What to Know About Sunglasses for Children

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 04, 2022
4 min read

Active kids spend a lot of time out and about. They enjoy all types of playtime inside and outside the home, including recess and sports. In warmer states and areas with lots of sunshine, you are more than likely to allow them to play outside for long periods, but with the caveat that they apply sunscreen to protect their skin. Should you also protect their eyes, though? Are child or infant sunglasses needed? 

According to the American Optometric Association, 47% of people do not take the UV protection level into consideration when purchasing sunglasses. This is tragic because UV rays can cause vision and eye surface problems. An outdoor day of fun can have long-term consequences for kids and adults.

Having a child wear sunglasses is very important, not only on sunny days but also at times when the ground is covered in snow as well. Sometimes, they are even needed on a somewhat cloudy day. This is because kids receive more sun annually than adults. This extra amount of sunlight exposure increases their risk of ultraviolet (UV) light damage to the eye. 

UV light is unseen electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun. The still-maturing children’s eye, unlike the eyes of adults, cannot filter out such harmful UV rays as efficiently.

The rays from the sun can burn the outer layers of the eye just like an outer layer of skin. This is true in the case of sunny days, days spent on the beach, and snowy days. Snow has a reflection rate of 80% of the sun's rays, which is greater than that of cement, dirt, water, grass, or sand. When the snow reflects sunlight, an intense glare can make things hard to see, so wintertime sunglasses are definitely good for children of all ages.

According to a statement on ultraviolet light from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), UV damage accumulates over a lifetime. A child's eye lens allows 70% more UV rays to penetrate the surface than an adult eye lens, so unprotected sun exposure could possibly lead to irreversible damage over the course of adolescence. Don’t be fooled into thinking only extremely long and bright summer days can lead to such damage. 

There are also short-term side effects of overexposure to UV light. Snow blindness (photokeratitis) can result from UV rays bouncing off of the ice, snow, sand, or water. This condition is almost like having an eye that is sunburned. The use of proper sunglasses is important to prevent this.

For extra protection, provide your child with sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunscreen.

Teaching children good habits regarding sunglasses and wearing them will help ingrain these healthy habits. Kids should be taught to wear them all seasons of the year and that it is important to care for and protect their eyes. You will want these habits to persist into adulthood.  

Usually, a sticker or label will express the amount of UV protection allotted by the glasses. Purchase sunglasses that block 99% or more UV radiation. They should fit securely and cover all surfaces between the eyebrows and the middle of the cheeks. The handles should wrap around the ear. 

If your child is especially active, some sunglasses increase contrast with amber or green lenses. This may be beneficial to kids who are athletes. 

Your child is also more likely to wear their sunglasses if they help you to pick them out.

Younger, more active kids who are all over the place need sunglasses that are sturdy. For infants, consider sunglasses that are made of impact-resistant polycarbonate that have lenses that are scratch-proof. Bendable but unbreakable frames are ideal, and they should fit snugly. Do not be overly concerned if your infant will not keep their sunglasses on. Wearing them is most important during times when the infant will be directly in the sunlight for several hours, like the beach. 

Be a good example by wearing protection like sunglasses and sunscreen in front of them. 

The eyelids of infants and their surrounding skin are delicate and vulnerable, much more so than those of adults. Any UV damage can compound over time. Long-lasting problems of the eye that are of concern to growing children and adults may include macular degeneration and cataracts.

Infant sunglasses can be purchased in the same stores as adult sunglasses. Many retailers will have affordable options. The important thing to look for is the amount of UV protection in the lenses and a snugly fitting frame. There are also many online boutiques that cater to children and offer various options such as color and helpful accessories like ropes to catch sunglasses if they fall. For those willing to spend the money, there are also designer options and specialty stores that will allow you to custom-design sunglasses. 

If you are still unsure what you should buy, your optometrist, ophthalmologist, or pediatrician should be able to offer suggestions.