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Our eyes and ultraviolet radiation

Enki’s commitment to excellence

Here at Enki, we continue to do extensive research into the topic of UVR and the damage it can cause to our eyes and skin. Below are answers to questions that we asked ourselves. We continue to expand our awareness of the subject and develop high-performance eyewear that gives you the ultimate protection and style. Being designers who are UV-conscious, fusing style and protection are at the forefront of our creative process.

What is ultraviolet (UV) radiation?

There are a few ways the sun sends energy to Earth: rays of ultraviolet radiation, which we can't see or feel; visible light; and infrared radiation, which we feel as heat. While we do need some exposure to sunlight to help our bodies make vitamin D, too much is dangerous.

Ultraviolet is invisible violet light just beyond our visual perception; radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or high-speed particles. The main source of UV is the sun, and it's a byproduct of a nuclear reaction at its core. This energy travels to Earth at light speed in the sun's rays, along with infrared rays, radio waves, X-rays, and gamma rays. All of this energy arrives as solar radiation and is part of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum, which has electric and magnetic fields associated with it.

UV consists of three different wavelengths: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

UVC is the most damaging to our skin, but it is mostly absorbed by the earth's ozone layer.

UVB rays affect the outer skin (epidermis), causing sunburn, blistering, and potentially skin cancer. Concerning our eyes, it damages the cornea and conjunctiva, which is the skin of the eyeball, causing painful eye burn photokeratitis (snow blindness). UVB is also associated with pinguecula and pterygium (surfer's eye).

UVA makes up around 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth. It has a longer wavelength, penetrating deep into the inner layers of the skin and eye, passing through the cornea, and affecting the lens and macula. Overexposure is associated with cataracts and macular degeneration. UVA is also associated with skin cancer and premature skin aging changes, including wrinkle formation or crowfeet around the eyes (photoaging). UVA penetrates windows and cloud cover.

Eye conditions and diseases related to UV damage

1. Aging

Not only are ultraviolet rays harmful to your skin and eyes, but they're also responsible for around 80% of the visible signs of aging. Unprotected sun exposure causes an increase in our skin's free radicals, which damages the DNA cells and weathers the skin, causing wrinkles and sunspots to form in the delicate skin around your eyes (ocular structure). Furthermore, squinting due to the sun can cause crow's feet (photoaging) and deepen wrinkles.

2. Photokeratitis (corneal sunburn)

The cornea is like the skin of our eyes that covers the pupil. When we are overexposed to UV rays, our eyes burn just like our skin. When this occurs, the cornea becomes inflamed, resulting in a painful condition called photokeratitis. This can be caused by looking directly at the sun or even bright surfaces like snow, water, and sand where UV light is being reflected. Symptoms can appear within 30 minutes to 12 hours and last up to 48 hours. Snowblindness is also a form of photokeratitis.

3. Cataracts

Cataracts are a gradual clouding of the eyes that destroys vision. The condition is commonly associated with aging; however, scientists know that those who have had constant exposure to UV rays will develop it at a more rapid rate. Cataracts that affect vision are surgically removed and then replaced with an artificial lens that restores vision. Research shows that a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables reduces the onset of cataracts.

4. Pinguecula and Pterygia (surfers eye)

Pinguecula and Pterygia are growths on the surface of the eyeball, which is the conjunctiva and cornea, the clear skin that covers the white area of the eyeball and the pupil.

Pinguecula is a deposit of protein, fat, or calcium. It is a yellowish, raised growth on the conjunctiva. Like pterygium, it will often form in the corner of the eye, close to the nose. Pterygium is a growth of fleshy pink tissue (with blood vessels) on the conjunctiva that can start as a pinguecula. If left untreated, it may grow large enough to cover part of the cornea, affecting vision, and, for this reason, may need to be surgically removed. Both are known to be caused by overexposure to UV light from the sun, wind, and dust, hence the name Surfer's Eye.

5. Macular degeneration

The macula is located in the central area of the multi-layered retinal tissue inside the back of the eyeball. It is made of millions of light-sensing cells, giving us our central vision, which allows us to see clearly. In macula degeneration, the tissue composition within the macula is disrupted, resulting in loss of central vision, blurred vision, and eventually blank spaces in sight. It is most common in people aged 50 and over; some treatments can slow the progression, but currently, there is no cure.

Although the impact of ultraviolet on the macula is not fully understood, there is evidence that long-term sun exposure can damage the retinal tissue where the macula is located.

6. Skin cancer around the eyes

UV exposure is a known cause of eyelid cancer, and those who have spent a lot of time in the sun are potentially at risk. If found, early eyelid cancers can respond well to surgery and follow-up care; however, if left untreated, they are extremely dangerous and disfiguring and can potentially cause tissue damage and even blindness.

Around 5% to 10% of all skin cancers occur in the eyelid, and although there are many different types to keep it simple, we have listed the three most common below.

  • Basal cell carcinomas (BCC) are round cells found under squamous cells in the lower epidermis. BCCs can spread to the eye itself and surrounding areas; they account for around 90% of eyelid cancers.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) are flat-like scale cells that make up most of the top layer of the epidermis. SCCs are aggressive and can quickly spread to nearby tissues. They account for around 5% or more of eyelid cancers.
  • Melanoma. The deepest layer of the epidermis contains melanocytes, which make melanin that tans the skin. Melanoma starts in these melanocytes and is the most dangerous of the three types. Their exact cause isn't clear; however, scientists know that exposure to UV from the sun or artificial sources like tanning lamps will increase your risk of developing.

Always wear your sunglasses.

Short-term UV exposure and eye sunburn can be uncomfortable. Long-term, the damage is cumulative, meaning it builds up over our lifetime and can permanently affect our eyesight. Always look for lens protection that is UV400, meaning it blocks 100% of UV rays.

Wearing UV-protective sunglasses whenever you are outside will significantly reduce your risk of UV-related conditions and diseases.

Our UV protection sunglasses

All Enki eyewear is 'UV400', which refers to UV rays at the highest end of the UV spectrum, up to the 400-nanometre wavelength. Sunglasses with this level of protection block an even broader range than the CE and British Standard models, making them the ultimate protection for your eyes.

Why are our sunglasses tested to Australian standards?

The Australian Standard for Sunglasses and Fashion Spectacles (AS/NZS 1067:2003) is the most rigorous standard in the world. Sunglasses tested to these requirements offer more UVR protection than sunglasses tested to international standards. Wearing Enki sunglasses guarantees your eyes the highest level of protection against UVR damage.