Exposing your eyes to high levels of sunlight can lead to irreversible damage. Make sure you buy sunglasses that offer adequate protection and are suitable for the activity you're using them for.
About sunglasses and fashion spectacles
Sunglasses provide varying levels of protection from the harmful effects of the sun, whereas fashion spectacles may not. Sunglasses and fashion spectacles include:
- one-piece sunglasses
- visor type sunglasses
- clip-on sunglasses
- children’s sunglasses
- fashion spectacles and light tint sunglasses.
There is a mandatory safety standard that sets out the performance requirements for sunglasses and fashion spectacles. This standard does not apply to:
- prescription and readymade spectacles
- safety glasses and safety goggles intended to provide protection against optical radiation other than from the sun
- eye-wear for protection against radiation in solaria
- eye protectors for sport
- glasses for use as toys and clearly and legibly labelled as toys.
Labels on sunglasses must show a category of protection they can provide the wearer. Sunglasses come in five categories.
Lens category 0
These are fashion spectacles, not sunglasses. They have a very low ability to reduce sun glare and may provide only some or no UV protection.
Lens category 1
These are fashion spectacles, not sunglasses. However, they do provide limited sun glare reduction and some UV protection. Category 1 lenses are not suitable for driving at night.
Lens category 2
These sunglasses provide a medium level of sun glare reduction and good UV protection. As the lenses are not as dark as categories 3 or 4 sunglasses, they’re good for wearing day-to-day. These sunglasses are good if your preference is for a brighter view and you’re not overly sensitive to light.
Lens category 3
These sunglasses provide a good level of UV protection. Category 3 glasses also provide a high level of sun glare reduction. These sunglasses are good if you prefer darker lenses or are particularly sensitive to light in particular situations. For example, in direct sunlight or sunlight reflection on the water at the beach.
Lens category 4
These are special purpose sunglasses that provide a very high level of sun glare reduction and good UV protection. Lens category 4 sunglasses must not be used when driving at any time.
Sunglasses with photochromic lenses (variable tint)
Photochromic lenses darken on exposure to specific types of light. Once the light source is removed (like when walking indoors) the lenses gradually return to their clear state. As the lenses react to light, some lenses may not be suitable for night driving, depending on the time it takes for the tint on those lenses to change. Talk to your sunglass specialist or optometrist for more information.
Risks and injuries
Exposing your eyes to very high levels of sunlight can cause serious and sometimes irreversible damage. Some sunglasses can also impair your vision in other ways.
Exposure of the eyes to very high levels of sunlight can cause:
- Inflammation – solar ultraviolet radiation can cause an inflammation of the front surfaces of the eye.
- Cataracts, pterygium or eyelid cancers – long-term exposure of the eyes to ultraviolet radiation may also be a factor in causing cataracts, pterygium (abnormal tissue growth over the eye) or eyelid cancers.
- Retina degeneration – long-term exposure to near ultraviolet radiation in the wavelength band 315 to 400 nm may be a factor in causing degeneration of the retina of the eye.
- Impaired night vision – some sunglasses reduce the ability to see at low light levels (e.g. late evening or night), or to distinguish colours while driving.
- Look for sunglasses labelled category 2, 3 or 4 to give your eyes the best UV protection.
- Choose the right sunglasses for your activity. Talk to your optometrist or sunglass specialist in-store to help you choose the right pair.
- Avoid sunglasses labelled category 1 and category 4 if you plan to wear sunglasses while driving.
- For sport, consider durable, glare reduction sunglasses such as those with a lens category 3 or 4.
- Sunglasses reduce the ability to see at low light levels. Sunglasses with lens categories 1–4 should not be used when driving at night, or used indoors whenever good vision is needed.
- Always wear sunglasses in combination with other UV protection measures such as remaining in the shade where possible, wearing a hat and sunscreen.
- Make UV eye protection part of your everyday routine, even on days when you feel the sun’s rays may be less harmful.