Cheap Sunglasses or Designer Shades?

By Lou Carlozo, Green Dad columnist for dealnews

If you're old enough to remember Corey Hart crooning "I wear my sunglasses at night" over a cheesy synthesizer beat — and consider yourself lucky if you're not — then chances are your friends in mullet haircuts and leg warmers said, "That's about the dumbest opening line to a song I've ever heard." As for me, I found myself asking what the heck Corey is singing in the next line anyway... "So I can, so I can, something something something."

Anyhow, Green Dad doesn't advise wearing sunglasses at night, unless you want to bump into furniture or become the butt of every '80s joke out there. But during the day, it's a great idea, especially when spring and summer glare gets its harshest. Excessive exposure to UV light from sand or pavement reflections can burn the eye's surface. Think of it like sunburn on the skin, and as the damage accumulates over the years, you can do some real harm to your eyesight without even knowing or feeling it.

But there's good news: The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends quality sunglasses as a preventative, provided they screen out 99% to 100% of UV light. Now the complicated part: From the dollar store to the chic boutique, sunglasses choices abound. So is cheap necessarily a bargain? And for that matter, do designer lenses do a better job protecting the eyes? You'll have it made in the shade after reading these tips, I promise.

1) Look for a UVA-UVB protection rating. Imagine going out on a bright day without any sunscreen, then staying out for hours. Sounds foolish, right? Well, that's exactly what you'll do to your eyes if you overlook UVA and UVB protection in your sunglasses. And guess what? Those cute shades you just bought for $5 might have cool frames that make you look like John Lennon. But you'll look more like Blind Lemon Jefferson if they don't pack the protection you need.

Look for a tag or label that says your lenses block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB radiation. The label should read either "UV 400" or "100% UV protection." Don't be fooled if the glasses merely say "UV protective." That's not good enough — and in fact, may mean they're no good a all.

2) For maximum UV protection, try wraparound glasses. Wraparounds are shaped to keep the light from shining around the frames and into your eyes. Studies have shown that enough UV rays enter around ordinary eyeglass frames to reduce the benefits of protective lenses. Large-framed wraparound sunglasses can protect your eyes from all angles. Among the bargains, we're digging these Kenneth Cole Reaction shades, which block out 100 percent of all UVA and UVB light, for $35 at Antares Pro. That's more than half off the $75 retail price.

3) For the best eye protection, get a prescription pair. The FDA regulates sunglasses to the extent that manufacturers who sell over-the-counter, nonprescription pairs can only claim they reduce eye strain and eye fatigue due to glare. Other labels that claim UV protection need proof and proper labeling.

4) For the best non-prescription lenses, reach for Foster Grants. Sam Foster can claim the title as the originator of shades; he started selling them from an Atlantic City, NJ, Woolworth store in 1929, and by 1930, sunglasses were all the rage. That's quite the reputation to keep up, and the company that started it all still offers inexpensive, affordable eyewear, much of it in the $20 range. In its Classic line (a look a la Buddy Holly), which you can get at Walgreens, Foster Grant offers three choices, all for $20. Did I mention that Elvis used to wear Foster Grants? That's a hunka-hunka heavyweight endorsement.

5) Another sign of quality: polarization. It's not essential, but many wearers prefer these types of lenses, which employ polarizing films to help reduce the glare when light bounces off water, highways and other reflective surfaces. Looking for a hot deal here? Try these Scin Polarized Sunglasses for $10, plus $7 shipping and handling. You'll save $20 off the lowest total price we could find anywhere else.

6) Are the lenses tapered? Many cheap shades have inferior optical quality. Good lenses require careful manufacturing control that includes "decentering," or tapering the lenses. Inexpensive plastic lenses will strain your eyes. You might not notice it at first, but after a while, subtle fatigue or even severe eyestrain and headaches will set in.

7) Designer lenses may not be designed for optimum value. Looking for proper eye protection, it's easy to go too far in the other direction and dish out $300 or more for overpriced shades. How do you know? Approach fancy designer brands with caution, especially if the company is better known for handbags than eyewear. You're probably paying more for the name and the logo than for the quality of the lens and glasses. There's no reason to spend huge bucks on designer shades when Maui Jim, Revo, Kaenon and other brands make guaranteed protective sunglasses for half the price. You can always check out Robert Earle Howells' for more info on recommended brands.

8) Deals for sunglasses abound. You can get good discounts at sites such as, and The online boutique offers short-term deals that can last just 24 hours. Act quickly and you can snag yourself some primo designer shades for up to 50% off. Also keep an eye out for sunglasses deals on this site. Of particular note, Sunglass Hut, has a spring sale that will net you up to 50% off on their line, plus free shipping.

If you're skittish about shopping for glasses online, you can always visit an eyewear boutique or store and look at various brands first. And think of it this way: You couldn't possibly look any goofier than Corey Hart.

Lou Carlozo is dealnews' new Green Dad columnist. He was most recently the managing editor of and, before that, a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter— @LouCarlozo63. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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Sad to see this good opportunity wasted -- (1) In the winter, the sun is lower in the sky & more likely to shine or reflect directly into your face; also, UV reflected off snow is far-more intense than that from sand; (2) Polycarbonate lenses are inherently opaque to UV rays, but other plastic (& glass) lenses require a coating to block any significant amount of UV -- trendy tints, polarized lenses & silvering aren't reliable indicators of how much UV protection you're getting; You're NOT protected unless the numbers on the tag say you are; (3) Even cool, overcast days "secretly" expose you to a lot of UV rays; folks with photochromic ("Transitions") eyewear know this because their lenses will still darken noticeably even on cloudy days; (4) A great deal of the UV rays hitting your face will be reflected off objects & surfaces around you; for good protection, pick lenses that are large-enough to also protect you from UV coming around the tops, bottoms or sides of your lenses. That's particularly important advice for Transitions prescription lens wearers, because current frame fashions are pushing really small lenses which don't offer adequate coverage against UV exposure.
Easton: um, yes, of course they get referrer's compensation for the links. Did you really think they built and maintained the website out of the goodness of their hearts?
Good advice, but I dislike how you pass your opinion of Foster Grants being the best off as an editorial fact. Also, does dealnews receives a commission from the links? I would like to know.