By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Our drought isn’t just causing extremely dry conditions. We’re barely getting cloud coverage some days, and that’s led to long hours under the brightest star in the sky.

So how should we protect our eyes from the sun? And which type of sunglasses work best? WCCO spoke with Dr. Susie Hemann, an optometrist with Downtown Eyes in Minneapolis.

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“The best way to protect your eyes is to wear 100% UV sunglasses. Those are gonna have UVA and UV blocking,” Hemann said.

She also adds that people should look for the “100% UV” sticker on lenses. But is it safe to assume all sunglasses have UV protection?

“In general, if you’re getting it from a pretty reliable store, and especially if you’re getting it from an eye clinic, they’re all gonna have that. If you get them in promotional deal or something like that, I would have a little more caution there,” Hemann said.

Another sticker often seen on lenses will verify the sunglasses are polarized. Does that make them better at protecting eyes? Dr. Hemann says not necessarily.

“The polarization doesn’t affect the amount of UV that’s being filtered. They’re still gonna have that 100% UV, but it’s gonna offer a lot more clarity in glare situations,” she said.

(credit: CBS)

Polarized lenses are helpful to Minnesotans, especially those who spend time on out lakes in the summer and winter when the sunlight reflects off water and ice. They can also be helpful when driving. As for seeing colors, polarized lenses allow them to remain vibrant by cutting out glare.

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How important is the darkness of lenses?

“That’s a personal preference,” Hemann said.

The UV protection remains the same, however gray-tinted lenses will appear darker than amber/rose tinted. Also lacking importance is the price you pay. The sunglasses at a gas station offer just as much as protection as a designer brand.

Just because you’re wearing sunglasses doesn’t mean you should skip wearing a hat. Hats can protect from UV rays getting around the frames and into your eyes, while also offering shade for your skin. And just because you’re wearing a hat doesn’t mean you should skip wearing sunglasses.

“Because of the reflections off the water or the snow, that can still cause damage, those rays are still reflected [into your eyes and face],” Hemann said.

While it might feel like the sun is tougher on our eyes in the evening because it’s closer to the horizon, the UV index is actually at its highest during midday, and it’s especially stronger during the summer months because of how the earth is tilted toward the sun.

Dr. Hemann added that wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day remains important. UV rays can go through clouds and cause sunburn, meaning they can also damage eyes.

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Sunglasses also do more than just protect your eyes. Dr. Hemann said 5% to 10% percent of skin cancers develop on eyelids.

Jeff Wagner