We know a lot more about ways to keep our bodies healthy than we used to. We know to eat well, stay hydrated, and exercise. We know that during the summer, sunscreen helps protect the skin and sunglasses are important to protect the eyes. What some people may not realize, is that we need sunglasses in winter too.
The sunlight that reaches the Earth is actually “waves” of energy. One type of these waves is interpreted by the human eye as “light”, the UVA rays. High levels of UVA rays make the sunlight bright to your eyes and hot on the skin. Extreme amounts of UVA light make you cover up, put on sunglasses, go into the shade or go inside.
Even though we can’t usually see it, sunlight also contains UVB rays which contain more energy. You don’t really see or feel UVB rays but over time, they can cause damage to your skin cells and the cells of your eyes. UVB rays are responsible for most of your skin cancer risk and they contribute to eye conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration and snow-blindness.
During the year, the Earth “wobbles” back and forth, creating the seasons. In summer, the sun is more directly overhead, feels hotter, and lasts longer during the day. You know when to get out of direct sun and the brightness of the light lets you know when you need sunglasses. They make the sunlight more tolerable in summer but the real benefit of sunglasses is their ability to protect the eyes. Sunglasses block the brightest sun rays but they also block the “dangerous” rays which can damage the eyes, those UVB rays that you can’t see.
In winter, the sun is considerably dimmer and sunburns are rare. You don’t feel a need to avoid the sun because you are usually covered with clothing but even if you don’t feel it, the sunlight still contains the harmful UVB rays. Anyone who has spent time on the ski slopes can tell you that bare skin will burn – even in winter.
When sunlight is strong enough to burn your skin, it is damaging your eyes as well. In fact, the dimmer light of winter, may even be a bigger threat to your eyes. When the sun is bright, your pupils constrict to let less of it in and you may put on sunglasses to make vision more comfortable but winter’s light leaves your pupils more open and lets more of those UVB rays in. The more that eye tissues are exposed to the high energy, the greater he damage will be.
People who participate in winter sports always wear eye protection. They protect the eyes from frozen debris, dry air and sun glare to prevent extreme inflammation of the eyes known as “snow blindness” – but they also protect against longer-term UVB damage which increases risk for blindness caused by cataracts and macular degeneration.
Wearing sunglasses is a year-round “thing”. Your eyes need protection on sunny days, cloudy days, warm days and cold days. You need sunglasses in the bright light of the hot summer sun and you need sunglasses in the winter.