If you’ve noticed the hashtag #SunglassSelfie online today, it’s because the Vision Council–an advocacy group for the eyewear industry–is trying to draw attention to the dangers of UV rays on our eyes. While we’re aware of how exposure to UV rays can cause skin cancer, most people are less aware of how UV rays impact our eyes. Overexposure to the sun can lead to cancer on or around the eyes, as well as sunburns and swelling. In the long term, it can also lead to cataracts and macular degeneration.
“At this point in time, there is no way to heal UV-damaged parts of the eye,” says Justin Bazan, an optometrist and medical adviser to the Vision Council.
But most Americans aren’t taking good care of their eyes. Through its own research, eyewear brand Maui Jim found that 26% of Americans don’t typically wear sunglasses while they are outside, and 65% of don’t connect sun exposure to eye disease. (The brand has a PSA video out, which I’m including here.)
The Council recommends that people buy sunglasses that have strong UV protection. In fact, wearing sunglasses without UV protection actually does more harm than good, because it means the wearer is exposing themselves to more harmful rays. And given that 10% to 20% of skin cancers happen around the eye area, where it is hard to apply sunscreen, good UV-protective sunglasses can protect those areas. The Council also points out that sunglasses shouldn’t be worn just on sunny days: UV rays are at work even when it’s cloudy.