Many people find direct sunlight too bright to be comfortable, especially when reading from paper in direct sunlight. In outdoor activities like riding, skiing and flying, the eye can receive more light than usual. It has been recommended to wear these kind of glasses whenever outside to protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to the development of a cataract. Sunglasses have also been associated with celebrities and film actors primarily due to the desire to mask identity, but in part due to the lighting involved in production being typically stronger than natural light and uncomfortable to the naked eye.
Since the 1950s sunglasses have been popular as a fashion statement, especially on the beach.
Hiding one's eyes has implications in face-to-face communication: It can hide weeping, being one of the signs of mourning, makes eye contact impossible which can be intimidating, as in the stereotype of the guardian of a chain gang, or can show detachment, which is considered cool in some circles. Darkened sunglasses of particular shapes may be in vogue as a fashion accessory. Note that normal glasses are very rarely worn without a practical purpose — curiously, they can project an image of uncool nerdiness that sunglasses do not have. The impact on nonverbal communication and the cool image are among the reasons for wearing sunglasses by night or indoors. People may also wear sunglasses to hide dilated or contracted pupils or bloodshot eyes (which would reveal drug use, or recent physical abuse (e.g. punching in face, particularly in ladies), or to compensate for increased photosensitivity.
People with severe visual impairment, such as the blind, often wear sunglasses in order to avoid making others uncomfortable — not seeing eyes may be better than seeing eyes which seem to look in the wrong direction. Those whose eyes have an abnormal appearance (for example due to cataract) or which jerk uncontrollably (nystagmus) may also do so.
Visual clarity and comfort
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.
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) can cause short-term and long-term ocular problems such as photokeratitis, snow blindness, cataracts, pterygium, and various eye cancers. Medical experts often advise the public on the importance of wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV. In the European Union, a CE mark identifies glasses fulfilling quality regulations. In the preparation for solar eclipses, health authorities often warn against looking at the sun through sunglasses alone.
There is no demonstrated correlation between high prices and increased UV protection. A 1995 study reported that "Expensive brands and polarizing sunglasses do not guarantee optimal UVA protection."  The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has also reported that "[c]onsumers cannot rely on price as an indicator of quality" . One unscientific survey even found a $6.95 pair of generic glasses with slightly better protection than Salvatore Ferragamo shades .
More recently, High energy visible light (HEV) has been implicated as a cause of age-related macular degeneration, and some manufacturers design to block it. Sunglasses may be especially important for children, as their ocular lenses are thought to transmit far more HEV light than adults (lenses "yellow" with age).
Some sunglasses also pass ANSI Z87.1 requirements for basic impact and high impact protection. These are voluntary standards, so not all sunglasses comply, nor are manufacturers required to comply. In the basic impact test, a 1 in (2.54 cm) steel ball is dropped on the lens from 50 in (127 cm). In the high velocity test, a 1/4 in (6.35mm) steel ball is shot at the lens at 150 ft/s (45.72 m/s). In both tests, no part of the lens can touch the eye.
Water sunglasses, also know as surf sunglasses, surf goggles and water eyewear consist of eyewear specially adapted to be used in turbulent water, such as the surf. Many sports utilize these sunglasses including surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, wakeboarding, kayaking, jet skiing and water skiing.
The color of the lens can vary by style, fashion, and purpose, but for general use, green, grey, yellow, or brown is recommended to avoid or minimize color distortion which would be dangerous when, for instance, driving a car. Grey lenses are considered neutral because they do not enhance contrast or distort colors. Brown and green lenses cause some minimal color distortion, but have contrast-enhancing properties. Red lenses are good for medium and lower light conditions because they are good at enhancing contrast but causes color distortion. Orange and yellow lenses have the best contrast enhancement at depth perception but cause color distortion. Yellow lenses are commonly used by golfers and shooters for its contrast enhancement and depth perception properties. Blue and purple lenses offer no real benefits and are mainly cosmetic. Clear lenses are used typical to protect the eyes from impact, debris, dust, or chemicals. Some sunglasses with interchangeable lens have optional clear lenses to protect the eyes during low light or night time activities. Debate exist as to wether "blue blocking" or amber tinted lenses may have a protective effect.
Some models have polarized lenses (made from Polaroid or a similar material) to reduce glare caused by light reflected from polarizing surfaces such as water as well as by polarized diffuse sky radiation (skylight)
Some models use a gradation where the top of the lens (where the sky is viewed) is darker and the bottom is transparent.
A mirrored coating can also be applied to the lens. This mirrored coating reflects some of the light when it hits the lens before it is transmitted through the lens making it useful in bright conditions. These mirrored coatings can be made any color by the manufacturer for styling and fashion purposes. The color of the mirrored surface is irrelevant to the color of the lens. For example, a gray lens can have a blue mirror coating, and a brown lens can have a silver coating. Sunglasses of this type are sometimes called mirrorshades.
Any of the above features: color, polarization, degradation, and mirroring, can be combined into a set of lenses for a pair of sunglasses. With the introduction of office computing, ergonomists can recommend mildly tinted glasses for display operators to increase contrast. Corrective lenses can be darkened to serve the same purpose, or secondary clip-on dark lenses can be placed in front of the regular lenses. Some lenses graually darken with bright light and lighten in darkness. These are known as photochromic lenses.
Sunglass lenses are made from either glass or plastic. Plastic lenses are typically made from acrylic, polycarbonate, or CR-39. Glass lenses have the best optical clarity and scratch resistance, but are heavier than plastic lenses. They can also shatter or break on impact. Plastic lenses are lighter than glass lenses, but are more prone to scratching. They do however, offer more resistance to shattering than glass. Polycarbonate lenses are the lightest, and are also almost shatterproof, making them good for impact protection. CR-39 lenses are the most common plastic lenses, due to their low weight, high scratch resistanc, low transparency for ultraviolet and infrared radiation, and other advantageous properties.
For sunglasses that also include vision correction, see also corrective lens.
Frames are generally made from plastic, nylon, a metal or metal alloy. Nylon frames are usually used in sports because they are light weight 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 participating in sporty 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 ear pieces and the bridge over the nose can be textured or have a rubber or plastic material to hold better. The end of the ear pieces are usually curved so that they wrap around the ear; however, some models have straight ear pieces. Oakley, for example, has straight ear pieces on all their glasses.
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 together, and those that are a single lens with ear stems on each side.
Some sports-oriented sunglasses have interchangeable lens options. Lenses can be easily removed and swapped with a different lens, usually a different colored lens. The purpose of this is to allow the wearer to easily change lenses when light conditions or activities change. The reason for this is because 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 have a single lens or shield that covers both eyes. Styles that use two lenses also exist, but less common.
Onassis glasses are very large sunglasses worn by women. This style of sunglasses is said to mimic the kind most famously worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. While originally worn by Onassis in the 1960's, the glasses eventually became popular with younger American girls around the year 2000. Big sunglasses have maintained their popularity though 2007. They have also expanded their demographic reach to adult women throughout the world. Modern day celebrities use these to hide from paparazzi.
Mirrorshades are sunglasses with a mirrored coating on the surface. Their popularity with police officers in the United States has earned them the nickname "cop shades". The two most popular styles for these are dual lenses set in metal frames (which are often confused with Aviators), and "Wraparound" (a single, smooth, semi-circular lense that covers both eyes and much of the same area of the face covered by protective goggles, combined with a minimal plastic frame and single piece of plastic serving as a nosepad). Wraparound sunglasses are also quite popular in the world of extreme sports.
Aviators are sunglasses with an oversized teardrop-shaped lens and thin metal frames. This design first appeared in 1936 by Ray Ban for issue to U.S. military aviators. Their popularity with pilots, military and law enforcement personnel in the United States has never wavered. As a fashion statement, models of aviator sunglasses are often made in mirrored, colored, degregated, and wrap-around styles. In addition to pilots, Aviator-style sunglasses gained popularity with young people in the late 1960's and continued to be very popular through the 70's and early 80's. Aviators again became popular in the first decade of the 2000's, along with renewed interest in retro-fashion.
Teashades were a type of psychedelic wire-rim sunglasses that were often worn, usually for purely aesthetic reasons, by members of the 60's drug counterculture. The common teashade is supported by pads on the bridge of the nose and has a thin wire frame. A uniquely-colored or darkened glass lens was usually preferred, perhaps to hide bloodshot eyes from cannabis use, but probably more often simply as a fashion statement.
The term has now fallen into disuse, although references can still be found in literature of the time. Teashades are briefly referenced during a police training video in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Sunglasses with round lenses and leather blinders that protect the eyes by blocking the sun's rays around the edges of the lenses. Because they provide extra protection from bright sun and light reflected by snow and ice, they are often used when traveling across glaciers or snowfields.
"My Husband Beats Me Sunglasses"
A popular term or slang word used to describe large, dark glasses which started in the western suburbs of Sydney, Australia. The term comes from the sunglasses a beaten wife would wear to hide her black eyes. Most take this term lightly and see it as no more than black humour. No groups are yet to take offense to the term. There are reported cases of young people, both male and female shopping for "my husband beats me sunglasses" and using that term to describe what they want to retail staff.
It is said that the Roman emperor Nero liked to watch gladiator fights with smaragdus. These, however, appear to have worked rather like mirrors. 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. Contemporary documents describe the use of such crystals by judges in Chinese courts to conceal their facial expressions while questioning witnesses.
James Ayscough began experimenting with tinted lenses in spectacles in the mid-18th century. 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 of his.
In the early 1900's, the use of sunglasses started to become more widespread, especially among the pioneering stars of silent movies. But early movie stars did not wear sunglasses as much to avoid being recognized than to protect their eyes from the harshly bright lighting of some early film studios, often taking their sunglasses off only when stepping in front of the camera to shoot a scene.
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.
Hall & Oates saxaphonist Charles DeChant wore sunglasses in his appearances in the Hall & Oates music videos. Charles was often referred to by the band as Charles "Mr. Casual" DeChant due to his fashion accumen.
Partial list of people commonly associated with sunglasses
- Neo (Character from The Matrix).
- John Petrucci (Guitarist of Dream Theater).
- Sam Gill (Australian saxophonist, known for his large collection).
- Bono (Lead singer of U2).
- P.Diddy (Hip-Hop/Rnb Artist).
- Liam Gallagher (Lead singer of Oasis).
- Roy Orbison, singer.
- Chuck Amato, football coach.
Other names for sunglasses
There are also various words referring to eyepieces with darkened lenses:
- Sun spectacles is a term used by some opticians.
- Spekkies is a term used predominantly in southern Australia.
- Sun specs (also sunspecs) is the shortened form of the above term.
- Sunglasses is a term in common usage in Britain and North America, and it is also used when preceded by "pair of".
- Sun-shades can also refer to the sun-shading eyepiece-type, although the term is not exclusive to these. Also in use is the derivative abbreviation, shades.
- Dark glasses (also preceded by pair of) - generic term in common usage.
- Sunnies is Australian and New Zealand Slang
- Specs is a common name for sunglasses in North America.
- Smoked Spectacles usually refers to the darkened eyepieces worn by blind people.
- Stunna Shades
- Hater Blockers
- Locs, Maddoggers- very dark lensed sunglasses.
- Sakamoto Y, Sasaki K, Kojima M, Sasaki H, Sakamoto A, Sakai M, Tatami A. "The effects of protective eyewear on glare and crystalline lens transparency. Dev Ophthalmol. 2002;35:93-103. PMID 12061282.
- Cancer Council Australia; Centre for Eye Research Australia."Position Statement: Eye Protection." August 2005.
- Leow YH, Tham SN. "UV-protective sunglasses for UVA irradiation protection." Int J Dermatol. 1995 Nov;34(11):808-10. PMID 8543419.
- Glazer-Hockstein C, Dunaief JL. "Could blue light-blocking lenses decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration?" Retina. 2006 Jan;26(1):1-4. PMID 16395131
- Margrain TH, Boulton M, Marshall J, Sliney DH. "Do blue light filters confer protection against age-related macular degeneration?" Prog Retin Eye Res. 2004 Sep;23(5):523-31. PMID 15302349
- American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Information from Your Eye M.D.: Sunglasses." November 2003.
- Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Book XXXVII, Ch. 16