Is spending top dollar for sunglasses necessary or can a cheapie pair do the job? We tested 60 pairs of sunglasses ranging in price from $2 to $270. Twelve pairs, including five kids’ pairs, failed our test. But we also found cheap sunnies that give quality protection.

Wearing sunglasses is important for protecting your eyes. The harmful UV rays that damage skin also increase your risk of developing eye problems such as cataracts, and long-term exposure to UV can contribute to macular degeneration of the retina, a leading cause of blindness in later life.

UV rays can cause “snow blindness” or photokeratitis. This is sunburn of the cornea, a painful but fortunately temporary condition. It’s particularly a problem when UV is reflected from below, by water, sand, or snow, because this bypasses the protection caps or hats provide.

UV rays also cause pterygium, a growth on the surface of the eye. Sunglasses also protect the delicate skin around the eye against skin cancer.

Up to standard

We tested glasses against the voluntary Australian and New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS 1067:2003) for sunglasses and fashion spectacles. In addition to testing for UV protection, we also assessed how robust the sunglasses were and how well they covered the eye.

Forty-eight pairs of sunglasses in our test met all the standard’s requirements and there’s a pair to meet every budget – we found men’s, women’s and children’s sunglasses costing $6 or less that provide good eye protection and won’t fall apart in five minutes. These would be good options if you’re always losing your sunnies or like having a spare pair handy. Check out our tables for details.

Thirty-four of these sunglasses had claims they met Australian/New Zealand, European or United States standards.

What failed?

For kids

Nickelodeon Dora the Explorer SUDO74157 sunglasses claimed to meet the standard for Category 2 sunglasses. This means they should provide good UV protection and medium sun-glare reduction. However, these sunnies only complied with Category 1. They provided 100 percent UV protection but due to the lightness of the lens didn’t provide enough sun-glare blockage so should be labelled fashion spectacles, not sunglasses.

Nickelodeon Dora the Explorer SUDO74157 should be labelled fashion spectacles, not sunglasses.
Nickelodeon Dora the Explorer SUDO74157 should be labelled fashion spectacles, not sunglasses.

As a result of our testing distributor Pegasus Group contacted its supplier and established the labelling is incorrect. Pegasus said it has removed this product from shop shelves and is conducting additional tests.

Pumpkin Patch Indie Road Trip S4UX30001, Le Tissier 6035S and Baby Banz Adventure Aqua did not meet the eye coverage requirements for children’s sunglasses.

Pumpkin Patch told us this product is marketed and designed for wearers aged between 10 to 16 years. It said youths older than 12 don’t generally fit children’s sunglasses so this range uses adult frames. The lab confirmed this product does pass the eye coverage requirements for adult’s sunglasses.

The distributor of Baby Banz provided us with test evidence its product meets the standard for eye coverage. It also commissioned extra testing on three pairs. All three pairs met the requirements, including eye coverage. Le Tissier’s distributor told us although its product only marginally failed the eye coverage test, it will adjust the mould for its 2016 production run to ensure all products will pass. It also told us the pair we tested was from a 2012 batch (though we bought them in Sept 2015) and all pairs produced from 2013 have a Category 3 lens (the pair we tested were Category 2).

In our test, the Baby Banz and Le Tissier products only just failed the eye coverage test and this minor failure does not pose any harm to the wearer.

This highlights an issue with batch variation – the standard only requires one pair of sunglasses to be tested and companies are not required to test each production run. We think each batch should be tested to ensure consistency of production.

The B707 J-13 sunnies we bought from The 123 Mart also failed our test. Although they offer good UV protection, they had a higher-than-permitted cylindrical power, which may make vision blurry or cause discomfort for some people. These sunglasses claimed to pass the US FDA inspection and also claimed UV protection up to 100 percent and UV400 protection.

For women

Top Vision 89043 may cause misjudgement of the distance of moving objects.
Top Vision 89043 may cause misjudgement of the distance of moving objects.

Top Vision 89043 (from Coin Save) claimed to meet the standard but didn’t pass all our tests. The right lens was visibly darker than the left, which may cause misjudgement of the distance of moving objects.

The 2 Cheap AX10181 sunglasses claimed to have UV400 protection but didn’t claim to meet a standard. Although these sunglasses did provide good UV protection, they failed one of our technical tests. When we tested for robustness and lens retention one lens completely came out of the frame. These sunglasses also had very dark lenses so shouldn’t be used when driving.

For men

Carve Cyclone 982 Polarized sunglasses were the most expensive sunglasses to not pass all our tests. They failed our spherical power technical test, and may make vision blurry or cause discomfort for some people. Carve’s distributor told us each production batch is tested and its product has never failed a lens test. It is investigating this issue.

Carve Cyclone 982 Polarized failed our spherical power technical test.
Carve Cyclone 982 Polarized failed our spherical power technical test.

The rest of the men’s sunglasses that failed were cheapies.

The Austin Choppers 70344 from Coin Save claimed to meet the standard. But they had one minor technical failure and didn’t comply with any of the lens category requirements. The lenses were so dark they could be dangerous to wear because of their low level of sight.

The 2 n’5 Shop Aviators #5052 had a major failure. They didn’t meet the protection requirements for UVB, which can cause red and sore eyes. Over a longer period, this can potentially add to the development of cataracts. The left lens was also visibly darker than the right lens. The 2 n’5 stores have removed these sunglasses from shop shelves.

The Factorie M-Risky Sunnies claimed to have Category 3 lenses but only had Category 2 in our test. They also had a minor technical failure, which may result in some people experiencing headaches, discomfort or double vision. Cotton-On Group, which owns the Factorie brand, provided us with its test reports on four pairs that found they meet the standard. Cotton-On also sent another four samples of these sunglasses for re-testing and this testing showed the glasses met the standard for Category 3 lenses.

The 2 Cheap Silver Framed Aviators weren’t very robust and both lenses dislodged from the frame.

Regulation needed

In Australia, sunglasses must comply with the Australian and New Zealand Standard. However, in New Zealand it’s only voluntary.

Most of the products in our test claimed to comply with the standard. But products that meet other standards such as those in the EU or US are also permitted. Sunglasses that meet no standard at all can be sold here.

Some products claim they are “UV400”. According to the New Zealand Association of Optometrists (NZAO) there is no accepted definition of “UV400”. It said because “UV400” has no consistent technical basis, it’s little more than marketing spin.

The NZAO wants the AS/NZ Standard made mandatory. The association said consumers should have a guarantee sunglasses are of reasonable quality and will protect their eyes without impairing vision. We think companies should also test each batch of sunglasses to ensure consistent production standards.

We say

  • Sunglasses are an important part of your sun protection. Look for sunglasses that comply with the Australian New Zealand standard, are comfortable and don’t distort your vision. Glasses with large lenses or wrap-around frames are best. Don’t forget a broad-brimmed hat – it blocks up to 50 percent of UV from the eyes.
  • Sunglasses sold here don’t have to comply with a standard. We think it’s time they were regulated and each new batch tested.

Report by Belinda Castles.

Test results