Children and infants may not be as interested in the fashion statement of sunglasses. But, babies and kids spend as much as time outdoors in direct sunlight as adults, especially here in Hawaii.. In addition, the crystalline lens inside the eye of people younger than 30 years old is more susceptible to damage from UVB light than that in older adults. Not only does this susceptibility potentially cause earlier cataracts, but because their lens lets in more damaging UVB light, the retinas of children are more prone to UV toxicity.
So, UV protection for their eyes is even more important for them than for adults. In the same way that you cover your children in sunscreen and protective hats and clothing when they go outside, so too should their eyes be protected. Ultraviolet radiation is a great concern in sunny places like Hawaii. UV light is a part of the light spectrum from the sun to the earth. Remember this picture from high school?
In fact, most experts believe that children get 80% of their lifetime UV exposure by the time they are 18 years old! UV exposure has been linked to the development of cataracts, macular degeneration and other ocular diseases. The risk of retinal damage from sunlight is greatest in children less than 10 years old, although the eye diseases do not develop until adulthood. UV exposure is the greatest when children are out between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm and if they’re near large sandy beaches and reflective bodies of water.
All sunglasses are not the same. Effective sunglasses should protect against UVA and UVB light. What’s the difference, you may ask? Experts used to think that only UVB was harmful, but now additional research has confirmed that UVA light also penetrates the atmosphere causing skin cancer, premature aging and eye damage. In fact, UVA penetrates the skin and eyes more deeply than UVB light.
However, many expensive sunglasses do not filter out UVA light. So, it is extremely important to double check that the sunglasses your purchase protect against both UVA and UVB light.
Look for a label or a sticker that says one or more of the following:
- Lenses block 99% or 100% of UVB and UVA rays
- Lenses meet ANSI Z80.3 blocking requirements. (This refers to standards set by the American National Standards Institute.)
- UV 400 protection. (These block light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers, which means that your eyes are shielded from even the tiniest UV rays.)
It should either be marked on the sunglasses or the optician will be able to inform you.
Sunglasses should properly fit your child’s face. If the glasses are too big around the temples or don’t fit their nose bridge well, then they will be continuously falling down. For infants, I really like the Julbo line. They are soft and flexible, so they fit babies’ flat noses well, without indenting their nose. Also, wrap around styles provide the best coverage and protection. Here’s my son in his Julbo sunglasses when he was around 7-8 months old.
Once we started taking him to the beach with us, I put him in sunglasses. It’s never too early to start having your child wear sunglasses. Also, of course, he is wearing a large hat, full length UV rash guard and sunscreen. I always joke with my dermatologist friend that you can spot the doctors’ kids at the beach a mile away. They’re always totally covered up, whereas other kids are just wearing diapers or little bikinis.
POLARIZATION? WHAT IS THE DEAL?
Another question I get a lot is about polarized sunglasses. Polarization reduces glare, by filtering out sunlight that bounces on reflective surfaces so it is helpful for people who spend a great deal of time on the water. However, it is important to note that polarization has nothing to do with UVA/UVB protection. Just because a pair of lenses in sunglasses is polarized does not mean that it also has UV protection.
Above, my younger son is wearing Babiators sunglasses which we have available in our Optical Shop with polarization. Department stores like Nordstrom also carry them, but without polarization. My older son is wearing no-name sunglasses that I picked up at the store (but they do have UVA/UVB protection) and I’m wearing the new summer Ray-Ban Erika sunglasses, which we also have in our Optical shop. I love these, they are so light and I feel like they look like candy. My husband says I have sunglasses addiction, and I might have a collection to rival Brad Pitt’s. But, hey, we live in Hawaii and I just reviewed all the reasons why sunglasses are medically necessary, so it’s shopping for a MEDICAL reason (that’s my justification for my 8 pairs!)
But, getting back to the kids. Kids really only care that the glasses are comfortable, otherwise it’s near impossible to get them to keep them on their face. At Honolulu Eye Clinic, our opticians are skilled at knowing the type and fit of glasses best suited to protect your child’s eyes from harmful sunlight. Our optical shop carries sunglasses for infants to adults, all of which block UVA and UVB light. I would avoid buying sunglasses for kids online unless you can try them on your children first to insure a proper fit and that your child will tolerate wearing the sunglasses.