By  on May 19, 1994

NEW YORK -- Melanin sunglasses are out to beat the harmful rays of the sun.

Riviera, a New York-based firm, has launched an innovative sunglass line that relies on one of the body's natural defenses, the brownish skin and eye pigment melanin. The shades, marketed under the name Melanin by Riviera, are made in Parma, Italy, utilizing patented technology developed by Jim Gallas, associate professor of physics at The University of Texas at San Antonio and CEO of Photoprotective Technologies, Inc.

Sunglasses in the line retail for $30 at moderate-to-better department stores. It's the use of synthetic melanin in sunglass lenses that is so revolutionary, Riviera officials said. Up until now, according to Riviera, melanin has only been used by cosmetics companies in expensive sunscreens.

Gallas spent 10 years developing the use of melanin in plastics. He said that there are now seven patents and an eighth one pending to use melanin-based technology to protect the eyes. Five patents are in the United States, one was awarded to an Australian company and one to a Canadian firm.

"All the patents involve melanin technology which specifically refers to the use of melanin as a sunlight-protective agent for sunglasses, contact lenses and computer screens," Gallas said.

He defined photoprotective technology as a process for synthesizing melanin. "We chemically modify the melanin so it can go into plastics."

Gallas first got interested in melanin technology when he took apart cow eyes while studying for his PHD dissertation. "Melanin is all over the skin, hair and eyes and it is there to protect the eyes against sun damage. Cancer occurs more in light-skinned whites than blacks, who have more melanin pigment."

According to Gallas, the use of synthesized melanin in sunglasses protects the eyes against several sunlight-related diseases, in-cluding macular degeneration. He pointed out that the use of melanin in sunglasses minimizes exposure to ultra-violet and blue light, adding that melanin reduces the harmful effects of colored lenses in proportion to the damage they would cause. "This process of melanin use in sunglasses absorbs UV rays more than any other colors. UV alone is not enough. You have to reduce violet colors in blue eyes."Gallas said that once the melanin is made, it is sent to Intercast, a Parma, Italy-based eyewear manufacturer that coats the Riviera sunglasses. Arthur Dolansky, of New York's Penn Optical was unsure about how far-reaching melanin technology will ultimately become; however, he did say that melanin absorbs sunlight and harmful ultra-violet rays. "I don't know whether melanin that is used in sunglasses is effective, but if you have more melanin you can stay in the sun. If you don't have it you have to stay away from the sun."

The line is in about 50 major department store chains including May Department Stores, Federated Department Stores, Frederick Atkins, Carter Hawley Hale, J.C. Penney, Macy's West, Mercantile and Belk among others. Wholesale volume is estimated to be close to $1 million in its first year in business, he added.

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