You wouldn’t leave the house without wearing sunscreen and sunglasses in July right? Right?! So why would you do it in November? It might not be 90 degrees outside, but those UV rays are still hitting your skin—and doing just as much damage. “One of the issues with eye protection in winter is the fact that people usually associate warmer weather with sunlight and UV exposure, when in fact there is no relationship between UV exposure and temperature,” explains Dr. Susan Resnick, O.D. F.A.A.O and top optometrist with Drs. Farkas, Kassalow, Resnick & Associates in New York, NY.
“You can get an equal amount of UV exposure on a cloudy day as you can on a sunny one. People sort of mentally neglect themselves because they’re not squinting due to high levels of sunlight, but our eyes are still at risk,” Dr. Resnick says. “It’s even been proven that snow reflects more UV damage than water, and activities like skiing at higher altitudes generates more exposure.”
And winter’s shorter days don’t necessarily mean less exposure. “The other misconception is the time of day when you’re most at risk,” cautions Dr. Resnick. “Studies prove it’s contrary to what you might think. In wintertime, the greatest exposure in the northern hemisphere is between 10am and 2pm, while in summer it’s earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon.”
The sun might seem a bit hazier mid-December, but that’s because of the angle of the sun reflecting off surfaces, not because it’s less powerful. In fact, it means that the UV rays can get underneath and around your sunglasses—even if you’re wearing good wraparound ones. Long-term exposure to sunlight can cause Surfer’s Eye, or pterygium, not-dangerous (but not awesome) growths on the white of the eye, as well as cataracts and macular degeneration. “Contact lenses that have UV protection cover the cornea and rest about a millimeter onto the white of the eye to provide additional safety,” says Dr. Resnick. “This is where we talk about the trifecta of good sun protection: good UVA/UVB protection sunglasses, a hat and/or sunscreen in the way of contacts that provide UV protection and absorption.”
If you wear contacts, Dr. Resnick says, “You have to know that not all contact lenses provide UV protection; they must be built that way,” she says. ACUVUE OASYS with Hydraclear Plus have Class 1 protection (which is the maximum,) and can block roughly 96% of UVA and 99% of UVB rays. CooperVision Avaira Contact Lenses and Bausch + Lomb Biotrue ONEDay Contact Lenses also offer UV protection.
On top of that, you’ll need protective sunglasses. Dr. Resnick says, “By law, all sunglasses marketed in the US must meet ANSI standards for UV protection and must block 90% of UVA and 99% of UVB, which means even the cheap sunglasses have to comply. The difference will be your visual comfort. The cheap sunglasses won’t have polarized lenses or double anti-reflection coating.”
And obviously, don’t forget to wear sunscreen!