percent of UVR can come around the edges of ordinary spectacle frames. Wear sunglasses that are close-fitting and wrap-around and conform to the AS/NZ1067:2003 sunglass standard.

Children and sunglasses

There is no agreement among ophthalmologists over whether children should wear sunglasses. There is evidence that overexposure to UVR early in life can cause a predisposition to eye problems later on. However, children also need some exposure to UVR in order to develop protection against eye problems.

Around highly reflective surfaces (water, sand and snow) sunglasses should be worn if practical. If sunglasses are worn, they should conform to the AS/NZS1067: 2003 sunglass standard.

A legionnaire, broad-brimmed or bucket (minimum 6 cm brim) hat provides significant protection for the eyes, and children should be encouraged to wear one while playing outside.


Standards for sunglasses

Wear sunglasses that are close-fitting and wrap-around and conform to the AS/NZ1067:2003 sunglass standard.

A revised version of the joint Australia/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS1067 was published in 2003. The Cancer Society recommends buying sunglasses which conform to this standard. Check the label for compliance.

The new standard divides sunglasses into five categories. The five ratings for transmittance (filter) under this standard are based on the amount of absorbed light. This is on a scale from 0 to 4, with “0” providing some protection from UV radiation and sunglare, and “4” indicating a high level of protection, but not to be worn when driving.