Winter Sunglasses: How to Protect Your Eyes in Winter

Fact checked by Megan Soliman MD, MSc
Board-certified physician at Saba University School of Medicine

Sunglasses are without a doubt a summer staple. But what about winter? Should you wear shades when it’s cold and gray out or is it unnecessary? Let’s find out why sunglasses can be as crucial in winter to protect your eyes and what to look for when choosing the best pair of winter sunglasses.

Can you wear sunglasses in the winter?

If sunglasses are for protecting your eyes from the sun, should you wear them in winter, when there isn’t as much daylight? The answer is yes. Sunglasses are just as important during the colder months, if not more.

Looking at the sun for too long can cause retinal burns and make your eyes feel painful and uncomfortable. But the UV index is lower when it’s snowing and gloomy outside, so you may think there is no need for sunglasses. Yet, why do you often squint when you go outside in winter? The thing is, snow and ice reflect the light, so even overcast days can be bright. And when the sun comes out, it can be blinding!

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Sunglasses can protect your eyes from UV rays year-round. Remember that eye damage is accumulative, so you should definitely consider putting on a pair of shades in winter too, particularly when there is snow and ice.

3 Reasons to wear sunglasses in winter

Does it seem silly to wear sunglasses when you’re bundled up in a thick winter coat and a scarf? It shouldn’t. The sun can damage your eyes at any time throughout the year, and sunglasses protect your eyes and prevent vision problems.

Here are some of the reasons why you should wear sunglasses in winter.

1. Prevent snow blindness

Bright light can make your eyes feel uncomfortable. As already mentioned, snow intensifies the sunlight, and when you spend a long time out in the bright light without any eye protection, your eyes can get sunburned. This condition is called photokeratitis, more commonly referred to as snow blindness.

An older couple wearing sunglasses in winter while hiking

While snow blindness can usually heal on its own within a few days, it can still cause discomfort. Its common symptoms are:

  • Painful eyes
  • Burning or gritty sensation in the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Headache

If you start to notice these symptoms, it often means you’ve already been in the sun for too long. Wearing UV-blocking sunglasses, even on cloudy days, is the best way to protect your eyes against snow blindness.

2. Reduce eye strain

Your pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in darker environments. When you’re suddenly exposed to very bright light, your pupils can’t always adjust to the new circumstances quickly, prompting you to squint. It can lead to eye strain and headaches.

Sunglasses can reduce the amount of light that reaches your eyes.

Since the sun is lower in winter, on sunny days, you may experience more glare when you’re driving. So it’s another reason to keep your shades on in winter — they can block the glare and help you see the road without straining your eyes.

3. Protect from eye irritation

The cold wind in winter can dry out your eyes and cause irritation. If your eyes start to water when you go outside on a cold day, wearing sunglasses may help. Other than shielding you from the harsh wind, they can also prevent dust and debris from getting in your eyes.

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If you wear contacts, sunglasses are even more important. In winter, you may already experience more discomfort than usual due to dry air. And you know how painful it can be getting a spec of dust in your eye when you have contacts on. Throwing on a pair of shades when you step outside can stop your lenses from drying out too quickly and prevent eye irritation.

How to choose the best sunglasses for winter

When it comes to choosing the best pair of winter sunglasses, it depends on your needs. If you plan to be active in winter, you may consider getting a pair of sunglasses that are sturdy enough to handle your outdoor activities while still protecting your eyes from wind and the sun’s glare.

A pair of winter sunglasses on a table

One thing to look into are polarized lenses. They have a special coating that stops UV rays from penetrating through your glasses and reaching your eyes. Although this is crucial year-round, polarized sunglasses should be your go-to if you plan to spend a lot of time in the snow, for example, on a ski slope. Polarized lenses can also help you see better in the bright light — you don’t need to squint as much with them on! — and can prevent eye strain.

Winter sports enthusiasts should also consider the shape of their winter sunglasses.

Opt for wraparound frames and larger lenses that give you more coverage and protection against wind and dust.

The tint of the lenses is a personal preference, but some tints could work better than others in certain conditions. For example, brown lenses are great for very sunny conditions, while gray or green lenses offer the best contrast. If you’re unsure which lenses to choose, schedule an appointment with an eye care professional. They may recommend the best lenses and frames for your needs and suggest other ways to keep your eyes protected during the winter months.

Final thoughts

The snow and ice reflect more light than grass and even sand, so it may seem quite bright, even when the sun’s not out. Sunglasses in winter can help prevent eye strain and snow blindness, especially if you like spending a lot of time outside. Dry, watery eyes are also pretty common during colder months. A pair of shades can shield your eyes from winter winds and keep dust and other debris away.

Choosing the best sunglasses for winter depends on your needs. If you live in a city and don’t spend as much time out in winter, your go-to summer sunglasses can work just as well. But if you like winter sports and long walks in the snow, consider getting a pair of glasses with larger, polarized lenses — they offer more protection against the sun’s glare and cold, drying wind.

November 7, 2022