Made in the Shade

Winter eye-protection tips. 

As a young kid in northern Minnesota, where it’s gray nine months of the year, I never quite understood why my mom was always wearing sunglasses. Shades in the summer, of course. However, in the middle of a frozen January with the sun barely making a guest appearance, my mom could be found shoveling, ice skating, or sledding with her winter uniform fixture: her sunglasses. She insisted it was too bright, but in the dull gray of winter, I wasn’t convinced.

Cue Alanis Morisette’s "Ironic." I’m now telling you about the importance of winter sun protection and will lend you a pair of sunglasses if you need them. Mom was right—sunglasses make a difference all year. As I dig out my winter gear and get ready for the season ahead, I make sure my ski goggles and sunglasses are ready for winter wear. I’m not taking my chances on missing an epic day due to photokeratitis.

Ultraviolet rays, both UVA & UVB, can have harsh effects on your eyes, just as they do for your skin. If you’re applying SPF to your skin, reach for your sunglasses along with the sunscreen. The sun’s rays can be damaging year-round, including cloudy days, and are more intense mid-day, on reflective surfaces such as water, snow, and ice, and at higher elevations. Let’s face it, in Montana, the sun is bright no matter what.

Sun protection should be a family affair as eyes of all ages are susceptible to harmful sun exposure. Also, listen up, you light-eyed adventurers: if you have blue, green, and hazel eyes, you’re more prone to harmful sun exposure than those with darker eyes. If your family is skiing at Bridger or taking the dog out on the Gallagator, include eye protection when you’re bundling up.

Exposure to UV rays can cause both temporary and prolonged damage to your eye health. Snow blindness, or photokeratitis, causes temporary irritation and vision loss. It would be a bummer to miss a pow day because you didn’t protect your eyes! Unprotected sun exposure may also increase the risk of developing cataracts, macular degeneration, growths on the eye, and in some instances, ocular melanoma.

Keeping your eyes protected from ultraviolet rays can be really easy. Remember to wear proper UV protection when you’re enjoying the outdoors, whether the sun is shining or hiding behind the clouds. Choose sunglasses and goggles that are labeled 100% UV protection (which can also be labeled as UV400, or UVB/UVA protection). Sunglasses that wrap around your face provide peripheral protection and block damaging rays from hitting your eyes behind the lenses. Hats with wide brims also add an extra layer of sun protection—the trucker hat in your pack does more than cover up helmet hair. Make these items as essential as your down puffy and your eyes will be made in the shade this winter.

Whitney Caldwell is an optician and can help with all of your seasonal eyewear needs at Bozeman Optical.

Goggle-Tan Contest
One upside of protecting your eyes from the sun is developing a mean goggle tan, and we’re after the best in town. Check out our Goggle-Tan Contest rules and submit your entry today.