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Dotting the Eyes

May 15, 1997|JEANNINE STEIN

Sunglasses have long been a status symbol--think Jacqueline Onassis' owlish specs, Jack Nicholson's retro '50s-style frames and Dennis Rodman's modern wraparounds.

But style shouldn't supplant function. Sunglasses should be worn as early as infancy to guard eyes against harmful UV rays.

Can a $5 pair from the flea market do that? Maybe, says Robert Lee, an assistant professor at the Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton.

"Generally, you get what you pay for," Lee says. "You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars, but be careful of that $2 pair. They're typically stamped out of a machine and probably not optically perfect," allowing rays to sneak in. Studies have found a strong link between UV radiation and damage to the lens and cornea, as well as the development of cataracts.

While no standardized sunglasses labeling exists, two Texas scientists are lobbying for manufacturers to create an eye protection factor, similar to the sun protection factor that appears on sunscreen packaging.

When choosing sunglasses, Lee offers these guidelines:

* Choose glasses by established manufacturers with labels that claim the product blocks 99%-100% of UV-A and UV-B rays.

* Make sure the lenses are perfectly matched in color and otherwise flawless. Check by holding the glasses at arm's length and looking through the lenses to a straight line in the distance, such as a door frame. Move the lenses across the line to see if any distortions appear.

* Frames should cover the eyebrows and extend down to the cheekbone. Wraparound styles can block out some peripheral glare, but most eye damage comes from light entering head-on.

* Wear sunglasses even when it's overcast.

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