Spare Your Eyes and Your Wallet When Buying Sunglasses

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eHow Money Blog

Pretty woman in the carYou need to wear sunglasses for the same reasons you need to wear sunscreen. The sun can cause burning, wrinkling and other damage to your skin over time, and it is just as damaging to your eyes and eyelids.

Exposure to UV radiation can cause permanent damage to the eye and lead to conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration that seriously impair your vision, says Mark Jacquot, an optometrist and senior director of eye care at LensCrafters. “Overexposure to bright sunlight can cause photokeratitis, or sunburn of the eyes. While this is rare, you still want to make sure you have the proper protection.”

The eyelids are one of the most common sites for non-melanoma skin cancers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancers of the eyelid account for 5 to 10 percent of all skin cancers.

In an effort look cool while protecting peepers and their surrounding skin, many consumers look to designer sunglasses to block out the sun. But designer shades don’t just shield your eyes from the harmful UV rays. With price tags of $310 to $450 (without prescription lenses), Prada, Bulgari and other designer shades can burn a hole in your budget. Even Ray-Ban, Revo and other shades a little lower on the fashion scale can cost a few hundred dollars.

To spare the budget while still looking cool, many people shield their eyes — sometimes unknowingly — behind designer imposters typically available at a fraction of the price. But underspending on sun-blocking spectacles can be pricey, too.

Eyeing a deal
The first rule of thumb when shopping for designer sunglasses: If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re eyeing a pair of discounted designer sunglasses, beware. You might be wasting your money.

“Any deeply discounted ‘designer’ product is suspicious, as most designer goods do not have dramatic price reductions,” says Gustavo Bernhoeft, CEO of the Brazilian eyewear brand Chilli Beans. Those Chanel or Prada shades that seem like a steal could be a waste of your money and endanger your eyes if they’re made with inferior materials.

And if a merchant is trying to pass off imposters as designer sunglasses, your vision could be in jeopardy. Cheap replicas are rarely constructed with quality material or offer the same health benefits as their pricier counterparts. Knockoffs and low-quality lenses slipped into discounted frames might not offer the UV protection that designer lenses (or those purchased from a trusted retailer) do. And that can damage your eyes because dark lenses that don’t block UV rays cause your pupils to dilate letting in even more damaging UV radiation, says Jacquot.

That damage can be costly, resulting in the need to spend hundreds or thousands to treat eye diseases and preserve your vision.

Cheap or inferior lenses might not be as resistant to breaking as lenses purchased from a reputable retailer. And if a tiny lens fragment lands in your eye, the resulting injury could cost you big bucks and even your vision.

So what’s a fashionista to do?

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Protecting your eyes and your budget
Instead of the designer or price, Jacquot says one of the most important criteria when considering sunglasses is UV protection. “Always choose lenses that offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection,” he says.

Whether they’re in designer frames or plain-Jane sunglasses, splurging on polarized lenses — instead of the frames — is one of the best ways to protect your eyes and ultimately your pocketbook, says Cindy P. Wang, optometrist and California Optometric Association spokeswoman. “Polarized lenses can specifically block out the most prominent light rays while maintaining clear vision.”

Snagging sunglasses for less
A dollar-store budget doesn’t mean you have to forsake fashion and look away from designer, or designer-looking, sunglasses. The polarizing protection eye health experts recommend won’t necessarily break the bank. Merchants like J.C. Penney and Bass Pro Shop sell sunglasses with polarized lenses for as low as $32. Many other current styles and fashionable frames can be found for less than $100. You also can find budget-conscious bargains on designer shades on eBay, SmartBargains.com and dozens of other online retailers.

Most sunglasses are created equal
While the logos, style and colors may vary, most mid-range to high-end sunglasses have the same origin. Burberry, Chanel, Tiffany, Versace and other brands are all made by the same company: Italian manufacturer Luxottica.

About 70 percent of the sunglasses giant’s manufacturing occurs in Italy, with the balance happening in the United States and China. The company manufactures many of the brands under license, but they also produce in-house brands Ray-Ban, Oakley, Revo and others.

In many instances, you’re simply paying for a different name on frames, not for higher-end materials or construction. A pair of Ray-Ban frames isn’t any more or less than those bearing the name Chanel. They’re not made with materials lacking in quality or using inferior engineering. They simply have a different, less-expensive name.

So splurging on a pricey pair of shady specs won’t necessarily equate to owning a higher quality brand of eyewear.

Know who’s selling to you
Shopping at a big-name retailer can block you from savings. Not only does Luxottica manufacture a majority of designer brands, it also owns many of the retail outlets you’re likely to buy sunglasses from, including Target Optical, Pearle Vision, Sunglass Hut, LensCrafters, Sears Optical and many other retail locations across the U.S.

So the eye doctor emphasizing the need for prescription sunglasses and the sales clerk helping you choose that oh-so-stylish pair of designer sunglasses may be employed by the manufacturing titan making the frames.

If you’re shopping for shades online, experts stress the importance of knowing a retailer’s return policy before clicking through to your online shopping cart. You want the protection of being able to return an item in the event a merchant attempts to pass off a fake set of shades as designer sunglasses.

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

 

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