Expensive, cheap sunglasses put to UV test

UV radiation can lead to eye damage

SAN ANTONIO – Cheap sunglasses can protect your eyes against harmful UV rays as well as expensive ones. That's the finding after testing ten pairs of sunglasses, priced from $1 to $200.

While many people buy glasses based on their looks, sunglasses can help protect your sight.

"The cornea or the clear front part of the eye absorbs that ultraviolet radiation," said Dr. James Chapman, with the University of the Incarnate Word University School of Optometry.

Over time, doctors say cumulative UV radiation can damage eyes, leading to cataracts, macular degeneration and skin cancer.

"One of the most frequent places a person gets skin cancer is the lower lids of the eyes," Chapman said.

So, you need sunglasses with good UV protection.

At the UIW School of Optometry, 10 pairs of sunglasses were tested using a UV photometer. It measures how much UV radiation passes through the lens.

The $200 pair let 1 percent of the UV radiation through, which is considered excellent protection.

A $13 pair of pink shades from a discount store did even better, blocking 100 percent of the rays.

Even a $1 pair from a dollar store  provided excellent protection.

All passed the test, except for one pair from a dollar store. Despite labeling that said "polycarbonate," which should mean 100 percent protection, and another label reading, "ultraviolet protection," the glasses allowed 46 percent of the UV radiation to pass.

There is no labeling standard. Doctors say it's best to buy glasses labeled 99 to 100 percent UV protection.

You should also look for good coverage, according to Chapman.

"First of all, the bigger the better because you're going to cover more skin," he said.

Glasses that wrap around the sides will also reduce the UV rays that come in from the sides of the glasses.

As for the tint or color of the lens, Chapman said that has nothing to do with UV protection. It does, however affect glare reduction.

However, dark glasses with insufficient UV blocking can actually do more damage as the pupils dilate and absorb more UV.

While cheap glasses can provide good UV protection, the quality of the materials and optical clarity may not be as good as more expensive glasses.

You don't have to pay a lot for UV protection, but doctors say you can pay a high price if you don't wear sunglasses at all.

Many optometrists have UV photometers and will check sunglasses for you.

For a list of recent stories Marilyn Moritz has done, click here.

About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.