THE 218 million sunglasses sold in the United States every year will be subject to the watchful eyes of the federal government in coming months.
Just as sunscreens have been subject to renewed scrutiny due to reportedly harmful effects of ultra-violet rays, the Food and Drug Administration is considering stricter standards for the sunglass industry. The new standards, which the National American Standards Institute hopes to implement by the fall, would require that over-the-counter sunglasses block at least 99 percent of UVB radiation, considered the most damaging of ultra-violet rays. Sunglasses are now required to block at least 70 percent of U VB rays.
Sunglass manufacturers may have to change the way they label their products as well. They are now asked to voluntarily label the protection adequacy of sunglasses. But as much as one-third of the industry does not adhere to the procedure, according to the Sunglass Association of America.
"The fact that you and I can go to a drugstore and purchase sunglasses that are not labeled indicates that the entire industry is not complying with these regulations," says FDA spokeswoman Sharon Snider. "What is voluntary now could become mandatory."
The FDA is also making an effort to educate consumers, who too often judge sunglasses on fashion and comfort rather than protection. Officials plan to aggressively distribute educational brochures in the fall.