Have you noticed? Hats have come back in style! Thank goodness too because, in addition to looking totally cool, sun hats serve two very important health functions. They do a great job at protecting against cataracts and scalp sunburn!
What Are Cataracts?
The lens of the eye is normally clear. Just like on an old fashioned camera, the lens is designed this way so light can pass through the pupil to the retina. When cataracts form, the lens becomes cloudy making it harder to see. Cataracts also make the eyes more sensitive to light as they scatter light and create glare.
How Does UV Cause Cataracts?
When UV radiation strikes the eye, it interacts with the proteins in the lens. A 2014 study funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), a division of the National Institutes of Health, shows how UV causes oxidative damage to the eye lens through a process called glycation. This is where a sugar molecule attaches to a protein, without an enzyme to facilitate the process. This change in the chemical structure of the lens proteins cause the transformation from clear to cloudy.
How Do Sunglasses Compare To Sun Hats In Protecting Against Cataracts?
Unfortunately, many sunglasses that that are marketed as providing UV protection turn out to not actually offer that protection when tested by third parties. This includes high end $400 sunglasses labeled as "UV 400," which is supposed to be total UV protection. Consumers need to know that when it comes to sunglasses, labels lie frequently! In 2010, researchers reported in the Journal of Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics that more than twenty percent of all the sunglasses they tested were falsely labeled!
Quite the opposite to sunglasses, it's hard to mislabel a nice wide brimmed sun hat! You can see with your own eyes if your sun hat effectively shades your eyes and your face. In other words, you'll know the first time you wear your sun hat if it is working the way it is supposed to work!
There are other problems with sunglasses too. The UV protection of sunglasses, provided by their coatings, wears off or fades over time. Further, for most designs, the UV rays can get to your eyes through the sides, at least part of the time. However, neither of these problems are true for a good wide brimmed sun hat! A sun hat will provide the same amount of UV protection for as long as you have the hat! If the brim of the hat is wide enough, it will completely shade your eyes from UV rays from all angles.
Doesn't Hair Protect From a Sunburned Scalp?
The scalp can get a severe sunburn even with a thick full head of hair. Researchers at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia actually did an experiment to see how much sunlight would penetrate through hair of different colors and lengths. The color did not make a significant different. They found that if the UV protection of hair was measured like sunscreen, it would be like an SPF of only 5 to 17. Short hair performed better than long hair since long hair weighted itself down and exposed more of the scalp to the sun.
Sun Hats To the Rescue
Whether you have a bushy head of hair or you're going bald, a sun hat will protect you from getting a sunburn on your scalp as it will provide full blockage of harmful UV. On the other hand, consider this scary statistic from one UV study: approximately thirteen percent of all melanomas start on the scalp! This is probably because most people don't protect their scalp and they do not wear sunscreen on their scalp because it would be too difficult to apply through their hair. Wearing a sun hat is much easier and far more effective!
Take Guidance From a Population of People Who Really Know About UV
Australia has the highest intensity of UV radiation of any other populated place on Earth. This is why their people and government take UV protection more seriously than other nations. If you ever have a chance to watch the Australian Open, the big grand slam tennis tournament held in Melbourne Australia, pay close attention to how the people in the crowd, under the grueling Australian summer sun, protect themselves against UV. You'll surely note that sun hats are far more popular than sun glasses. You'll also spot some sun shirts and sun pants if you really pay attention to the crowd during the change overs!