Sunglasses or sun glasses are a form of protective eyewear designed primarily to prevent bright sunlight and high-energy visible light from damaging or discomforting the eyes. They also help cancel out harmful UV rays from the sun. They can sometimes also function as a visual aid, as variously termed spectacles or glasses exist, featuring lenses that are colored, polarized or darkened. In the early 20th century they were also known as sun cheaters (cheaters being an American slang term for glasses).
Many people find direct sunlight too bright for comfort during outdoor activities. Healthcare professionals recommend eye protection whenever the sun comes out to protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation (UV) and blue light, which can cause several serious eye problems. Sunglasses have long been associated with celebrities and film actors primarily from a desire to mask their identity. Since the 1940s sunglasses have been popular as a fashion accessory, especially on the beach.
In prehistoric and historic time, Inuit peoples wore flattened walrus ivory "glasses," looking through narrow slits to block harmful reflected rays of the sun.
It is said that the Roman emperor Nero liked to watch gladiator fights with emeralds. These, however, appear to have worked rather like mirrors. Sunglasses made from flat panes of smoky quartz which offered no corrective powers but did protect the eyes from glare were used in China in the 12th century or possibly earlier. Ancient documents describe the use of such crystal sunglasses by judges in ancient Chinese courts to conceal their facial expressions while questioning witnesses.
James Ayscough began experimenting with tinted lenses in spectacles in the mid-18th century, around 1752. These were not "sunglasses" as such; Ayscough believed blue- or green-tinted glass could correct for specific vision impairments. Protection from the Sun's rays was not a concern for him.
Yellow/amber and brown-tinted spectacles were also a commonly-prescribed item for people with syphilis in the 19th and early 20th centuries because sensitivity to light was one of the symptoms of the disease.
In the early 1900s, the use of sunglasses started to become more widespread, especially among stars of movies. It is commonly believed that this was to avoid recognition by fans, but an alternative reason sometimes given is that they often had red eyes from the powerful arc lamps that were needed due to the extremely slow speed film stocks used. The stereotype persisted long after improvements in film quality and the introduction of ultraviolet filters had eliminated this problem. Inexpensive mass-produced sunglasses were introduced to America by Sam Foster in 1929. Foster found a ready market on the beaches of Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he began selling sunglasses under the name Foster Grant from a Woolworth on the Boardwalk.
Polarized sunglasses first became available in 1936, when Edwin H. Land began experimenting with making lenses with his patented Polaroid filter.
Sunglasses can improve visual comfort and visual clarity by protecting the eye from glare.
Various types of disposable sunglasses are dispensed to patients after receiving mydriatic eye drops during eye examinations.
The lenses of polarized sunglasses reduce glare reflected at some angles off shiny non-metallic surfaces such as water. They are popular among fishermen because they allow wearers to see into water when normally only glare would be seen.
Sunglasses offer protection against excessive exposure to light, including its visible and invisible components.
The most widespread protection is against ultraviolet radiation, which can cause short-term and long-term ocular problems such as photokeratitis, snow blindness, cataracts, pterygium, and various forms of eye cancer. Medical experts advise the public on the importance of wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV; for adequate protection, experts recommend sunglasses that reflect or filter out 99-100 % of UVA and UVB light, with wavelengths up to 400 nm. Sunglasses which meet this requirement are often labeled as "UV400." This is slightly more protection than the widely used standard of the European Union (see below), which requires that 95 % of the radiation up to only 380 nm must be reflected or filtered out. Sunglasses are not sufficient to protect the eyes against permanent harm from looking directly at the Sun, even during a solar eclipse.
More recently, high-energy visible light (HEV) has been implicated as a cause of age-related macular degeneration; before, debates had already existed as to whether "blue blocking" or amber tinted lenses may have a protective effect. Some manufacturers already design to block blue light; the insurance company Suva, which covers most Swiss employees, asked eye experts around Charlotte Remé (ETH Zürich) to develop norms for blue blocking, leading to a recommended minimum of 95% of the blue light. Sunglasses are especially important for children, as their ocular lenses are thought to transmit far more HEV light than adults (lenses "yellow" with age).
There has been some speculation that sunglasses actually promote skin cancer. This is due to the eyes being tricked into producing less melanocyte-stimulating hormone in the body.
The only way to assess the protection of sunglasses is to have the lenses measured, either by the manufacturer or by a properly equipped optician. Several standards for sunglasses (see below) allow a general classification of the UV protection (but not the blue light protection), and manufacturers often indicate simply that the sunglasses meet the requirements of a specific standard rather than publish the exact figures.
The only "visible" quality test for sunglasses is their fit. The lenses should fit close enough to the face that only very little "stray light" can reach the eye from their sides, or from above or below, but not so close that the eyelashes smear the lenses. To protect against "stray light" from the sides, the lenses should fit close enough to the temples and/or merge into broad temple arms or leather blinders.
While non-tinted glasses are very rarely worn without the practical purpose of correcting eyesight or protecting one's eyes, sunglasses have become popular for several further reasons, and are sometimes worn even indoors or at night.
Sunglasses can be worn to hide one's eyes. They can make eye contact impossible, which can be intimidating to those not wearing sunglasses; the avoided eye contact can also demonstrate the wearer's detachment, which is considered desirable ("cool") in some circles. Eye contact can be avoided even more effectively by using mirrored sunglasses. Sunglasses can also be used to hide emotions; this can range from hiding blinking to hiding weeping and its resulting red eyes. In all cases, hiding one's eyes has implications for nonverbal communication.
Fashion trends can be another reason for wearing sunglasses, particularly designer sunglasses. Sunglasses of particular shapes may be in vogue as a fashion accessory. Fashion trends can also draw on the "cool" image of sunglasses.
People may also wear sunglasses to hide an abnormal appearance of their eyes. This can be true for people with severe visual impairment, such as the blind, who may wear sunglasses to avoid making others uncomfortable. The assumption is that it may be more comfortable for another person not to see the hidden eyes rather than see abnormal eyes or eyes which seem to look in the wrong direction. People may also wear sunglasses to hide dilated or contracted pupils, bloodshot eyes due to drug use, recent physical abuse (such as a black eye), exophthalmos (bulging eyes), a cataract, or eyes which jerk uncontrollably (nystagmus).
Frames are generally made of plastic, nylon, a metal or a metal alloy. Nylon frames are usually used in sports because they are lightweight and flexible. They are able to bend slightly and return to their original shape instead of breaking when pressure is applied to them. This flex can also help the glasses grip better on the wearer's face. Metal frames are usually more rigid than nylon frames, thus they can be more easily damaged when the wearer participates in sport activities, but this is not to say that they cannot be used for such activities. Because metal frames are more rigid, some models have spring loaded hinges to help them grip the wearer's face better. The end of the resting hook and the bridge over the nose can be textured or have rubber or plastic material to improve hold. The ends of the resting hook are usually curved so that they wrap around the ear; however, some models have straight resting hooks. Oakley, for example, has straight resting hooks on all their glasses, preferring to call them "earstems".
Frames can be made to hold the lenses in several different ways. There are three common styles: full frame, half frame, and frameless. Full frame glasses have the frame go all around the lenses. Half frames go around only half the lens; typically the frames attach to the top of the lenses and on the side near the top. Frameless glasses have no frame around the lenses and the ear stems are attached directly to the lenses. There are two styles of frameless glasses: those that have a piece of frame material connecting the two lenses, and those that are a single lens with ear stems on each side.
Some sports-optimized sunglasses have interchangeable lens options. Lenses can be easily removed and swapped for a different lens, usually of a different colour. The purpose is to allow the wearer to easily change lenses when light conditions or activities change. The reasons are that the cost of a set of lenses is less than the cost of a separate pair of glasses, and carrying extra lenses is less bulky than carrying multiple pairs of glasses. It also allows easy replacement of a set of lenses if they are damaged. The most common type of sunglasses with interchangeable lenses has a single lens or shield that covers both eyes. Styles that use two lenses also exist, but are less common.