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Sunglasses Protect Eyes, Provide Image

As the harmful rays from the sun wreak havoc on the eyes, the thin layers of shaded glass that serve as protection have other functions.

Never mind the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that penetrate the eyes, damaging the cornea and burning our skin and speeding the process of cataracts. George Mason student Katherine Patterson feels "cooler" behind her sunglasses.

"You look cooler if you're driving with sunglasses on. Sometimes if I forget them, it's harder to drive," the Annandale resident said.

Springfield resident Derick Miller agreed on the fashion aspects.

"There's a look I try to go for, the slender sleek sunglasses," he said.

Nathan Woolwine goes for a bigger style. The shape of his head matters, he thinks, but he pays attention to ultraviolet protection as well. Sunglasses come with ratings for the amount of UV protection they provide.

"I wear the big state-trooper type. I don't like the narrow sunglasses. It depends on the shape of your head," Woolwine said.

Preston Holt goes with "Oakley Sea Wires," at $135 a pair.

"I have a small head. They keep the sun out of my eyes and look stylish at the same time," he said, but didn't pay attention to the UV rating.

"There's a little sticker on them. My mom really pays attention to detail when it comes to that stuff," Miller said.

Patterson's mother also plays an influential role as far as glasses are concerned.

"My mom has large sunglasses with like 110 UV protection, but they're not cool sunglasses," she said.

DR. ALEN NAMAZI of LensCrafters in Springfield Mall notices the incidence of cataracts, one of the eye problems resulting from the ultraviolet rays from the sun, especially in older people, and the disease is more common in the tropical areas, he said.

"Older age is in a higher risk of cataract. Sunglasses will prevent the progression of cataract. It can get pretty severe. It's like looking through a foggy window," he said.

Namazi also commented on the UV-protection stickers that all the sunglasses seem to have. These claims are not regulated by any monitoring group, and sometimes, as in the case of the $10 colored fashion glasses, it's merely the colored lenses that provide a little protection.

"It doesn't mean having the signs are really UV protected. It's just changing the color. That increases the amount of light going to the eye," he said.

According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Web site, "Use caution when selecting sunglasses because they vary widely in the amount of protection from ultraviolet radiation. A peel-off label on the lens indicates its UV rating, or percentage of ultraviolet rays blocked by the sunglasses (the best rating is 100). If no information is provided by the manufacturer, the sunglasses may not offer any added protection." It also recommends, "Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. The majority of sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side."

MOVIES AND STARS have played a big role in the evolution of sunglasses. From the prison guard's mirrored aviator-style sunglasses in "Cool Hand Luke," to Tom Cruise's "Risky Business" shades, stardom played a roll. Woolwine mentioned movies such as "Men in Black" and "Mission Impossible," as influences, while Patterson and Miller thought "The Matrix" played a bigger role.

"Definitely ‘The Matrix.’ That was late '90s," Miller said.

"Whatever people see in television and movies is what they're going to buy. It's what they emulate," Woolwine said.

Paula Chhim and Gizette Garrett work at the NY Sunwear kiosk in Springfield Mall. Their cart is full of colorful glasses, all for $10 and all claiming to have some kind of UV protection.

"They always ask if the UV is good. They do care about that. A lot of people ask for the Jennifer Lopez glasses with the diamonds on the side. We ran out of them," Chhim said.

While a $20 pair of sunglasses claims to provide full ultra violet protection, some people spend much more for the look and feel. Patterson's range is around $45 for a pair, while Miller spends around $30 for his sunglasses.

"I wouldn't pay $100, but I know people that would," Patterson said.

Shaghayegh Madani likes a style she's seen Brad Pitt wear. She's spent up to $200 in the past for a pair.

"If I go buy sunglasses, it just has to look good," she said, noting the whole process of primping and prancing in front of the mirror at the sunglass store.

"I'd spend a pretty fair amount of time," she said.

At the Sunglass Hut in Springfield Mall, salesman Chris Havrilla noted the glasses Michael Jordan has been known to wear. They are Oakley "X-Metal" glasses, priced at $1,500 a pair, and Jordan's name is mentioned on the tag.

Sonja Teel was in Sunglass Hut looking for accessories.

"I don't buy expensive sunglasses. I usually buy the $25 pair at Hecht’s. Style is a factor too," she said.

"Yannigan" York of Springfield has 12 pairs at home.

"I wear sunglasses because they are a cool accessory. It's a good artistic application of negative space," he said.

Fellow Springfield resident Jack Sfara thinks they have an alternate purpose.

"Girls wear them so their boyfriends don't realize they're checking out other guys," he said.