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Sunglasses: Why designer brands don’t protect better

Last updated on January 27, 2018

We are always told how important sunscreen is for UV protection, but what about protecting our eyes? A good pair of sunglasses is just as important as sunscreen to filter out the sun’s harmful rays.

For a lot of people, style and comfort come first when choosing a pair of sunglasses, however, most people fail to consider the most important aspect – the amount of ultraviolet radiation the lenses will screen. Sunglasses are considered a preventative health product by doctors who stress that not all of them are created equally.

Brand names such as Bulgari and Prada can run upwards of $500 without the added expense of prescription lenses. Even more moderate brand names such as REVO or Ray-Ban can still set you back a few hundred.

“A significant chunk of what you pay for isn’t the quality of the lenses, it’s the brand,” says Dr. Reza Dana, director of the cornea and refractive surgery service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. He explains that making UV protection lenses “isn’t very expensive technology.”

While spending more may earn you a better quality frame, it does not have to be a lot more. Dr. Jay Duker of Tufts Medical Center says that for a reasonable sum, consumers should be able to buy a pair of decent quality sunglasses with polarizing lenses to cut out glare, something that is very important for dealing with snow-glare and water-glare. The medical benefits are not normally warranted paying anything beyond that.

What do you need to know when choosing sunglasses? One of the first things consumers should be aware of is that most sunglasses are made by the same company. Italian sunglass manufacturer Luxottica makes sunglasses for a wide range of brand names including Oakley, Ray-Ban, Bulgari, Dolce & Gabanna, Burberry, Polo Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney, Vogue, Tiffany, Tory Burch, Chanel, Paul Smith, Versace, Persol, Donna Karen, Persol and Miu Miu, to name a few.

“We manufacture about 70% of those brands in our factories in Italy and the balance in America and China,” says Luxottica spokesman Luca Biondolillo. “We do the design, the manufacturing and the marketing,” he adds.

While the company says it makes most of those brands under license, they own several of those brands themselves including Oliver Peoples, Ray-Ban, REVO and Oakley.

Consumers should also be aware of the fact that in many instances, it’s the same company that also sells the sunglasses. Luxottica not only produces sunglasses, they also own Pearle Vision, LensCraftes and Sunglass Hut.

When choosing sunglasses, brand names are not necessarily better. Harvard Health says that sunglasses do not need to come with a designer label to do their job properly and that consumers should be aware that dark lenses are not necessarily better.

Sunglasses are labeled according to guidelines for UV protection established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Harvard Health says that before buying sunglasses, look at the ANSI label. Even inexpensive sunglasses can be effective, however, a darker looking lens may not provide better UV protection than a lighter lens.

Harvard Health explains that the darkness of a lens only affects the visible light not UV light. Protection from harmful rays is conferred by coatings applied to the lens, but, it is a good idea to have a few different pairs of tint levels for different uses.

What to look for

Non-prescription sunglass lenses have been regulated since 1998. They are considered medical devices and need to be impact-resistant (different than shatterproof), non-flammable and non-toxic. When searching for a pair of sunglasses, Harvard Health says to look for 99% or 100% UV protection or UV400. For size, the larger the lenses, the better protection they offer. For example, wrap around lenses are best because they prevent UV rays from entering at the sides. Think Jackie O and not Yoko Ono.

Harvard Health also points out that there is no direct relationship between the cost of a pair of sunglasses the the protection they offer. As long as the label specifies 99% or 100% UV protection (or UV400), and inexpensive dollar store pair will do the same job as a pricier pair of designer sunglasses.


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