Victoria Beckham loves them as they "can make even the most simple outfit chic".And she's not alone. Miranda Kerr, Alexa Chung and Elle Macpherson have all been spotted sporting shades.But there's more to the celebrity's favourite accessory than fashion – sunglasses help safeguard our vision. Whether on holiday or at home, shielding your eyes from harmful UVA and UVB rays is as important as applying sunscreen to protect your skin – the only difference is that with your eyes there are no warning signs like sunburn, so the damage can go unnoticed until it is too late.
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By wearing the right sunglasses you can reduce your risk of developing problems by preventing UV damage, which has been linked to two of the leading causes of reduced vision in the over-55s. "Our sight is very precious and we should do all we can to try to keep our eyes as healthy as possible," says optometrist Daska Barnett. "Extended exposure to harmful UV rays increases the risk of developing cataracts and may contribute to age-related macular degeneration. These conditions may not manifest for years, at which point the damage is already done and it is too late to reverse the effects of the sun."She believes that although we are aware of the dangers of UV damage, we are still putting fashion over safety when it comes to choosing sunglasses. The trouble is, simply wearing shades with UVblocking lenses is not enough. "Most frame styles do not prevent rays from reaching eyes through the sides, top and bottom of the glasses," says Daska. To stay safe, opt for wraparound sunglasses that absorb 99 to 100 per cent of both UVB and UVA rays. And if you need vision correction, Daska recommends additionally choosing UV-blocking contact lenses – most contact lenses do not have UV protection, so it is important to talk with an eye care professional.
Damage limitationThe following steps will help ensure you protect your own and your family's eyes from the sun: • Make sure your sunglasses bear the CE mark and British Standard (BS EN 1836:2005) and a UV400 label, and state that they offer 100 per cent UV protection • Choose sunglasses that fit well and sit close to your temples to minimise the possibility of any stray UV light reaching your eyes • Be wary of light-coloured shades. They offer little or no protection and can actually contribute to damage, as they provide enough shade to cause your pupil to dilate, letting in even more rays • Always remember to wear your sunglasses in strong sunlight and particularly when around reflective surfaces such as sea, sand and at high altitude when skiing • If you wear prescription glasses don't forget that you can get these made up with added sun filters, to wear as sunglasses on sunny days. • Make wearing sunglasses a habit from an early age. You can buy children's sunglasses that conform to the British Standard, so don't be tempted to purchase gimmicky fun glasses that offer inadequate protection. Wraparound styles are ideal as they shield the light from the sides as well as the front and tend to stay put no matter how energetically your child is playing. • In addition to sunglasses, look for protective contact lenses. Acuvue claims to be the only major brand that blocks more than 97 per cent of UVB and 82 per cent of UVA rays across its range. For details, visit acuvue.co.uk/uvprotection.