Fact sheet: Eye protection
This fact sheet is endorsed by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists
As part of a comprehensive SunSmart lifestyle incorporating clothing, sunscreen and shade, Cancer Council Australia recommends wearing close-fitting wraparound sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat to protect the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
UV radiation exposure to the eyes is dependent on a number of factors.
Cancer Council Australia recommends protecting the eyes during sun protection times (when the UV level is 3 or above):
- reducing exposure of the eye to UV radiation as much as possible;
- wearing close-fitting, wraparound style sunglasses that meet the Australian/New Zealand Standard for sunglasses (categories 2, 3 and 4) or the Australian/New Zealand Standard for eye protection for occupational applications (marked “O”) as appropriate; and
- further protection of the eyes by wearing a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire style hat.
Health effects of UV radiation on the eyes
This fact sheet relates mainly to protecting the eyes from ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Over-exposure to UV radiation from welding is also a health concern and appropriate protection should be used. You can read more about the risks associated with welding here.
Repeated exposure of the eyes to UV radiation causes both short-term eye complaints and permanent eye damage. The most common short-term impact of UV exposure to the eye is acute photo keratopathy, akin to sunburn of the cornea, which can cause inflammation.
Exposure to UV radiation over long periods can result in more serious damage to the eyes including squamous cell cancers on the surface of the eye and skin cancer around the eyes. There is a strong evidence that UV exposure is associated with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the eyelid, photokeratitis, climatic droplet keratopathy, pterygium, and cortical cataract. However, the evidence of the association between UV exposure and ocular melanoma is limited. There is insufficient evidence to determine whether there is a clear causal link between UV exposure and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) but there does appear to be evidence showing greater sun-light exposure could increase risk. Theoretically this may be more due to effects of visible blue light rather than UV . Although UV radiation is strongly associated with skin cancer, including on the eyelids, UV does not appear to be a risk factor for sebaceous carcinoma of the eyelid.
Exposure of the eyes to UV radiation
UV radiation exposure to the eyes is dependent on a number of factors and can differ dramatically from the pattern of ambient UV radiation. The level of UV exposure to the eyes is highly dependent on the angle of sunlight reaching the eyes, which is influenced by time of day and time of year. Cancer Council recommends protecting the eyes at all times when UV level is 3 or above. During summer in Australia, all parts of the country experience long periods during the day when the UV level is 3 or above. The eye receives direct UV radiation when facing the sun with the sun low in the sky, however reflected and scattered light also have a strong impact in contributing to the total UV exposure to the eyes. Protecting eyes from UV at all times is recommended for certain activities such as skiing, boating and going to the beach as snow and water are highly reflective surfaces. Sunglasses can also be useful when the UV index is below 3 to help with sun glare and reflections.
Non-wraparound sunglasses are not effective in blocking peripheral UV. Wraparound, close fitting, sunglasses with maximum coverage should be worn to provide the best protection through reducing direct and reflected UV radiation and glare reaching the eyes. UV-blocking contact lenses effectively reduce UV exposure to the eyes, blocking around 90% of UVA transmittance. Sunglasses do not offer any protection when looking directly at the sun.
UV-blocking contact lenses effectively reduce UV exposure to the eyes, blocking around 90% of UVA transmittance. Some contact lenses do not protect the conjunctiva, which is more sensitive to UV than the cornea, nor do they protect the skin around the eye, so additional protection using sunglasses is still recommended. Additionally, a broad-brimmed hat can reduce UV radiation to the eyes by 50%.
In Australia sunglasses and fashion spectacles are required by the Consumer Goods (Sunglasses and Fashion Spectacles) Safety Standard 2017 to be tested to the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1067.1:2016 Eye and face protection - sunglasses and fashion spectacles prior to sale. The AS/NZS 1067.1:2016 standard specifies a range of performance standards, including UV protection for all sunglasses and fashion spectacles available in Australia, and their classification and labelling. The Standard defines five categories of lens, according to the amount of UV radiation and visible light that is able to pass through the lens (see Table 1). The Standard also specifies lens dimensions (width and height) and transmittance (visible light), detection of signals, optical quality, coverage (Category 4 only) safety requirements.
Table 1. Categories of sunglasses and fashion spectacles according to the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1067.1:2016
|Lens category 0: Light tint sunglasses or fashion spectacles||These provide very limited reduction of sunglare and some UV protection.|
|Lens category 1: Light tint sunglasses or fashion spectacles||These provide limited protection against sunglare and some UV protection; they are not suitable for driving in at night or under dull light conditions.|
|Lens category 2: General purpose sunglasses||These provide good protection against sunglare and good UV protection; they suitable for driving in at night or under dull light conditions.|
|Lens category 3: General purpose sunglasses||These provide high protection against sunglare and good UV protection; they are not suitable for driving at night or under dull light conditions.|
|Lens category 4: Very dark special sunglasses – very high sunglare reduction||These are special purpose sunglasses that provide a very high protection against extreme sun glare and good UV protection, they are not suitable for road use and driving.|
Source: Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1067.1:2016
Sunglasses and fashion spectacles meeting the Australian/New Zealand Standard must be labelled to specify that they comply with AS/NZS 1067.1:2016, and which lens category they comply with. Fashion spectacles (lens categories 0 and 1) are not sunglasses and do not provide adequate protection against UV radiation.
Sunglasses may also be labelled UV 400 and block at least 95% of UV between 190 and 400nm. The standard requires that sunglasses claiming a level of UV protection must meet this claim.
It is important that the price of sunglasses not be used to gauge the quality of protection from UV radiation. Sunglasses providing excellent protection need not be expensive. Darker-tinted or polarised lenses may be required to reduce glare, however the darkness or colour of the lens does not indicate the level of UV protection.
Check the label to determine the level of UV protection provided. Cancer Council Australia recommends wearing close-fitting, wraparound style sunglasses that meet the Australian/New Zealand Standard for sunglasses (categories 2, 3 and 4).
Sunglasses and children
Children are particularly sensitive to UV radiation skin and eye damage. As such it is important to protect children’s eyes.
Exposure of very young children to UV radiation should be limited. It is important that children wear a sun protective hat to provide some protection to the eyes.
Once children are old enough to manage wearing sunglasses, they should be encouraged to do so when exposed to UV radiation. These glasses should meet the Australian/New Zealand Standard for sunglasses (not fashion spectacles). Sunglasses labelled as toys are not covered by the Standard and therefore should not be used to provide sun protection.
For more information on sun protection for babies (0–12 months), see our fact sheet.
Eye protection at work
The Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1338.1:1992 Filters for eye protectors - Filters for protection against AS/NZS 1337.1:2010 Personal eye protection Eye and face protectors for occupational applications relates eye protection in the workplace. Tinted eye protectors that comply with AS/NZS 1337.1:2010 are recommended as these provide at least the same amount of protection against solar UV radiation as sunglasses, as well as impact protection. Untinted eye protectors marked ‘O’ (for outdoor) also have sufficient UV protection for outdoor use. The Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1338.1:2012 Filters for eye protectors - Filters for protection against radiation generated in welding and allied operations and AS/NZS 1338.2:2012 Filters for eye protectors - Filters for protection against ultraviolet radiation regulates eye protection in the workplace for occupations both indoors and outdoors where artificial UV radiation may reach potentially hazardous levels. Prescription safety spectacles must comply with 1337.6 which includes the same impact requirements as AS/NZS 1337.
Workers exposed to sources of radiation other than the sun e.g. welding, UV lamps and lasers refer to AS/ NZS 1336 for guidance on the appropriate filters to protect against these hazards.
Scheduling the time spent outdoors in peak UV period e.g. management of work rosters to avoid peak UV periods can also be an effective method to help to reduce exposure to UV for outdoor workers. UV can still cause damage if exposed for extended periods at levels below 3. Safe Work Australia therefore recommends sun protection – including sunscreen and eye protection –for outdoor workers, even on days when the UV index is below 3.
The Australian/New Zealand Standard for sunglasses and fashion spectacles does not cover either tinted or clear prescription glasses. However, some tinted or clear prescription lenses may provide protection from UV radiation. Certain lens materials and coatings provide UV protection. Lenses that darken when exposed to sunlight provide additional comfort by reducing glare, but do not necessarily filter out more UV radiation. Prescription glasses used for sun protection should be close-fitting and wraparound to provide maximum protection.
If you wear prescription glasses, ask your optometrist about the level of UV protection they provide.
Filters for direct observation of the sun during eclipses
The sun can pose a significant hazard from prolonged staring, as occurs during a partial eclipse with retinal burning and eclipse blindness resulting from lack of adequate protection. Only filters specially designed for viewing the sun and complying with ISO 12312-2 should be used when viewing an eclipse. These protectors should provide adequate coverage to ensure that no direct radiation from the sun can reach around the frame to their eye other than through the appropriate filter. During an eclipse of the sun, eye protectors must be worn whenever a part of the sun is not covered by the moon.
Fact sheet details
This fact sheet was developed by Cancer Council Australia's National Skin Cancer Committee and reviewed by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists. It was endorsed by Cancer Council Australia's principal Public Health Committee and published in May 2018.
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