by Todd Childs
With the summer months rapidly approaching, the addition of UV protection to contact lenses has never been more popular. We know that direct exposure to the sun can leave the skin vulnerable to harmful ultraviolet rays, but not many people know that those rays can also have damaging effects on the eyes. UV protected contact lenses help block out some of these rays while ensuring the wearer has clear, focused vision.
Once you understand the basics of eye health, it’s easier to plan a strategy for maintaining it. Whether it’s spending a day on the beach, taking a hike, or gardening in the backyard, ensuring that your eyes stay healthy should be part of the day’s preparations. Here are the most important factors in UV protection:
Eyes, like skin, can be damaged by too much exposure to UV light in too short of a time. In the same way that our skin collects the rays, so do our eyes. The areas of the eye most often at risk of UV damage are the lens, cornea, and retina. While some level of UV light is acceptable, direct and prolonged contact can often lead to damage.
UV light earned its name because of the size of its wavelength. Violet light has the shortest wavelength of visible light. Ultraviolet light has even shorter wavelengths. Thus, it earned the prefix “ultra”. There are three types of UV radiation: UV-C, UV-A and UV-B. UV-C radiation is absorbed by the ozone layer and is harmless. UV-A and UV-B radiation, on the other hand, can cause lasting damage to the eyes and can harm vision.
UV light has some helpful traits. When it comes in contact with human skin, it helps us develop Vitamin D. This can be useful in combating depression and other ailments. Some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder during months with less sunlight. In fact, the winter blues are often equated with a lack of Vitamin D.
UV light also has negative effects. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, more specifically to the UV-A and UV-B rays present in sunlight, can damage the skin. It can produce an increase in melanin, especially for those with lighter skin, but it can also lead to burning. Exposure to UV rays does similar things to the eye. Short-term overexposure can cause photokeratitis, which is like a sunburn on your eyes, causing irritation and a painful or uncomfortable sensation for a brief time. Excessive exposure, however, can cause permanent damage. Studies have shown that long-term UV exposure increases the chance of developing cataracts and may contribute to macular degeneration and other vision problems later in life.
Sunglasses protect the eyes from many of the UV rays that would otherwise pass into our eyes, but they don’t stop everything. That’s where UV protection contact lenses come in. These enhanced contact lenses do the same thing as standard contacts: they ensure clear vision. But they have an added benefit. They serve as another line of defense against the unwelcome invasion of UV light into the eye.
We want to spend as much time celebrating the warm summer sun as possible, but we never want to risk our health to do so. That’s why we need UV protection on our contact lenses. It helps mitigate risk while ensuring comfort. Our strategy is simple: prepare for the sunlight before frolicking across the sand and those UV rays won’t stand a chance.
The American Optometric Association understands the ways that UV rays enter the eye. They determined that, unless a person is wearing wrap-around sunglasses, some harmful UV rays can still penetrate the eye from above, below and through the sides of sunglasses. This damage is mitigated by UV protection on contact lenses, as long as those lenses meet specific criteria. In general, lenses need to block a certain percentage of UV rays in order to classify themselves as FDA Class I or Class II blockers.
As a rule, UV protection lenses should be considered for those who maintain an active lifestyle, especially those who spend hours outdoors. It’s a broad rule. During the summer, that’s a lot of us. Especially after a brutal winter full of polar vortexes and record snowfalls, there’s no better way to celebrate warm weather than spending time outside. With the right UV protection contact lenses, there’s no reason to worry. They pair well with sunglasses and provide great protection against the sun’s rays.
These lenses have the highest levels of UV protection on the market today, blocking 99% of UVB and 95% of UVA-1 rays. These are great for those who need higher levels of protection, especially those who spend a good deal of time outdoors, whether working or playing in direct sunlight. As an added bonus, these lenses have Hydraclear technology that helps maintain moisture throughout the day. You can find our Acuvue page here.
These block 93% of UV-A rays and 99% of UV-B rays, making them perfect for sunny summer days. These are a great fit for most of us. They provide high levels of protection during the summer months. They have a slight tint, but not enough to change the color of your iris. They’re comfortable to for longer stretches of time, too.
The Acuvue brand tends to be reliable for UV protection in general. The Acuvue 2, like the others in the brand, have a slight tint that offers some protection from UV rays and should be considered by those looking for additional protection when the sun’s rays are most direct. The Acuvue line of contacts have been the top selling hydrogel brand for more than ten years.
There are many more brands that offer UV protection contact lenses, but Acuvue is popular in this area. They promote UV protection better than most and, more importantly, they provide comfortable, quality contact lenses. Whichever brand you choose, these are the best style of contact lenses for everyday usage during the summer months.
Even when nothing sounds better than racing out to spend an afternoon in the sun, it’s still a good idea to spend a few minutes protecting your body. Sunscreen helps keep ultraviolet rays from damaging the skin and UV protection contact lenses do the same thing for the eyes. The best health insurance has always been prevention. A few minutes researching the best UV protective contact lens brands is one small step that can save summer revelers from potential eye damage. Enjoy the sunshine!
Updated Oct 4th, 2017
Todd Childs, O.D. has been practicing optometry for the past twelve years. He currently practices at South Valley Optical in Draper, Utah. Dr. Childs earned his Doctor of Optometry at Southern California College of Optometry.