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Sunglasses for Kids: Protecting Your Child's Eyes from Harmful UV Radiation

Updated on June 10, 2012

Summer Sun Safe?

Summer’s here and like most parents, you’ve probably been slathering your little ones with sunscreen and making sure they’re wearing wide-brimmed hats to protect their skin from harmful UV rays.

But did you know that the recent VisionWatch survey conducted by the Vision Council found that many Americans are not protecting their eyes - or their children's eyes - with proper use of sunglasses? The survey found that although 73 percent of parents say that they use sunglasses to shield their own eyes from the sun, only 58 percent make their children do the same.

Additionally, the Eye-Q Survey published by the American Optical Association’s American found that only 17 percent of parent’s make sure their child is wearing sunglasses when they’ve got sunscreen on.

Kids need sunglasses too!
Kids need sunglasses too! | Source

UV Rays: A Serious Threat to Eye Health

The effect of UV rays is linked to a number of serious eye problems. UVA rays effect central vision and can damage the macula—the part of the eye that’s responsible for detailed, central vision and color perception.

UVB rays are absorbed by the front part of your eye through the cornea and lens and can do even greater damage to your eyes than UVA rays.

According to pediatric ophthalmologist, Steven J. Lichtenstein, M.D. of the Illinois Eye Center, “Serious ocular disorders, principally those connected with old age, are at least partly a result of cumulative exposure of the eyes to the sun’s UV radiation over a lifetime, beginning in childhood.”

According to Lichtenstein, not only do UV rays damage one’s vision, but kids are especially vulnerable to UV eye damage for several reasons.

“First, under normal circumstances, children spend more time outdoors than adults, particularly in summer. As a result, the average child receives approximately three times the annual UV dose of the average adult.”

Second, a child’s immature ocular lens is much clearer or crystalline than an adult’s. This, according to Lichtenstein, means that in children under 10 years of age, 75 percent of UV radiation actually penetrates the eye’s lens, compared to just 10 percent in adults over 25.

Cumulative and Permanent Damage

Unfortunately, unlike skin cells, the eye does not repair itself. Over time, the damage done is cumulative and can increase the risk of blindness or other serious eye problems including:

· Cataracts: a progressive clouding of the lens of the eye

· Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD): the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 65

· Pterygium or “surfer’s eye”: abnormal growths on the eye’s surface linked to excessive exposure to sun, wind and sand

· Photokeratitis- sunburn of the cornea

· Cancer of the eyes, eyelid and surrounding skin


How Can You Protect Your Child’s Vision?

So, considering that exposing young eyes to UV light dramatically increases their risk of serious eye problems, how can you protect your child’s vision?

Until now it’s been quite a challenge to find effective, comfortable, kid-friendly eye protection that’s up to the knocks and perils of everyday kid wear, but no more.

Look for sunglasses that have a UV rating of 400 and block 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays. These don’t have to be expensive. Disney Princess Sunglasses for Girls offer 100 percent UV protection at a mere $2.99 and at Target, Circo Infant -Toddler Swim Sunglasses provide integrated UV protection for only $6.99.

However, take care to avoid cheap toy shades that only provide darkened lenses and no UV protection. These toy sunglasses might look like fun but they are actually worse for your child than having than no eye-protection at all. The dark lenses of sunglasses without UV protection actually cause your child’s eyes to dilate—allowing even more UV rays to enter and damage their young eyes! So, go for the real thing.

Also, it’s important to choose sunglasses that are impact-resistant and bendable. Wrap-around designs get high marks and protect against peripheral UV rays. As the Vision Council stresses, sunglasses that aren’t worn can’t protect the eye, so selecting eyewear with a snug, yet kid-comfortable fit is crucial.

Solartex Sun Gear was founded by two Moms to promote child safety products and make life easier for parents. In addition to their extensive line of cool and comfortable chemical-free 50+ SPF sun-protective swimwear, clothing and hats, they offer a line of kid’s sunglasses. Infant eye-protection with adjustable Neoprene bands are just the thing. Baby Banz, Kidz Banz and iPlay flexible sunglasses are designed with adjustable straps to keep sunglasses in place on your little squirmer. Kid-comfy, high-tech shades by Julbo, available at REI and other retailers provide100 percent UV protection sunglasses for active, gets-into-everything kids. Another big plus is that Julbo’s looping III Sunglasses are blessedly free of finger-pinching hinges, and have flexible temples that can endure being pulled off repeatedly without damaging the frames. Also, Julbo designs are paint-free. This feature is a must for infants and toddlers who put everything in their mouths and might chew on the frames. Yum!

Fitness Plus magazine has high praise for Julbo's Solan line of shades. “These glasses seem indestructible, which is good because the age group they’re designed to fit –4 to 6-year olds – are going to do their best to destroy them—not on purpose of course. Thankfully the Spectrum 3 polycarbonate frames are shatter resistant and the frame can be twisted and sat on (we tried) with no noticeable damage.”


Lens Color, Polarized Lenses

Remember when shopping for shades for your child that the level of UV protection a pair of sunglasses provides has nothing to do with the color of the lenses.Also, unless they are specifically treated with a UV coating, polarized lenses by themselves don’t provide UV protection. Also, polarized lenses may tend to distort vision, which is why many pediatric eye-care specialists don’t recommend polarized lenses for toddlers just learning to walk. However, for active older kids and teens who are serious about fighting glare at the beach and on the ski slopes, 100 percent UV blocking, polarized lenses are available from Real Kids Shades' Xtreme Sports styles for 7-12 year olds. Real Kid Shades are shatterproof and made of impact-resistant carbonate lenses that are specifically proportioned and designed to fit kid’s faces as well as their frenetic lifestyle.

Although some of the higher-end shades are a bit more costly, you can still get a pair of extremely high-performance shades without an extreme price.

Tifosi Optics offers sleek, tech-driven kid’s shades that are nearly indestructible. Made with hydrophilic rubber temples and nosepieces that resist aging and UV breakdown, Tifosi’s Optics are designed to increase grip when in contact with sweat. Find these at Amazon for around $30.

Click It, Not Clip It!

For a child who usually wears prescription glasses, magnetic click-on shades are the perfect one-pair solution. Instead of the geeky, lens-scratching, metal clips of yore, many add-ons are now magnetic. They simply “click-on.” For image-conscious ’tweens and teens, these magnetic click-on lenses provide ultra cool UV protection while being virtually undetectable from single-use prescription shades.

The Last Best Thing You Can Do To Protect Your Child’s Vision…

Wear your sunglasses. Set an example. Explain why protecting your own eyes, as well as your child’s baby blues (or browns or greens) is as important as wearing sunscreen is to prevent complications from excessive UV exposure. Let them know that shades are not just a cool fashion accessory, they’re an eye health must!



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