Did you know that it was in the mid-20th century that sunglasses gained popularity? In 1929, Sam Foster introduced his Foster Grant sunglasses on the beaches of Atlantic City.

The trend caught on, and by 1938 sunglasses were more than just eye protection from the sun; they were a trend featured in Life magazine. Celebrities started wearing stylish framed sunglasses that everyone wanted to emulate, and sunglasses quickly became a fashion accessory. 

Sunglasses are available in many shapes and styles and are more than just fashionable; they are must-have eyewear to protect our eyes from ultraviolet rays, the radiation energy produced by the sun.

National Sunglasses Day is celebrated on June 27 and is an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of wearing sunglasses properly to protect our eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. Sunglasses can also improve visual clarity and make our eyes more relaxed and comfortable in bright light.

Outside in the sun, we are exposed to two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB, which can penetrate and change our skin and eye cell structure. This increases the risk of skin cancer and eye diseases that can lead to permanent vision loss.  

UVA rays harm the macula, which enables us to see detail clearly. It is part of the retina, which sends signals to the brain to translate into images. The retina, too, can be damaged when UVB rays impair the eyes’ lens and cornea.

Radiation damage can lead to several vision-stealing eye conditions:


Photokeratitis. This condition resembles a sunburn of the eye and is caused by exposure to large amounts of UV rays within a short time. The sun’s rays bounce off sand, snow, water, and ice, so be careful with light reflecting off pools or the ocean.

You can also develop “snow blindness” while outside in a snowy and icy place. Symptoms include pain, redness, blurriness, a gritty feeling in the eyes, and sensitivity to bright light.

Symptoms may intensify the longer UV rays hit our eyes; however, they typically disappear and don’t cause permanent damage.


Cataracts. Numerous years of being out in the sun with UV rays hitting our eyes can cause cataracts that make the lenses in our eyes cloudy.

Symptoms can include blurriness, seeing double images instead of one, sensitivity to light, difficulty seeing at night, requiring additional light to read, and bright colors looking faded or yellow.

Surgery is necessary to remove cataracts. 


Macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is primarily an age-related retinal condition and can also be genetic. We may lose our central vision but are not likely to lose all sight.

Symptoms include seeing straight lines that look wavy or crooked, difficulty seeing the first few minutes after entering a dark place, and trouble reading words on a paper of a similar color.

There is no cure, but treatments include nutritional supplements, medications, photodynamic therapy, and laser therapy.


Skin cancer around the eyes. Our upper and lower eyelids are made of thin skin, making it easier for UV rays to damage them and making us more likely to develop skin cancers.

The most common is basal cell carcinoma, but squamous cell carcinoma can also develop. Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma include a bump that looks waxy or pearly, a flat skin growth colored brown that may look like a scar, and a sore that bleeds and scabs repeatedly.

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma can include a lump that is hard and red and a flat growth that is crusty or scaly.

Treatment for skin cancer and precancerous growths depends on their type, size, depth, and location.


Our best defense against eye diseases and conditions is sunglasses. Only sunglasses with 100% UV protection provide the safety we need.

When buying sunglasses, be sure they have a tag that says they provide 100% UV protection from all UV light. Some manufacturers’ labels state “UV absorption up to 400nm,” which means the same as 100% UV absorption.

Sunglasses should have the largest lenses possible, so consider purchasing oversized or wraparound-style sunglasses to limit UV rays from entering the sides of the glasses.

Avoid the sun from 8-10 a.m. and 2-4 p.m., as these are peak hours for UV rays to damage our eyes.

The right glasses with 100% UV protection can protect our eyes for years. So, on National Sunglasses Day, show off your favorite sunglasses or buy a new pair for yourself or someone you love, and keep your eyes healthy and happy.


Nancy J. Schaaf, a retired RN, worked as a school nurse, a nurse supervisor at a men’s prison, and a health educator. She earned her BSN at Edinboro University. She is a freelance writer whose health articles appear in magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. She can be reached at nancyjschaaf@gmail.com.

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