A Brief History of Sunglasses
Believe it or not, sunglasses are not a modern invention. Many centuries ago, Inuit people wore shades made of walrus ivory with thin slits in them to protect their eyes from the glare of the snow. And the Roman emperor Nero and Chinese judges wore gemstone lenses of smoky quartz to prevent eye contact.
Nowadays, sunglasses are as much a fashion accessory as an eyesight aid and have a wide range of uses, from sports sunglasses to darkened lenses to aid those with a sensitivity to bright lights.
The first sunglasses
Spending all their days under the blazing sun that was reflected off the acres of snow before them, the Inuit people used primitive sunglasses to protect their eyes from the bright light. This helped them when hunting and ensure they did not suffer from snow-blindness, something that can still cause problems for those enjoying winter sports.
In ancient China and Rome, members of the aristocracy and judges would wear sunglasses of polished gems to hide their expression and the first painting of a person wearing shades dates back to 1352.
These early sunglasses could only protect the eyes and the first prescription shades were developed in Italy in 1430. By the 1600s the benefits of sunglasses were widely recognised and in the 18th century James Ayscough began to experiment further with tinted lenses. He believed blue or green lenses could help to correct vision and by the 20th century sunglasses were common as a way to protect the eyes as well as being worn as a fashion statement. In the states they were then commonly known as “Sun Cheaters” and sunglasses were used a lot, not so much for the benefits of eye protection but to mask the identities of celebrities and give them some anonymity in the public domain.
Uses for sunglasses
As medical science advanced and optometrists further understood the dangers of bright light, sunglasses became vital for many people involved in all sorts of activities.
Just as the Inuit people protected their eyes from the snow with ivory shades, modern sports sunglasses perform the same task. Those who participate in winter sports should always wear sports sunglasses to ensure they do not suffer from snow-blindness when on the piste.
Players of all other outdoor sports and pastimes will also benefit from wearing sunglasses and prescription sunglasses can correct vision at the same time, meaning sports sunglasses are available to all.
Types of sports sunglasses
Far from the basic blocking of light, modern sports sunglasses feature a special coating to give UV protection and come in many different lens colours. Smoke or grey lenses are a great all-round choice, brown or amber lenses are particularly good for water sports, fishing and hunting, while blue lenses are ideal for people with sensitive eyes. Polarised and mirror lenses are great for sports where glare can be problematic.
The colour of the lens can affect sight and should be taken into consideration, with brown tints increasing contrast but causing some distortion, orange and yellow lenses boosting depth perception and blue shades the best for not distorting colours.
Sports sunglasses can offer UV protection to European standards and tough frames to ensure they won’t break in even the most demanding environments. The lenses should be shatterproof and a strap may be necessary for more active sports. Sunglasses for water sports are also specially adapted to float should they come off and have a vent to prevent fogging.
Benefits of sunglasses
As well as enabling better vision, modern sunglasses can protect the eyes in many other ways. Excessive exposure to light can damage the eyes and the ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause conditions such as cataracts or even cancer.
Experts advise wearing sunglasses that can block out 99-100% of UVA and UVB light, with wavelengths up to 400nm. Shades that meet this requirement are labeled UV 400 and go above and beyond what it required of the European Union standards.
Having already come a long way, the development of sunglasses continues. Nasa developed incredibly high-tech sunglasses using polarised lenses and gold coatings in strong but comfortable frames to protect the eyes of astronauts and there are shades available back on earth with built-in headphones and music players