Sydney, Australia: A leading Australian eye specialist is warning consumers to buy sunglasses from Australian bricks and mortar stores, rather than online shopping sites, to ensure they are choosing sunglasses with the necessary protection from the harsh sun this summer. The warning comes as new, stricter draft guidelines published by Standards Australia lift the bar even higher on eye safety for sunglasses.
Dr Chandra Bala, eye surgeon with PersonalEYES, Australia’s largest network of eye care clinics, warns that fashion sunglasses sold on Australia’s top online fashion sites – even if they offer ‘100% UV protection’ – give a meagre level of protection that puts Aussies’ eyes at risk.
“The only way to be sure sunglasses are safe for our climate is when they display the Australian safety standard AS/NZS1067:2003 sticker. Few online retailers even refer to this standard, which was created to protect our eyes from the high levels of radiation we experience in Australia’s hottest months,” Dr Bala says. “Buy your sunglasses in store to ensure they have the ASA swing tag or sticker. Without this, the glasses simply are not safe,” he adds.
“Now, Standards Australia has published draft guidelines that are stricter still. If the new standard is passed after public comment closes just before Christmas, many sunglasses that are currently deemed safe, will not meet the new guidelines,” Dr Bala adds.
Summer is hazardous for eyes because UVB rays – the most harmful to eyes and skin – can increase to up to 10 times at midday in summer, compared to winter days, according to Dr Bala. He cautions: “Some eye diseases such as photokeratitis can be caused by just a few hours of sun exposure. While this is unusual, the more sun exposure, the more likely you are to develop this and other sun-related diseases as you age.”
Sun-related eye issues include developing cataracts – 10 per cent of people develop cataracts due to sun exposure – intraocular melanoma, conjunctival cancers and growths on the surface of the eye and macular degeneration.
Reputable retailers such as The Cancer Council and leading optometrists remain the most trustworthy sources for safe sunglasses in Australia.
Side-stepping safety online
Confusion with buying safe sunnies online comes with popular international fashion sites where many glasses adhere to international standard ISO 12312-1:2012. This has no relevance to local safety requirements according to the ACCC, which issues standards through Product Safety Australia. A representative of the Commission said the ISO standard may cross over in part with Australian safety standards, however it does not mean the glasses keep out the majority of UV rays.
“We are alarmed by the number of outlets where you can buy sunglasses that do not comply with Australia’s very specific standards,” Dr Bala says. “We understand that complying with legal safety requirements is voluntary and that the ACCC cannot police every business. But, there is a very real concern that we will see more sun damage to eyes in the population as a result of Australians believing these standards make glasses sun safe.”
Attempting to buy safety compliant sunglasses online through department stores or fashion sites can prove frustrating. One major department store, for example, offers a pair of French couture brand sunglasses for $590 with product information that is limited to the style number of the frames and with no mention of sun protection. Meanwhile, delivery information and terms and conditions of purchase are extensive. Even the web’s newest disruptor sites where you can purchase a pair of prescription sunglasses for around $100 offer little or no sun protection information – ‘polarised’ or ‘UV safe’ are the standard descriptors on these sites.
PersonalEYES’s 5 top sun safe factors to look for in sunglasses:
Look for the Australian safety standard AS/NZS1067:2003 sticker
- Choose category ‘2’ in protection – “Australian tested sunglasses offer five levels of sun protection from 0 to 5 and you should choose pair with a rating of 2 or above for good UV protection,” says Dr Bala. The ratings relate to the amount of UV radiation that is absorbed by lenses, preventing rays reaching our delicate eyes.
- Don’t be lured by dark or polarised lenses – Dark lenses can reduce glare, but this doesn’t mean they filter out more UV rays. Dr Bala says, “Dark lenses can be more harmful because they cause your pupils to dilate, exposing eyes to more UV light.” Polarised glasses simply reduce glare as sunlight bounces off surfaces but they do not reduce the amount of UV light getting to the eye.
- Choose polycarbonate lenses – “These absorb more UV rays than materials such as triacetate and acrylic, which absorb just 40 per cent of harmful rays,” Dr Bala says.
- Go big or go home – “Opt for large lenses – wrap-around is ideal although we know these are not popular styles. Styles that cover your whole eye area, that also sit close to your eyes are best,” Dr Bala says. “These protect the skin around your eyes also as this is particularly vulnerable to developing sun-related cancers.”