Ultraviolet Light (a.k.a. UV rays) damages ocular tissues causing all sorts of conditions: photokeratitis and conjunctivitis (snow blindness), premature cataracts (lens cloudiness), and solar retinophathy (retina damage). Eye doctors always recommend that you buy glasses with a material or coating that blocks UV light, but what about contacts?
Because the contact lens doesn’t completely cover your eyes, is it even important for your contacts to have UV blocking? This panel of expert eye doctors concludes that yes, it is. I think it’s especially true if your sunglasses do not have a wrap to stop UV coming in from the side. The UV light on a standard frame will sneak through the side and reflect off the back lens surface and onto/into your eyes. UV blocking contacts filter out these peripheral rays.
These graphs from Acuvue.com illustrate the difference in UV blocking ability between several popular brands of contacts:
UVA blocking ability of select soft contact lenses
UVB blocking ability of select soft contact lenses
Most contacts don’t block UV except Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue brand of lenses. The reason is most soft contacts are created in a solid plastic and then hydrated at the end. Part of their process is to use UV light to cure the lens, so it would be impossible for these manufacturers to create a UV blocking lens. Acuvue, on the other hand, hydrates the lens from the onset, so they can build UV blocking into the material because they don’t need UV light curing for their polymer.
I know a guy who works for Acuvue who told me about a time his daughter went snow skiing and refused to put on sunglasses or goggles. At the end of the day, her eyes were completely red from UV light passing through the clouds, bouncing off the snow, and inflaming her eyes. When she took off the contacts that evening, she had a white ring where the contact lens overlaps from the cornea onto the conjunctiva. Her Acuvue lenses had spared her from getting a photokeratitis! (However, her photo-conjunctivitis was still pretty painful and required some eye drops to treat it.)
My message is, if all things are equal, contact lens wearers should consider getting contacts that block UV light. Also, everyone should wear sunglasses with a side wrap to decrease UV exposure to areas in and around your eyes. Your skin, conjunctiva, and lens will be healthier and look younger for longer. Start your kids out young with sunwear because this is the most important time to prevent UV exposure.
Sources for more information:
(Note: not everyone can wear Acuvue lenses due to fit on their eye or prescription not available in their powers. Ask me during your eye exam if Acuvue lenses are a possibility for your eyes.)