Can wearing sunglasses clog your pores?

Which clogs pores better: sand or shades?
Which clogs pores better: sand or shades?

Although they often have the pleasing effect of making you look cool, there's an even better reason to hide behind a pair of shades: preventing sun damage. As tough and dynamic as your skin is, prolonged exposure to the sun makes your skin sag, gives you wrinkles and age spots, and increases your chances of skin cancer. The skin on your eyelids and around your eyes is especially thin and requires extra protection. The weapon? Sunglasses with UV protection.

UV stands for ultraviolet radiation, and it's a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that fills the gap between visible light and X-rays. There are two types of rays that reach our skin, UVA and UVB, and you want to find glasses that provide protection from both. (Look for glasses that offer 99 percent protection from UVB and at least 95 percent protection from UVA.) While UVB helps us synthesize vitamin D, too much of it can hurt the eye and possibly lead to cataracts. The outer layers of the eye can also be harmed by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.


While you're busy hunting down a safe pair of sunglasses, look for a pair with polycarbonate lenses -- these won't shatter should you be wearing them while tripping over a deck chair at the Four Seasons' pool.

Now that we've got our safety-minded sunglasses on, can we cross off all the items on our good health checklist? Close, but not quite. Once you've got your shades on, the protection they provide to your skin is offset just slightly by the increased likelihood that you'll have acne to show for your sunglasses-wearing trouble. How can you minimize the risk? Keep reading to find out.



Having It Made in the Shade(s)

Why do sunglasses make some people break out? Your skin is covered in millions of skin pores. These pores are simply the openings to hair follicles. Inside each follicle is gland that produces oil called sebum. This oil travels up the follicle and exits the pore, taking dead skin cells with it. Once this oily mix of debris reaches your skin, it provides a useful coating that protects you from the elements.

If you don't wash the dried oils off your face, they block your pores and cause acne. What else blocks pores? Suntan lotion, tight-fitting clothing, dried sweat and sunglasses, meaning your next trip to the beach may be as bad for your skin as it is good for your spirit.


When you wear sunglasses (or reading glasses), they come in direct contact with pores across your nose, around your eyes, and along your temples. Not only do they block your pores, they also spread around the dirt and oil that's already on your skin. Add sunscreen to this mix (and you should), and you've got a possible pore-clogging calamity.

Another potential trap: When we have sunglasses on, our hands spend that much more time up around our eyes and face, meaning those pores clog that much quicker. And when your nose and the sides of your face are broken out with zits, you're not going anywhere without those blemish-covering sunglasses. It's a vicious cycle.

So is there any hope for those of us with a pimple problem? The solution is actually very simple -- most people just don't think of it. You can prevent acne breakouts by taking the sunglasses off your face and then washing your hands and face with warm water and mild soap. Then, take a moment to gently wash the grease and grime off your sunglasses. Easy and effective -- and it only takes a minute.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Acne." (May 10, 2010)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "What is Acne?" (May 10, 2010)
  • Amirlak, Bardia, MD, et al. "Skin, Anatomy." Sep. 5, 2008. (May 10, 2010)
  • Harper, Julie C, MD.; Fulton Jr., James, MD, PH.D. "Acne Vulgaris." July 15, 2008. (May 10, 2010)
  • KidsHealth. "Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin." (May 10, 2010)
  • Lee, Delphine J.; Shellow, William V.R. "Management of Acne." Primary Care Medicine: Office Evaluation and Management of the Adult Patient (5th edition).
  • Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006. ISBN 078177456X, 9780781774567. whiteheads+blackheads
  • Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. "Choosing sunglasses: Is UV protection important?" July 31, 2008. (May 10, 2010)
  • WebMD. "Understanding Acne -- Treatment." (May 10, 2010)
  • Zeman, Gary, ScD, CHP. "Ultraviolet Radiation." Health Physics Society. Dec. 18, 2009. (May 10, 2010)