Expanding Sun Protection Beyond the Eyes

| By: Susie Clark | Posted in:

It’s common knowledge (among eye care providers, at least) that too much sun is harmful to the eyes. We know that cumulative exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) and high energy visible (HEV) rays causes irreversible damage to the lens and retina, increasing the lifetime risk for cataracts and macular degeneration. So it’s our responsibility (and opportunity) as eye care and optical professionals to educate patients about the need for quality sunglasses to protect their eyes from harmful solar rays. In doing so, we can help preserve our patients’ eye health, enabling them to enjoy a lifetime of good vision.

Every person—young and old—should wear UV- and HEV-blocking eyewear when spending time outdoors. Period. But why stop at protecting just the eyes? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. And melanoma—the most dangerous type of skin cancer that kills 100,000 people worldwide each year—is the most common type of cancer among people age 25 to 29. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States. Furthermore, more than 3.5 million cases of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas (the most common types of skin cancer) are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and experts say the number of diagnosed cases is increasing at near-epidemic rates and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Because ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the primary cause of skin cancer, the most commonly affected areas of the body are those that receive the most exposure to sunlight. So it’s not surprising that most skin cancers occur on the head and face, including the eyelids. Educating our patients and advising them how to protect themselves from the sun—including prescribing the right type of sunglasses — can significantly lower their risk of this disfiguring and potentially fatal disease. The proper sunglasses also help prevent premature aging of the skin, reducing the risk for “crow’s feet” and other wrinkles and loss of elasticity of the skin around the eyes.

Sunglasses protect the eyes and eyelids, but sun protection shouldn’t stop there. Recommend a hat a sunscreen to protect skin 

Best Sunglasses for Skin Protection

The best sunglasses to help prevent skin cancer around the eyes have these features:

  •  A large, full coverage frame that conforms well to the contours of the face while still allowing adequate airflow behind the lenses to avoid
    fogging.
  • Lenses that block 100 percent UV and the most damaging HEV wavelengths (“blue light”).

Recommend a Hat

Sunglasses do a great job of protecting the eyes, eyelids and surrounding tissues from the sun’s damaging rays. For the rest of the head and face, recommend a hat with a 3 inch brim. Doing so can reduce UV exposure to the face by 50 percent or more. A wide-rimmed hat is preferable to a baseball cap, since the latter does nothing to protect the side of the face or back of the neck from sunlight.

Sunscreen

The final step in reducing the risk for skin cancer of the head, neck and face is to recommend the liberal application of sunscreen lotion to these areas. For use on the face and around the eyes,
recommend a product with an SPF rating of 30 or higher. For people who are active outdoors, recommend a “sport” formula that resists being washed away by perspiration. Also, sunscreen should be re-applied frequently throughout the day.


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