Growing up with an optometrist as a father meant that I never went out in the sun without wearing sunglasses—a habit that has remained deeply ingrained in my brain. If I ever dared to leave the house without them, I'd invariably be met with a "Where are your sunglasses?" from my father. Nowadays, I'm more likely to leave my house without my keys than a pair of sunglasses. How's that for conditioning?
Since I grew up in Southern California's famously sunny Laguna Beach, I essentially lived in sunglasses. And here's the best part: My dad let me have free reign in his optical shop. As a fashion-obsessed teen, I always wanted to be at the office when the sales reps for the luxury brands came in. I was convinced I needed whatever frames I saw in glossy Dior, Prada, or Gucci ads, and in the mid-aughts, that meant the bigger, the better. These days, I gravitate toward smaller retro styles (like the Sign Language Eyewear frames pictured above that I scored from my friend who unearthed her mom's eyewear and jewelry brand from the 90s and started selling the deadstock). It turns out when it comes to protecting your eyes from the sun, you can't go wrong either way.
I spoke to my dad about how to look for the most protective sunglasses and then shopped out the cutest pairs from brands we know and trust. Read on for useful shopping tips and 26 stylish pairs for all your socially distant walks and selfies this summer.
How to Shop for Protective Sunglasses, According to an Optometrist
"Well in today's day and age, if you buy a good product, it's going to protect you from ultraviolet light. If you get stuff from a flea market, you don't know what you're getting. You're not going to know by looking at a pair that it protects you from the sun, because it's all based on trust," says my father, Michael Cook, OD, of i2iOptometry in Laguna Beach and Irvine.
"A reputable manufacturer is going to list on the product that it protects from all UVA and UVB. UVB rays are the shortwave ultraviolet lights that cause sunburns, and they're the ones that cause damage inside the eye. And just like causing a burn on the skin, it's going to damage the inside of your eye, but the inside of your eye doesn't have any pain receptors, so you don’t know it's happening.
"If there's a label that says protects from all UVA/UVB or the packaging material says it's polycarbonate, then you know you're protected. With cheaper products, vendors can sell them for less because they're making them for cheap. When it comes to cheap stuff, you get what you pay for. They'll protect you for as long as they last, which may not be very long."
Matters of Personal Preference
"Color is a matter of personal preference, and the intensity of the color—whether it's brown, green, or gray—doesn’t matter because it's the absorption of ultraviolet light rays that protects you, not the color or darkness of the lens. You can even have clear lenses that protect you from UVA/UVB.
"Gray and green are pretty neutral, so they're not going to change the colors you see. Psychologically, people think more light comes through brown lenses because they make colors warmer. I think they make sunsets prettier because you get more on the red end in a brown lens than you do with a gray lens.
"Some people think mirrored lenses are just fashion, but mirrored sunglasses reflect and block light, so that's why they're even darker.
"Polarized lenses remove reflected light off of a flat surface. When you go to the beach, you get a glare because the ocean is flat or when you're driving, glares also come off other cars, road surfaces, and store windows. Polarization doesn't offer you any greater light protection; it just reduces glare. But there is a thing about it: You can't look at your cell phone with polarized lenses, because it'll be black. You have to turn your phone 35 degrees to be able to see it."
Tips for Trying On Sunglasses
"If you're really color sensitive, you should look at different colored fabrics in the store. The best thing to do is to take the sunglasses outside (with the store's permission!) and look at different colors. If there are flowers, look at the flowers with the gray versus the brown lenses, and you'll see the difference. They're both going to protect you from ultraviolet light the same.
"Your sunglasses can be any shape, but in terms of size, you need to try them on. If they're really small, then light will get around the lens into your eye. Put them on and look in the mirror: They should be big enough to cover from your brow to your cheekbone, basically. You can get ridiculously big, that doesn’t matter."
"Maui Jim advertises themselves as being the best sunglasses ever made," my dad says. "They not only have the lens material, but they have multiple coatings. I think there are 15 layers on a Maui Jim lens. They're considered very high-quality."