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While sunscreen and skin care have been a popular topic in light of a recent FDA ruling on ingredient listing requirements, many of us neglect to give our eyes the protection they deserve. Cheaply designed sunglasses that we don’t mind scratching may seem like the way to go when they’re so easy to lose and scratch regardless of cost, but poorly designed sunglasses often leave our retinas exposed to harmful UV rays that can lead to macular degeneration, cataracts, and myriad other troubles down the line.
Then there are more immediate matters for concern, like snow blindness, especially when we’re near water, which is highly reflective in all its physical states. While snow blindness clears after a few days, it will leave you with the unpleasant sensation of having something along the lines of smoldering embers trapped inside your eyes, which is a mild nuisance at very best.
When choosing a pair of sunglasses — no matter how much you want to spend, and whether they’re polarized or not — make certain that the lenses have a UV rating of 400, which indicates that they effectively prevent the maximum wavelength of UV rays (measured in nanometers) from passing through to your own lenses.
Also, take into account frames. Full wrap-around frames are the best option for protection, as they keep out stray light that would otherwise have you squinting all day. But then they’re not exactly necessary (or savvy) on the street, and we get that, so we have thin-framed options below, too.
Polarized lenses add another level of protection by reducing glare brought on by reflection, or horizontal light. While not always necessary (and often frustrating, especially when trying to operate electronics), polarized lenses are generally worth having, even if you go for a cheap pair. The main difference with a cheap pair of polarized shades is that you won’t have the clarity of a high-grain glass or quality resin, which might leave you squinting a lot, and you’ll have a harder time seeing your phone screen while wearing them, which, in our opinion, is worth dropping a few extra dollars for most people.
Here are our top picks for the best polarized sunglasses you can buy:
Updated on 5/17/2019 by Les Shu and Owen Burke: Added Smith as our best pick for the great outdoors, added a “what else we considered” section, and updated links, formatting, and prices.