Life and Style

College 101: Can Oakley Sunglasses Be Used as Safety Glasses?

I’m a junior studying biochemistry and will be starting a lab this upcoming semester in an x-ray laboratory. As part of my work, I’ll be helping to conduct a variety of x-ray diffraction analyses to determine and study the structure of several different molecules. As part of my required lab equipment, the syllabus says I need to have safety glasses that can help protect me from gamma ray radiation. I have a pair of Oakley sunglasses I got on spring break and I’m wondering if those are appropriate enough to protect my eyes?

Lab safety is an important aspect of any type of scientific research, so it’s vital that you have proper eyewear when using lab equipment that could put your health at risk. Although sunglasses are a form of protective eyewear, they are still a poor choice if you’re going to be operating x-ray machinery. That’s because sunglasses protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays, which are different than the gamma rays produced by an x-ray. 

Exposure to gamma rays can be highly dangerous while working in a lab, which is why wearing lead aprons and radiation glasses are two important safety measures to take whenever you’re operating an x-ray. Japan’s Ministry of the Environment underlines the danger of radiation in a recent booklet illustrating how internal and external exposure to radiation are both equal in terms of the amount of radiation the body is exposed to. Even more concerning is the booklet’s claim that “stochastic effects are effects whose incidence cannot be completely denied even with low-dose exposure.”

One of the most common stochastic side-effects include later onset health complications, like cataracts and glaucoma — two issues directly affecting the eyes. As a result of this risk, you should always wear appropriate safety goggles or glasses when in the laboratory. Of the various options on the market to protect your eyes, leaded glasses and scatter-shielding drapes are the most effective.

In fact, some studies have illustrated that scatter-shielding drapes or leaded glasses “decreases operator lens dose by a factor of five to 25, but the use of both barriers together (or use of leaded shields) provides maximal protection to the interventional radiologist’s eye.” This can help prevent exposure of your eyes’ lenses to gamma rays, thus protecting them from side effects like cataracts.

Just because your sunglasses aren’t appropriate for the lab doesn’t mean they don’t have a purpose, though. Ultraviolet light from the sun poses a variety of health risks, with skin cancer, cataracts, and macular degeneration chief among them. Aside from protecting your skin with sunscreen, you should remember that your pair of Oakleys have a place as part of your eye health outside of the lab. It is still important to protect yourself from the sun anytime the UV index is higher than 2.

Sunglasses should always be part of your protection plan. Just make sure that your sunglasses are rated at least UV400, since that’s the lowest number that will protect you from almost 100 percent of UV rays. You can also consider buying wrap around sunglasses, since those do a better job of covering all of the area around your eyes.

While you can’t wear your favorite pair of name-brand sunglasses in the lab, that doesn’t mean some of those companies don’t make safety glasses — Oakley, as per your example, does make specialized glasses for radiation protection. If you don’t want to wear the traditional safety glasses you’ve seen in high school laboratories, you can find safety glasses that provide a more designer look. From Oakley safety glasses to pairs made by companies like Ray Ban and Nike, there are plenty of frames out there that will keep you safe and stylish. 

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