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Are brand name sunglasses worth the investment?

pair of prada sunglasses

Sunglasses aren’t just a way to block out the sun — they’re a personal fashion statement. And while “fashion” can be had on the cheap, popular culture usually gravitates toward the name brands that shape trends all over the world.

Brand-name sunglasses — think Prada, Gucci, Cartier and Ray-Ban — hold a special place in the world of sun-blocking shades. But are these sunglasses worth the investment, or all they all show and little substance?

Getting a feel for sunglasses’ quality

Generally speaking, more expensive sunglasses are built with better, longer-lasting materials and craftsmanship. But there are exceptions to almost any rule.

A little research of individual brands and retailers will increase your odds of finding a winner at any price. In this day in age, customer reviews, social media and message boards can be an invaluable tool.

If you’ve done your due diligence and are still on the fence, try spending a few minutes with the sunglasses, if possible. This can ease your mind that your hard-earned dollars are being spent well.

If your sunglasses are available in a brick-and-mortar store, this can be as simple as visiting the location for a try-on session.

As you browse, pay close attention to how the frames feel in your hands and the visual quality of their build. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do the hinges feel durable? Stretch out the arms of the sunglasses — just a little — and get a feel for the quality of the hinges that connect the arms to the front of the frame.

  • Will the frames last? Get acquainted with the materials and build quality of the frames. If you’re looking to invest in a pair that will last several years, ask yourself if you can realistically see them lasting that long. Be honest!

  • How do they look? Your impromptu manufacturing inspection is an important step, but try not to get too caught up in it. If sunglasses are well-built but you don’t like how they look, it could lead to a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

If you’re ordering online, check the retailer’s return policy. That way, you can get your money back if your gut says no. If you choose this option, be careful not to cause any damage or wear to your sunglasses, since this will automatically void most return policies.

If you’re shopping for non-prescription frames off the shelf, make sure they’re covered with complete UV protection. If you need prescription lenses, ensure the lens style you order has the same protection.

SEE RELATED: Do sunglasses provide blue light protection?

Brand-name sunglasses and UV protection

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can harm more than just your skin — they can damage your eyes too. Spending long hours in the sun without proper protection can increase the risk of developing certain eye-related disorders.

These conditions include:

It may come as a surprise, but name-brand glasses like Prada or Ray-Ban aren’t often any more effective at blocking UV then their generic counterparts.

The UV protection in a pair of cheap sunglasses can be just as effective as it is in more expensive, name-brand lenses — but make sure to double-check for complete 100% UV protection. A study published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science found that the cost of the sunglasses didn’t have a big impact on how well the lenses blocked UV rays.

Buying sunglasses from a reputable online or brick-and-mortar retailer is a good way to make sure you’re getting genuine UV protection.

The National Eye Institute recommends sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation.

You’ll want to make sure your sunglasses are labeled with a message like:

This “400” on these labels represents 400 nanometers, the highest wavelength of ultraviolet radiation. If you’re protected up to this level, you’re in good shape.

SEE RELATED: How much UV protection do my sunglasses need?

Staying mindful of cheap sunglasses

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates most sunglasses imported into the United States as a medical device. If their intended use is sunlight blockage, even a pair from the dollar store needs to offer reliable protection.

But there are a couple loopholes to be aware of, even if you aren’t very likely to stumble upon them.

Misleading labels

Under normal circumstances, a “100% UV protection” sticker (or something similar)  on a pair of sunglasses is a guarantee that your eyes will be protected.

Unfortunately, a small number of resellers can take advantage of that trust and promise UV protection on subpar lenses that provide little to no protection at all. This is technically illegal, but it does happen.

If you don’t have complete trust in a reseller, or a price seems too good to be true, there’s a chance you might not be getting 100% protection from the sun’s UV rays.

Classifying sunglasses as “novelty items”

Sellers can take advantage of another loophole by classifying sunglasses as toys or novelty items. While some novelty sunglasses — like the ones you might wear on Halloween or New Year’s Eve — don’t really need UV protection, others do.

Less trustworthy resellers can take advantage of this by labeling sunglasses as novelty items, even when they’re clearly marketed for sun protection.

If you plan on using sunglasses to protect your eyes, make sure you trust the seller or retailer you’re buying them from.

SEE RELATED: Buying sunglasses for kids

Warranties on name-brand sunglasses

Sunglasses are often a long-term investment, and well-established brands and vendors tend to offer some form of warranty or guarantee on every sunglasses purchase.

One example is the Prada sunglasses warranty, which covers any manufacturing defects that show up within the first year. Popular brands like Ray-Ban and Persol have similar warranties.

While more expensive brand names are more likely to have better warranties, more affordable alternatives can also offer their own guarantee. EyeBuyDirect, for example, gives customers a 14-day window to return their glasses one time, for any reason. An additional one-year craftsmanship warranty is offered on top of the two-week guarantee.

These kinds of warranties can give you valuable peace of mind that you’re investing in high-quality sunglasses backed up by a replacement, if one is needed.

Choosing sunglasses with style and health in mind

Weighing the pros and cons between price and quality can be a delicate process. Spending $300 on a pair of Prada sunglasses might work for some; but for others, it’s a bank-breaker.

Of course, opting for a pair of cheaper sunglasses doesn’t always mean you’re sacrificing quality. Spending a little time to research your options can pay off in the long run.

If you know what to look for, you’ll walk away with a pair of high-quality sunglasses at almost any price — whether that’s $30 or $300.

READ MORE: What are polarized sunglasses?

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