Sunglasses For Kids

By Erinn Morgan
Reviewed by Gary Heiting, OD

Children may not be as interested as adults are in the fashion aspect of sunglasses. But because kids spend much more time outdoors than most adults do, sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are extra important for children.

In fact, because children spend significantly more time outdoors than most adults, some experts say that up to half of a person's lifetime exposure to UV radiation can occur by age 18. (Other research cited by The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests the amount of lifetime exposure to UV radiation sustained by age 18 is less than 25 percent.)

And since excessive lifetime exposure to UV radiation has been linked to the development of cataracts and other eye problems, it's never too early for kids to begin wearing good quality sunglasses outdoors.

UV rays aren't the only potential danger from sunlight. Recently, researchers have suggested that long-term exposure to high-energy visible (HEV) light rays, also called "blue light," may also cause eye damage over time. In particular, some believe a high lifetime exposure to HEV light may contribute to the development of macular degenerationlater in life.

Children's eyes are more susceptible to UV and HEV radiation than adult eyes because the lens inside a child's eye is less capable of filtering these high-energy rays. This is especially true for young children, so it's wise for kids to start wearing protective sunglasses outdoors as early in life as possible.

Also, be aware that your child's exposure to UV rays increases at high altitudes, in tropical locales and in highly reflective environments (such as in a snowfield, on the water or on a sandy beach). Protective sunwear is especially important for kids in these situations.

Choosing Sunglass Lens Colors

The level of UV protection sunglasses provide has nothing to do with the color of the lenses.

As long as your optician certifies that the lenses block 100 percent of the sun's UV rays, the choice of color and tint density is a matter of personal preference.

Most sunglass lenses that block the sun's HEV rays are amber or copper in color. By blocking blue light, these lenses also enhance contrast.

Another great option is eyeglasses with photochromic lenses, which are clear indoors and darken automatically in sunlight. This can eliminate the need for a separate pair of sunglasses for kids who need glasses for vision correction.

Photochromic lenses are available in a variety of lens materials and colors, including neutral gray, contrast-enhancing brown, and soothing green. All photochromic lenses block 100 percent UV and provide ample protection from high-energy visible blue light.