How Being on the Water Affects Your Eye Health, According to Experts—And the Best Polarized Sunglasses for Protection

Photo: W+G Creative x Bajio
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By now, you surely know that sunglasses are essential for protecting your eye health. Like sunscreen to skin, or toothpaste to teeth, sunglasses are key for protecting those precious peepers, and optometrists agree you should be wearing them every. single. day. (Yep, even when it's overcast.)

But not all sunglasses are created equally, nor can all sunglasses handle the bright, glare-y conditions that come with bodies of water. The sun's rays are one thing, but whether you're an avid angler, paddler, or just heading out for a casual beach day, you're gonna want to make sure you have a pair of polarized sunglasses handy.

Experts In This Article
  • Anita Mistry, optician and vision community manager for the contact lens brand, Waldo
  • Jonah Berman, OD, optometrist based in New York City
  • Renato Cappuccitti, Renato Cappuccitti is the vice president of operations and prescriptions at Bajio.

"If you plan on being around water a lot, it would be recommended to go for polarized lenses, as these block out the light in one direction, reducing glare and giving more clarity to your vision," explains Anita Mistry, optician and vision community manager at contact lens retailer, Waldo. "A larger lens would be preferable as well as a wrap-around frame with thick sides. When the frame wraps around the face, it helps to prevent light from entering from the sides of the frame to the eye."

How the water affects your vision

It all comes down to glare. Yes, being out in the bright sun on the beach or on the lake exposes you, your eyes, and the rest of your body to the sun, especially if there's no shade around. But Mistry explains that the glare bouncing off the waves and flat stretches of sand is what can do our eyes dirty. "Due to the presence of sand and water, UV is reflected off the surface causing secondary exposure to the eyes. Sand and water account for 15 percent and 10 percent of extra UV exposure, respectively," she says.

If you've ever been to a white, sandy beach on a bright, cloud-free day, you know just how bad a glare can get. Strain and headaches aside, it's not good for your eyeballs. "Glare results in the light scattering in the eye making it difficult to see and can make [eyes] water," Mistry says. It can cause temporary blindness because [when] the cells of the retina—rods and cones—become saturated with light, the rods and cones release large amounts of signaling chemicals which can damage the back of the eye when over-exposed to bright light."

Youch. Mistry says all UV exposure is cumulative, and can build up over time, increasing the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and eyelid cancers. Not to mention the risk of sunburn (which, yes, your eyes can get sunburnt) and fatigue. "Symptoms of sunburn include a gritty feeling, eye pain, headache, watery eyes, redness, and blurry vision, it could also make your eyes sensitive to light," she says. "Dehydration can make the eyes feel dry and uncomfortable. Vision can also be blurry and can give you a headache."

What if I have dark eyes? Am I more protected?

Eh, not necessarily. Both Mistry and Jonah Berman, OD, FAAO, optometrist for vision retailer, LensDirect, agree that while those with lighter blue, gray, or green eyes have less pigment to block UV, it doesn't mean those with darker eyes are in the clear.

"Even those with darker eyes should wear sun protection as iris pigment alone provides insufficient protection," says Dr. Berman. "Choose sunglasses that thoroughly cover your eyes and surrounding area so as to protect as much as possible. Consider frames larger than your normal daily eyewear but which fit you comfortably, or wrap-around frames that provide protection from the sides as well as straight ahead."

The best polarized sunglasses for being on the water

This brings us back to the main point—polarized lenses are best for being on the water. These lenses have a special chemical coating applied to them designed to filter visible light, or white light, blocking that bouncy, distracting light you often get from being near water. So without further ado, here are the best polarized sunglasses that'll protect your peepers this summer, no matter how salty or sandy you get.

Bajio, Paraiso - Glass Lens — $249.00

Frame options: Black, brown tortoise, and pink tortoise.

Lens options: Polycarbonate ($199) or glass ($249) in a variety of regular and mirrored hues.

These polarized sunglasses by Bajio are specifically designed for anglers who spend long hours at water and sand flats, so you know they’re the real deal.

Fun fact: they’re not only polarized, but they’re also designed to filter out pesky blue light, too. (Something average polarized lenses won’t do.) Renato Cappuccitti, the brand’s vice president of operations and prescriptions, explains that blue light—the same, harmful UV we’re exposed to from screens—can reduce our overall visual clarity. “Bajío LAPIS™ color enhancing polarized lens technology blocks 100 percent of UV light and uses proprietary techniques to virtually eliminate high energy blue light, or ‘bad blue,’ and allowing all the good blue light to reach your eye, while filtering out harsh yellow light.”

Can confirm: Bajio’s Paraiso frames and lenses are excellent for being on the water. The round frames are large enough to cover your eye and rounded slightly in the corners to prevent light from leaking in. The glass lenses (which are virtually scratch-proof) make staring at the water totally comfortable, even on the brightest days.

Costa, Caldera Polarized Sunglasses - Untangle Collection — $176.00

Frame options: Gray + blue rubber, gray + gray rubber, plum.

Lens options: Four glass lens hues.

Costa has been a leader in the water sports vision game for years, and is known for its high-performance, eyesight enhancing polarized shades made for the waves.

The Caldera ticks off our experts’ boxes: they feature a large frame with wider arms to block out light on the side, they feature 100 percent UV protection, and they’re completely polarized. Costa lenses are also coated with a scratch-proof material, so you won’t have to worry about accidental drops or scrapes. Better yet, these frames are part of the brand’s sustainable Untangled Collection, made from 97-100 percent of recycled fishing nets, meaning they’re cleaning up the very seas you’re made to use them on.

Spy Optic, Logan Sunglasses - Happy Boost Lens — $180.00

Frame options: Matte black or translucent gray

Lens options: Various polycarbonate lens options in various hues

If you’re really concerned about light leaking through the side, look no further than Spy Optics Logan frames. The wrap-around construction provides ample protection from UV and light sneaking through the sides, covering you where you need it most.

As for the lenses, they provide 100 percent UV protection, 99 percent polarization, and—in some lenses—come with the brand’s signature Happy Boost technology, which ensures crystal clear vivid color no matter what the elements bring. Not to mention, it lets in that “good” blue light Cappuccitti referred to earlier, which is known to boost your mood and alertness. Nice.

Blenders Eyewear, M Class X2 with Float2O — $49.00

Frame/lens combinations: Sea Foam, Firestorm, Tide Storm, Waterhaven, and Salty Beach

You don’t have to completely break the bank to get a good pair of polarized sunglasses. These surf-ready shades by Blenders Eyewear will do the trick, and only cost $49.

It’s not just the protective lenses that make these sunglasses so stellar. They’re also loaded with water-ready technical features, coated in a special saltwater coating and engineered to float, so if they fall overboard or get knocked over by a wave, you won’t have to worry about losing them.

Revo, Taylor - Eco-Friendly Frames — $199.00

Frame/lens combinations: Brown/evergreen, black/black, caramel/champagne, black/terra.

Revo, which has been making Grade A sunglasses since 1985, is known for their high-tech, NASA-approved sunglasses. (The brand’s lenses uses the same coating that protects space satellites from the sun.) Whether you’re planning on spending the summer out on the lake or only have a few beach days planned, there’s a style for you that’ll protect your peepers all day long.

We’re big fans of the brand’s eco-friendly Taylor frames, which are hand-made from a completely plant-based bio-acetate that’s better for you, and the Earth. As for the lenses, they pack a punch and are designed to filter UV, HEV (aka, visible light) and blue light.

Maui Jim, Keokea Polarized Sunglasses — $242.00

Frame options: Gloss black, matte black, gray, tortoise, red + black tortoise

Lens options: Five MauiBrilliant hues that are “clear as glass, just one-third of the weight.”

Looking for a polarized pair of shades you can wear everyday? Get Maui Jim’s Keokea sunnies. They’re featherlight, made using flexible nylon and the brand’s proprietary lenses that are just as clear as glass, but feel like nothing’s there.

Despite their next-to-nothing feel, they’re powerful. Maui Jim is another legacy sunglass brand with polarized lenses you know will protect your vision. If not, they’re protected by a two-year warranty, so if they break or fail, the brands got you covered.

Maho, Capetown Panthera — $150.00

Frame options: Three tortoise options: Capetown Havana, Capetown Bengal, and Capetown Panthera

Maho makes another great option for relaxing beach days and laidback lake days. They come with a polarized lens to cut down on visible white light, all while protecting your peepers from UVA/UVB rays. We particularly like the Capetown Panthera for its cute, flattering shape and even cuter design—the blonde tortoise shell bottoms stand out from your typical black shade.

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