Do you buy sunglasses because they provide good protection from ultraviolet radiation or because they look good on you?
Come on. Be honest.
If you tend to opt for style over substance, you're not alone.
A recent survey by the American Optometric Association found that half the people surveyed choose style and price over UV protection when buying sunglasses.
And I'm one of them. I'm partial to big Jackie O frames that cover half my face. I rarely give sun protection a second thought.
Overexposure to UV rays can lead to cataracts, cornea burns, degeneration of the cornea and other eye diseases.
"Sunglasses have become such a fashion statement, people buy them like they do shoes," says Stacey Dunn, a corporate trainer for Maui Jim sunglasses. "But you wear them for a reason. The eyes are the easiest to damage and hardest to fix."
The effects of the sun are cumulative, Dunn says. So the longer your eyes go unprotected, the greater the risk for eye problems down the line.
And it isn't just your eyes that need protection. Nearly 5 percent of all melanomas start in the eyelid, Tampa dermatologist Seth B. Forman says.
It's especially important for children to wear sunglasses because they tend to spend more time outdoors than adults do, Dunn says.
"Eye damage, like skin damage, starts young," she says. "It's never too early to start protecting your eyes from the sun."
Sunglasses should provide 100 percent UV protection, Dunn says. And she advises looking for UV protection that's built into the lens; many sunglasses have the UV protection applied as a coating, and it can come off over time.
Also look for sunglasses that provide enough coverage around the eye, so rays can't get in through the sides.
Polarized lenses are also important because they are designed to block out glare from surfaces such as water, glass and cement, and they allow the wearer to see more clearly.
"Especially here in Florida, where there's a lot of glare, they keep bad light out and keep the good light in," Dunn says. "Polarized lenses are the best lenses on the market today because the lenses are made like layers. And you can see colors beautifully."
Dunn says all Maui Jim sunglasses are polarized and range in price from $149 to $319, but you can find the lenses priced for less.
She sayslenses made of glass are superior to plastic because they're more scratch-resistant, but plastic lenses are more impact-resistant and lightweight.
Eye protection isn't something you should skimp on. So the next time you look for fashionable shades, make sure they offer good protection for your peepers. If you don't know the UV protection in your sunglasses, an optometrist can measure the blocking strength of your lenses, even cheap ones.
"People pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes without thinking twice," Dunn says. "Protect your eyes with a good pair of sunglasses, and they'll thank you in the long run."