Since Ray Ban first developed the anti-glare lens in 1936 (to protect pilots’ eyes in flight), sunglasses have been in the trenches in the war between ultraviolet (UV) radiation and the health of our eyes. But the war may be expanding to a new front — the winter months.
As parts of the country continue to shovel snow well into March, the health of our eyes may not be foremost on our mind. But fresh, white snow can reflect almost 80% of the UV rays from the sun, which means that in winter (or wintery conditions), the sky is not the only source of danger from damaging radiation.
Ed Greene, CEO of the Vision Council, says, “Cooler temperatures don’t mean that it’s time to put away your UV protection. Shielding the eyes from the sun in winter is just as important as doing it at any other time of year.”
Likewise, your skin should be protected from winter UV rays as well — even though less of your skin might be showing. Experts recommend “layering” a 60 SPF sunscreen: rub one layer in, let it absorb, and then rub another layer on. This will not, unfortunately, result in a 120 SPF concoction, but the multiple layers will provide much better protection than one layer alone.
Also, where you are in the world can affect your UV exposure. For every 1,000 meters over sea level, the UV intensity increases by about 16% in clear skies. This can be particularly helpful for skier and hikers.
And there’s much more than a sunburn at stake. Exposure to UV rays can also accelerate the formation of cataracts and increase your risk of macular degeneration (which is the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 65). Cataracts can be surgically removed — but macular degeneration simply cannot be reversed.