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Sunglasses for kids

child wearing sunglasses and sun hat at the beach

Do children need sunglasses?

Yes, they absolutely do. Damage to eyes from exposure to the suns harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation is cumulative over our lifetime.

Because kids spend much more time outdoors than most adults do, sunglasses that block 100 percent UV are especially important for children.

Some experts estimate that up to half of a person's lifetime exposure to UV radiation occurs by age 18. If this is true, sunglasses may be more important for children than most people imagine.

Wearing sunglasses during childhood may play an important role in preventing eye problems later in life that have been associated with cumulative UV exposure, including cataracts and pterygia.

Sunglasses help protect children's eyes from UV rays and glare, whether it's a sunny day at the beach or a cloudy day on a snowy mountaintop. Make sure your child's sunglass lenses are made of a shatter-resistant material such as polycarbonate.

Recently, there has also been rising interest in limiting exposure to the blue-violet wavelengths found in sunlight.

Children's eyes are more susceptible to UV and blue light 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 filtering blue light, these lenses also enhance contrast.

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

All photochromic lenses block 100 percent UV and provide ample high-energy visible blue light filtering.

Where to buy kids' sunglasses

Children's sunglasses can be purchased from a variety of places, including your eye doctor's office, online retailers, eyewear stores and sunglass specialty stores.

Wherever you go, look for a good selection of sunglass frames scaled specifically for a child's facial dimensions. Also, choose polycarbonate lenses for the best combination of lightweight comfort and impact resistance for added safety.

Finally, inquire about product warranties and satisfaction guarantees before you purchase sunglasses for children.

Don't forget the accessories

During the selection and fitting of your child's sunglasses, the optician should explain the benefits of the sunglasses and how to care for them.

Often, the optician will include or recommend cleaning cloths, solutions and a protective, hard-shell case to store the sunglasses in when they are not worn.

Sunglass cords also are a good idea. These can be attached to the temples of the sunglasses so that when removed (or knocked off), the sunglasses can hang from the neck and not get lost or damaged.

Start with an eye exam

Before buying sunglasses for children, schedule an eye exam with your family eye doctor.

Kids' eyes can change quickly during the school years and having an up-to-date eyeglass prescription (if needed) is the first step to helping your child see as clearly and comfortably as possible outdoors.

Misconceptions about lifetime sun exposure still abound. The Skin Cancer Foundation. Press release issued in May 2008.

Proportion of lifetime UV dose received by age 18: what Stern et al actually said in 1986. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. May 2005.

UV doses of young adults. Photochemistry and Photobiology. April 2003.

Risk reduction for nonmelanoma skin cancer with childhood sunscreen use. Archives of Dermatology. May 1986.

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