It turns out size does matter–at least when it comes to sunglasses.
The tiny sunglasses look celebs are sporting these days? We're not fans. Not only are the small shades giving us 90s throwback vibes in the worst way, they’re also probably not any good for your eyes.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Rahul Pandit, MD, an ophthalmologist with the Blanton Eye Institute at Houston Methodist Hospital. “With smaller frames, more light is going to get around. Larger frames are going to protect you more.”
In addition to the small frames and lenses, “people also tend to wear them lower on the nose,” points out Andrew Iwach, MD, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “which takes them further away from the eye.”
That means wearing "microshades" exposes your eyes to more ultraviolet light from the sun.
“The issue with UV light in the eyes is similar to the skin,” says Dr. Pandit. “Both UVA and UVB light can hit the eye and cause different types of damage.”
UVA rays penetrate deeper and can affect central vision, damaging the part of the retina called the macula and upping the risk of macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of vision loss. UVB rays can damage the cornea on the surface of the eye.
Ultraviolet rays may play a role in the development of cataracts as well as growths on the surface of the eye called pterygiums, which can impede your vision.
People with light-colored eyes are at extra risk for eye damage from UV light, as are kids, people who underwent cataract surgery and have older artificial lenses that don’t absorb UV light as well, and folks taking photosensitizing drugs, including certain antibiotics.
Cataracts and macular degeneration can take years to develop, but there can also be short-term dangers of the tiny sunglasses trend. One biggie is photokeratitis, which is like a sunburn of the eye. It’s sometimes called snow blindness, because it can happen after exposure to UV rays that reflect off of ice, snow, water, or sand.
“The delicate surface of the eye, when exposed to a significant amount of ultraviolet radiation, can actually become irregular, which causes all kinds of light sensitivity and decrease in vision,” says Dr. Iwach. “It’s quite painful.”
Other symptoms include blurry vision, watery eyes, a gritty feeling in your eyes, and redness.
If this happens, see an ophthalmologist. “Typically if it’s diagnosed and treated properly, you will recover,” says Dr. Iwach.
Choosing the right sunglasses
The good news is that simply wearing larger sunglasses can go a long way towards preventing these problems. Kanye West may have convinced Kim Kardashian to only wear tiny sunglasses now–but her former fondness for oversized frames was likely safer. “For comfort and for safety, the larger the lens the better,” says Dr. Iwach.
Make sure your pair has UV protection, preferably 100%. Sunglasses should be labeled with their UV protection, but if they’re not, your eye doc can measure protection levels in his or her office.
Assuming the labeling is correct, a $5 pair from the dollar store should provide as much protection as a high-fashion pair that costs several hundred bucks at a boutique, adds Dr. Pandit.
Keep in mind that polarized glasses cut glare, but not UV damage. Make sure any polarized glasses also have UV protection. Darker lenses also don’t provide any added protection–and can even be damaging–without UV coverage.
“If you get darker lenses and you don’t have UV protection, it’s more harm than nothing,” says Dr. Pandit. “Your pupils dilate and let more light in the eye.”
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If you’re making a statement with tiny frames once in a while–say, on the red carpet (looking at you, Rihanna)–by all means, do you. But don’t rely on these mini-glasses for long-term protection, or–as Mindy Kaling is predicting–you might regret it.
“For a certain period of time under certain circumstances, small sunglasses may be reasonable,” says Dr. Iwach. “People want to express their individuality and that’s great, but don’t sacrifice the health and safety of your eyes.”