Sunglasses offer protection against excessive exposure to light, including its visible and invisible components.
The most widespread protection is against ultraviolet radiation, which can cause short-term and long-term ocular problems such as photokeratitis, snow blindness, cataracts, pterygium, and various forms of eye cancer. Medical experts advise the public on the importance of wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV; for adequate protection, experts recommend sunglasses that reflect or filter out 99-100% of UVA and UVB light, with wavelengths up to 400 nm. Sunglasses which meet this requirement are often labeled as “UV400.” This is slightly more protection than the widely used standard of the European Union (see below), which requires that 95% of the radiation up to only 380 nm must be reflected or filtered out. Sunglasses are not sufficient to protect the eyes against permanent harm from looking directly at the Sun, even during a solar eclipse.
More recently, high-energy visible light (HEV) has been implicated as a cause of age-related macular degeneration; before, debates had already existed as to whether “blue blocking” or amber tinted lenses may have a protective effect. Some manufacturers already design to block blue light; the insurance company Suva, which covers most Swiss employees, asked eye experts around Charlotte Remé (ETH Zürich) to develop norms for blue blocking, leading to a recommended minimum of 95% of the blue light. Sunglasses are especially important for children, as their ocular lenses are thought to transmit far more HEV light than adults (lenses “yellow” with age).
There has been some speculation that sunglasses actually promote skin cancer. This is due to the eyes being tricked into producing less melanocyte-stimulating hormone in the body.