At this point in the summer, you likely have mastered the art of packing your beach bag. You have at least one bottle of sunscreen (and are religiously re-applying every two hours), a flattering sarong, a towel or two, and your old standby — an oversized pair of aviators. But there’s one problem with opting for metal-framed sunglasses: Though they may not leave behind the same harsh tan lines as their plastic counterparts, they can deliver longer-lasting damage to your skin.
“There's a lot of sunglasses that have a plastic rim on the outside,” explains DC-based dermatologist Dr. Lily Talakoub. “If you look at the inside of them, they have a metal strip on the inside next to the eyes or between the nose.” She continues, "What that does is it absorbs the sun — just like any metal absorbs the sun. And when that gets hot, that heat is transferred onto the skin.”
Wearing these sunglasses outdoors may not be quite as dangerous as baking in the sun without applying SPF, but laying out with metal on can still have some damaging cosmetic effects. "Now it's not going to necessarily give you skin cancer there, but it's going to give you melasma and brown spots,” says Dr. Talakoub. “When the heat and the sun is accentuated very close to the skin, the skin turns brown, and over time, you get dark spots in those areas.”
Similarly, if you leave your sunglasses in the car to heat up and put them on immediately, the same transference of heat can affect your skin. At this point in her career, Dr. Talakoub has seen more than 100 women with brown marks close to their eyes — where the arms of your sunglasses rest — or right on the cheek under the eyes, where the bottoms of the frame hit.
However, Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, Medical Director of Mudgil Dermatology, PC, says it won’t make any difference in what he personally chooses to wear to the beach. “The claim is because [sunglasses] reflect and magnify light, they can enhance sun damage,” he notes. "It's certainly a plausible hypothesis, I'll put it that way. There's a recommendation to wear plastic frames instead of metal frames, because the former doesn’t reflect light.”
If you aren’t willing to give up your Top Gun flair for the sake of your skin, it’s important to layer on a physical blocker beneath the metal to ensure you’re protected. According to Dr. Talakoub, the best protection will come from a thick, white and creamy formula. Those typically contain zinc, a physical form of sunscreen that will more effectively block the sun’s damaging rays.
She cites Avene High Protection Tinted Compact SPF 50 ($36) as one of her favorites, because it offers the same type of protection but goes on with a flesh-toned hue instead of white. Some of our other favorite physical blockers include Drunk Elephant™ Umbra Tinte™ Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($36) and EltaMD UV Physical Tinted Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 ($30), which both have a tint if you’re looking for a bit of color coverage.
Or, you can channel your inner Audrey Hepburn instead. Consider hitting the beach with a set of oversized plastic frames a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The chic style is just as classic as aviators, and it will help keep your skin spot-free.
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