The History and Importance of Sunglasses 

By Adam Frank

Today, it's quite common to see people strutting around wearing sunglasses as they go about their daily business. Aside from protecting our eyes from the sun, sunglasses have become a way to show off our personality, or in extreme cases, our eccentricity. 
However, before sunglasses became the accessory that we can't seem to do without, humans used eyewear for tasks outside what we use them for today. 



The Origins of Sunglasses 

Today, we can easily buy prescription sunglasses and stylish sunglasses; however, eyewear wasn't just a fashion accessory or a medical prescription once upon a time. 
During pre-historic times, the Inuit people made snow goggles using bones of a walrus, ivory, or wood. They used it to protect their eyes from the blinding effect of the sun when they went out in the snow. In his seminal work on Natural History, Pliny the Elder disclosed that the Roman emperor Nero had watched gladiators battle it out in the arena using polished emeralds. 
Around the 13th century, ancient documents claimed that judges in Chinese courts used sunglasses to mask their emotions or facial expressions while discharging their duties. These sunglasses are said to be made from smoky quartz gems. 
In 1752, an English optician named James Ayscough believed that glass tinted blue or green could help correct eye damage. He started experimenting with these lenses in spectacles about that time. At this point, humankind wasn't concerned about the sun's rays' effect on the eyes. As the world battled with a syphilis outbreak in the late 19th and early 20th century, brown and yellow-amber tinted eyewear became popular. These sunglasses were used to protect the patient's eyes from light — sensitivity to light is a common symptom of syphilis. 
Fast-forward to the 1900s, and as Hollywood celebrities began to use sunglasses as a fashion item, Sam Foster started to mass-produce affordable sunglasses in America. Foster's eyewear was sold under the brand name Foster Grant by a Woolworth store. They soon became a popular item on the Atlantic City beaches. His unique selling point at that time was protection from eye damage due to the sun's rays. 
By World War 2, Ray Ban's anti-glare aviator glasses were used by war pilots to protect their eyes while going on missions or flying sorties. The glasses used polarization, a technique made famous by Edwin H. Land, who released polarized eyewear in 1936. 
Today, it's become mandatory for sunglasses to have UV protection. You can also tint your eyewear, be it prescription eyewear or a fashion accessory. 

The Importance of Sunglasses 

Asides from being a status symbol or a medical prescription, there are a lot of reasons why you should get a pair of eyewear. Here's are two primary reasons for buying and using top-notch sunglasses regularly: 
#1. They protect your eyes from the adverse effects of UV rays
If your eyes are consistently exposed to UV rays, you stand a chance of developing macular degeneration or cataracts. By wearing eyewear that has UV protection, you give your eyes a chance against these diseases. If your job requires that you spend a lot of time in the sun, getting sunglasses is doubly essential. 
#2. They protect your eyes from harmful objects.
This is especially true for outdoorsy people. If you're someone who does outdoor sports or generally spends a lot of time outside, there's always a risk that small debris (like dirt or sand) or large items (like bugs or stones) can easily enter your eye. Of course, getting something in your eye is often annoying at best. But eyes are sensitive, and debris of any kind can cause permanent eye damage. Sunglasses can serve as a protectant in these extreme instances.

Final Thoughts

Sunglasses have a rich history and have been around us for decades. We tend to assume they are only accessories or a status symbol. However, they have played various roles in history and continue to do so till today.