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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

Cool in the shade: Sunglasses can be beautiful and protect your eyes, too

Sunglasses from Victoria Beckham's collection. Sunglasses from Victoria Beckham's collection.

For many people, sunglasses are a style statement first. If they protect the eyes, that s all the better.

A better way to look at it would be that sunglasses should be worn for eye protection

first, with fashion a secondary consideration. It helps that eyewear designers have

created thousands of attractive options this season, influenced by trends ranging

from super-sized and colorful to the comeback of aviators.

But when choosing sunglasses, the primary consideration should be how well they protect the peepers from ultraviolet rays that can cause eye diseases and

permanent eye damage not to mention skin-related conditions such as malignant melanoma, sunburn, and premature wrinkling around the eyes.

We are approaching the summer season, and most people love to get that summer glow and tan, said Lawrence Gipson, an eye surgeon, ophthalmologist, and owner of NeoVision eyesight centers in the Pittsburgh area.

They forget that protecting their eyes is extremely important, not just in summer

but in winter as well. Too often, people think of sunglasses merely as a fashion statement as opposed to protection. We believe that they can obviously be both.

So whether you re inclined to grab a cheap and- chic $10 pair from a dollar store or to splurge on $400 limited-edition designer shades, it s important to make sure that they offer UV protection. As important, the lenses should be large enough to protect the entire eye area or shaped to do so, such as wraparound styles.

Miu Miu's purple shades for women. Miu Miu's purple shades for women.

But be sure to get sunglasses that you really like. No matter how much you pay for an item, said Dr. Gipson, if you don t feel comfortable putting it on, you re not going to wear it.

Here are some tips for buying and wearing sunglasses:

•Choose shades that block at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Some are labeled UV 400, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration lends its acronym to those that block at least 99 percent of UV rays. Polycarbonate indicates 100 percent UV absorption.

•Inspect shades up close and at arm s length to make sure lenses don t have imperfections or distortions that could hinder their effectiveness.

•Make sure nose pads are comfortable and in place and that the arm paddings do not press painfully against your head behind your ears.

•Remember that the darkness of lenses is cosmetic, not what protects eyes. Clear lenses can have 100 percent UV protection, although it s better to wear sunglasses with lenses dark enough to screen out 75-to-90 percent of visible light.

•It s even more critical that you wear sunglasses if you ve experienced eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or retinal dystrophies.

•Polarized sunglasses reduce glare, so they re good to wear while driving or around sand, snow, or water. Anti-reflective coatings and mirror lenses also provide sun protection.

•Wear shades even on overcast days because UV rays penetrate clouds.

•Replace glasses if the lenses have become scratched.

•People who wear prescription glasses have a number of options: prescription shades, clip-ons, fit-overs, magnetic attachments, or prescription photochromic lenses that automatically transition from clear to dark as light increases.

• UV damage is cumulative over a lifetime and begins in childhood, so sunglasses should be worn by kids as diligently as sunscreen. Kids up to the age of 14 are three times more vulnerable to UV damage than adults.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. LaMont Jones is fashion editor of the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: ljones@post-gazette.com.

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