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The importance of wearing sunglasses in snowy conditions

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Yeah, it’s a little cold, but spending time in snowy conditions can be lots of fun. With the right shoes you won’t slip, with the right clothes you won’t freeze and with the right shades your eyes won’t get overexposed to harmful UV. As it should be, we don’t even think about justifying investing in proper shoes and clothes but not everyone thinks about sunglasses as a necessity. I’d like to tell you why that should change and why everyone should wear sunglasses in snowy conditions.

UV is stronger at higher altitudes:

Higher altitudes = a thinner atmosphere and that means there is less UV radiation being filtered out. According to the World Health Organization, with every 1000 meters increase in altitude, UV levels increase by 10-12%. I live in the Bay Area and my elevation is 46’, when I arrived at Donner Pass summit near Lake Tahoe I hit an elevation of 7,057’. Doing the math (I Googled it), that equates to an altitude change of about 2,100 meters, and in turn a 20–24% increase in UV. That’s a pretty big change.

Consider this, sand on a beach reflects back about 15% of UV, Sea Foam bounces back about 25% and snow reflects back up to 80% of UV! That’s a staggering number. So, not only are you getting hit by the UV coming straight down on you from the sun, you’re also getting hit from below because the snow is reflecting that UV right back at you. So just when you thought those shoes and clothes were enough, BAM, you get blindsided by the UV.

Sunburn on your eyes:

Have you heard of the term “snow blind”? Well, snow blindness is essentially a sunburn on your cornea and much like sunburn on your skin, it can be very uncomfortable and in some extreme cases it can be a bit scary. See, you may not feel the symptoms of snow blindness until it’s too late. If you’ve been out in the snow without glasses for a few hours and your eyes are feeling a little “puffy” then you may already have some inflammation of your cornea. A few hours after that you may experience blurry vision and itchiness. Wouldn’t it be better to forego all that discomfort?

The right sunglasses:

Though any sunglasses with UV protection would be better than no sunglasses at all, there are some features you should keep in mind when selecting your shades.

Wrap around eyewear is great to keep the light from entering in through the sides of the eyeglasses. Smith, Maui Jim and Oakley eyeglasses are usually designed this way. Aviators and Wayfarers may look cool, but they let a lot of peripheral light in.

Polarized lenses are defiantly a plus. Polarization is a filter which drastically reduces the harsh glare that is produced when light hits a flat surface. Patches of ice and snow can create some intense glare so if you can, get your sunglasses with polarized lenses.

Mirror coated lenses are another nice option. The coating will bounce off a significant amount of light from the lenses front surface. Mirrored lenses can be especially beneficial when the lens color is a bit lighter. Colors such as amber, Green, Rose and yellow offer increased contrast but they don’t keep out as much light as a dark grey, so the mirror can help balance it out.

Anti-Glare on the backside of the lens reduces the amount of light that can bounce off the back of the lens and towards your eyes. You’ll really want this if your sunglasses of choice don’t wrap around to block peripheral light.

These may seem like a lot of options to try and remember; the good thing is most performance sunglasses manufacturers have these lens coatings on virtually all their eyewear. Smith, Maui Jim and Oakley are just of few of the manufacturers that take great pride in the quality of their lenses.

In Conclusion:

You can, but you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on sunglasses that will protect your eyes when you’re having a good time in the snow. As long as you make sure your eyewear is giving you good coverage and complete UV protection then you’ll be doing ok.

If you have young children, please don’t forget about protecting their eyes too. It’s never too early to establish good eye care habits. Polaroid has a fantastic kids line and the price point is affordable. Plus, all the glasses have polarized lenses! I’ve personally purchased Polaroid Kids and Rayban Kids sunglasses for my boys and I can vouch for the durability of the frames and quality of the lenses.

I hope that this information was useful. I’ve never met a person that said they regret wearing sunglasses but I have met people that regret not wearing them sooner. Don’t be the latter.


Rayban I'm wearing in the video:

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