Don't let sunglasses counterfeiters pull the wool over your eyes

You might think you are getting a bargain, but a pair of fake sunglasses could damage your eyesight.

ABU DHABI. 22nd June. 2009 . A selection of fake sunglasses. FOR NATIONAL NEWS. Stephen Lock  /  The National *** Local Caption ***  SL-sunglasses-009.jpgna24ju-sunglasses.jpg
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If there's one accessory no UAE resident should be without, it is sunglasses.

However some people struggle with the dilemma of buying a designer pair for upwards of Dh650 from Harvey Nichols or opting for a cheap but passable imitation for around a sixth of the price.

Dr Yara L'teif, an ophthalmologist, urges consumers to think twice before buying counterfeit goods, saying they risk far more than just the wrath of the authorities.

"A sticker saying 'UV protected' doesn't mean the sunglasses are safe." she says. "There's a specific layer added to the glass to give them 100 per cent protection and these fakes don't normally even use good quality lenses."

Without the proper eyewear, residents risk overexposure to harmful ultraviolet rays, says L'teif, who spends much of her time at the Gulf Eye Centre in Dubai treating Emiratis and expatriates alike for a condition called pterygium.

"It's a formation on the surface of the white part of the eye. It can become very thick and start growing on the eye itself," she says. "We have 365 days of sunshine here, which we can't really hide from, so patients can potentially experience superficial damage, and in other cases the lens and retina can be damaged."

Andrea Zaffin, the Middle East general manager of the eyewear brand Luxottica, says being safe and stylish does not have to come at a high price.

"The market in the UAE is highly developed and the offering is very wide now. Designer sunglasses are among the most affordable luxury fashion accessories you can buy. Plus, you can be sure you're getting a well-made product with not only UV protection but also anti-reflection and all the other standards required by law."

The availability of counterfeit goods globally has increased steadily in recent years, says Zaffin, but so has the level of surveillance and cooperation between retailers and government entities.

"In this region, sharing of information is vital and together with our commercial and local partners we are keeping a close eye on things. If we notice something that might be a potential issue, we inform customs and the authorities straightaway."

The fakes are produced in practically any country with major manufacturing capabilities, including China and pockets of Europe, says Zaffin. For shoppers to avoid becoming complicit in the illegal trade, he recommends they visit trusted retailers, regulated markets and shops on main commercial streets where the probability of encountering non-authentic goods should be much lower.

As for how to spot a fake - it takes a trained eye. Bhuwan Bahuguna, deputy general manager of the eyewear division at the Rivoli Group, says many leading brands have watermarked lenses. Others, including Cartier, Tom Ford and Tod's, bear unique serial numbers.

"Generally, there is also a vast difference in the packaging of the original designer labels and counterfeit eyewear." he says "You can even gauge the difference on the basis of the actual weight of the eyewear."

Another clear advantage genuine-brand sunglasses have over their counterfeit counterparts is durability. Authentic designer glasses do not quickly degrade over time and suffer the short shelf-life of products made with cheaper materials.

"I think people tend to expand their sunglass collection rather than replace them through need," says Zaffin.

And he should know: he owns more than 70 pairs - regular and prescription.

"I have more glasses than shoes, for sure," he says, laughing. "Not because I'm part of this business, but because I like them. Going into an optical store is a beautiful journey."

Children should also be protected, L'teif warns. Their eyes are far more susceptible to the sun than those of adults and need to be shielded from the earliest age through sunglasses, visors or caps.

Also, when choosing the colour of any lenses, she says, "brown is better than black. It's actually brown that stops the harmful rays - blue light from the sun."