By Jaclyn LawUpdated May 15, 2019
Thanks to widespread awareness about the dangers of ultraviolet (UV) rays, most parents are vigilant about protecting kids’ skin with sunblock, hats and clothing. But what’s often left out of the mix is a good pair of sunglasses—and that can spell future vision problems. We asked Yasmeen Syed, a licensed optician, instructor at Seneca College’s opticianry program and mom of two in Mississauga, Ont., for tips on choosing children’s sunglasses.
Children are more susceptible to damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can penetrate deep into the eye and increase the onset of problems like macular degeneration, cataracts and surface eye diseases. It’s really important we protect their vision, especially because kids spend lots of time outside and their eyes haven’t fully developed yet. They need sunglasses that protect against 100% of UVA and UVB rays, even on cloudy or overcast days—the rays penetrate through the clouds year-round.
I’d say two-and-a-half to three years old. When they’re younger than that, it’s physically difficult to do, but it gets easier as they get older.
A wide-brimmed hat is a good idea, but it won’t replace sunglasses. The sun will reflect off the sidewalk, sand, water or snow from below, so it’s still getting into their eyes.
A little bit of sunlight is good for all of us, but if children are playing outside for extended periods of time, that’s intense, and their eyes need to be protected. Just like we protect our skin with sunscreen, we need to protect our eyes with glasses.
The material of the lenses should be polycarbonate, which is ideal for children: it’s impact-resistant and lighter than standard lenses, and polycarbonate itself is UV protective. A large frame always provides the best protection, with temples that are a little wider to prevent peripheral sun from getting in. Not only does it block the most UV, but it keeps out sand and debris. The frame should be close-fitting and flexible—look for spring hinges that extend beyond 90 degrees, so they’re less likely to break. Kids tend to be rough with their glasses.
If your child wears prescription glasses, you can get them a second pair with tinted polycarbonate lenses, or you can get photochromic lenses that change from light to dark to avoid having two pairs to keep track of. They won’t replace a good pair of sunglasses, but it’s better than not wearing anything. They do provide full UV protection, but sunglasses tend to be bigger and give you a little more wrap.
You’re probably looking at about $70 to $140, and prescription lenses will cost more. What you want to avoid is low-quality sunglasses, like those stands of sunglasses at big-box stores. A lot of times, there’s a sticker that says “Blocks UV rays.” Be wary of stuff like that—avoid glasses that don’t specify the percentage of UV blocked. Also, with those cheap sunglasses, the lenses aren’t optometry grade—they might be too thin, or distorted, and your child might not want to wear them because their vision is affected. If you go to the dollar store, you might find glasses imported from who knows where, and they might contain lead in the frame or hinges. They’re not good quality, so you might go through several pairs. It’s better to invest in a good-quality pair and make sure your child’s eyes are protected.
It’s important for family members to lead by example. If parents are wearing sunglasses and putting a hat on when they go out in the summer, children are more likely to mimic that behaviour. And let the child have input into choosing the glasses, so they’re committed – they like the style, they helped choose it, they’re excited about it. There’s been a huge burst of children’s glasses coming on the market. Ray-Ban has a new collection, just like the adult version but for kids—which is good, because they’re mimicking what their parents are wearing. You can also use elastic bands to provide a snug fit, so kids can play hands-free and the glasses will stay on.
I make it a rule at my house. When we go outside, everybody has their glasses on. Getting my five-year-old son into that routine was difficult, but he really likes Bruno Mars, who’s always wearing sunglasses and a hat, so I got him the sunglasses, and I had to get him the hat too—it was the look he was after! Now he wears these cute little Ray-Bans and he’s just used to them.
Encourage them to put their sunglasses back in the case when they take them off, and that case should have a spot—in their desk at school, on the console table when they get home, or in their room. If there’s a spot for everything, things are less likely to get lost. You could also put a label with your child’s name inside the temple or on the case.