Why kids glasses should offer the best UV protection
What all parents should know about protecting children’s eyes from harmful Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR).
When it comes to letting the kids play outdoors, most parents know how important it is to wear sunscreen, but the effect that Ultraviolet Radiation can have on their eyes is often overlooked. BETTER VISION explains how UV protection sunglasses and UV protection glasses can protect your child’s vision.
Children need to play outside
Spending time outside is an essential part of your child’s development, and you probably also love to bond and engage with your children when you’re playing outdoor sports and games together, or during a walk or picnic in the park.
Apart from learning to appreciate nature, getting a little fresh air, and balancing screen-time with outdoor relaxation, being outside means your child will get much-needed physical exercise. Furthermore, it can help strengthen the immune system, promote healthy sleeping, and contribute to a more positive mood.1 Research also suggests that children who spend more time outdoors have a lower chance of developing short-sightedness.2
In addition, your child’s body needs sun exposure to produce vitamin D, which plays an important role in the bone development process.1
The dangers associated with sun exposure
As beneficial as time spent outside may be for your child, it’s important to be aware of the hazards of too much sun exposure.
95–97% of the UVR (Ultraviolet Radiation) that reaches the earth’s surface penetrates deeply into the skin, where it can contribute to skin cancer and accelerated skin ageing. Excessive sun exposure can also damage the eyes, leading to eye diseases such as photokeratitis, photoageing (dermatoheliosis) and cataracts over time.1
As a parent, you obviously want what is best for them, and you may feel conflicted encouraging outdoor play when there are dangers involved. The good news is that you can have the best of both worlds with proper UV protection. To understand what UV protection constitutes, let’s take a step back and learn what UVR is.
What is Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR)?
The sun emits visible light, heat, and Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR). This UVR is divided into three bands – UVA, UVB and UVC.
Sun rays pass through the atmosphere and then the ozone layer, water vapour, carbon dioxide and oxygen absorbs all UVC rays, and around 90% of UVB rays. The remainder of the UVR that reaches the earth, is made up of UVA and a small percentage of UVB rays. UVR is present every day, all year round, and in all seasons, even on cloudy days.
UVR is measured in nanometre (nm), and is defined as wavelengths of 100 nm up to 400 nm. Keep this important measurement in mind when we elaborate on UV protection standards for lenses below.
Why are children more sensitive to UVR?
Your child may have experienced painful sunburn after a day spent outside – a direct result of prolonged UV exposure. However, UVA and UVB are also known causes of skin cancer3 and eye diseases, and children are more susceptible to UVR damage for several reasons:
- Children tend to spend more time outdoors, making their average UV exposure three times higher than that of an adult. 40-50% of lifetime UV exposure up to the age of 60 will happen before your child turns 20.4
- Melanin is the skin’s natural protective pigment.5 It effectively absorbs light and can dissipate absorbed UV radiation in the skin. Children’s skin contains less melanin.
- The crystalline lens protecting the eye is more transparent in children. As a result, for children under the age of 10, over 75% of UVR is transmitted by the crystalline lens, compared to 10% of UVR in those older than 25 years.6
Protecting your child from UVR
Research shows that children’s sun protection habits and behaviour are highly dependent on the example and advice they receive from their parents, even when they get older and start making their own decisions.7 This is great news for parents!
Persist, even if your child thinks sunglasses don’t look cool or you struggle to keep your toddler still to apply some sunscreen. Eventually, your guidance can make a difference to your child’s overall health.
The UV Index is designed to help people effectively protect themselves from UVR. Get into the habit of checking the UV Index, especially when your child is going to spend more time than usual outside, for example, when they go on a field trip. You can get the UV Index reading in your area from a local weather channel or website, or do a quick internet search. Use the table besides to guide you:
Don’t forget to protect your child’s eyes!
You’ve probably read a few parenting magazines, websites, children’s health blogs and social media posts where there’s a lot of focus on skin protection. It’s great to be aware of this, however, we tend to overlook the fact that excessive UV exposure can also be harmful to their eyes.
As mentioned already, the crystalline lens of a child’s eye lets more harmful UV rays through than the crystalline lens of an adult's eye. The sun can cause severe damage early on even though it may only present itself later in life in the form of cataracts (responsible for 48% of blindness worldwide) or photoageing.
On top of the long-term damage, your child can also get eye sunburn (photokeratitis), that can be very painful. Of course, prevention is always better, but you can read more here about first aid for eye sunburn.
How to protect your child’s eyes from UV
One of the best ways to stop or slow down the development of various eye diseases, is by wearing clear or tinted lenses designed to block harmful UVR and higher energy visible light from reaching the eyes. Unfortunately, the existing standards for UV protection in lenses are quite varied, and the UV protection standard for clear lenses don’t cover the full UV spectrum. For this reason, all parents should understand what comprehensive UV protection really means.
The WHO and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNRP) recommend UV protection up to 400 nm to block 100% UV rays (as already mentioned, the maximum UV wavelength is 400 nm).
Most lenses only protect against UV light up to a wavelength of 380 nm, which means that the remaining UVR will still enter your child’s eyes. It may sound like a small difference, but the irradiance between 380 and 400 nm is much more intense.
Talk to your eye healthcare practitioner about lenses that offer protection up to 400 nm.
UV protection sunglasses
There are many fun sunglasses designs for children, but bear in mind that it’s more than just a cool accessory. Sun protection for your children’s eyes is a serious matter. Just as you would take care in choosing a good sunscreen with a high SPF, take care in choosing quality sunglasses. Use the tips below as a guideline if you want to buy the best kids glasses:
- The first and most important thing to check is that you are purchasing UV protection sunglasses. The lenses must bear the CE mark, and block up to 400 nm (this is often visible on the product with a UV400 label, or you can ask your eye healthcare professional to be sure).
- There is a difference between glare protection and UV protection. All dark lenses block or reduce part of the visible sunlight (to reduce bright light or irritating reflections), but UVR can only be fully blocked by lenses with UV protection up to 400 nm.
- If your child does watersports or skiing, you can consider polarised lenses, but it’s best to talk to your eye healthcare professional to help you find the most suitable solution.
- For safety reasons, children’s sunglasses should be made of plastic lens materials which are lightweight and more resistant to breakage.
UV protection glasses – choose 400 nm protection in clear lenses
A lot of children wear prescription kids glasses on a daily basis to help them see better. But did you know that certain clear lenses can also effectively block harmful UV rays from entering the eyes?
However, as already mentioned, there is no clear industry standard for UV protection, and parents should be aware of the following:
- The general industry standard for clear lenses is 380 nm, which doesn’t fully block UVR to the level recommended by the WHO.
- Only 1 out of 5 lenses block UVR up to 400 nm (the maximum UV wavelength), so there’s a 4 out of 5 chance that your child’s lenses only partially block UVR.
- If clear lenses block UV up to 400 nm, it doesn’t only protect your child’s eyes, but also the sensitive surrounding skin, as you don’t usually apply sunscreen to the eyelids.
What to look for when you buy kids glasses
When you take your child for an eye test, the information may seem a little overwhelming but at least you now understand the importance of UV protective lenses.
Here’s a quick checklist for purchasing prescription kids glasses:
- Insist on lenses with full UV protection. Clear lenses with ZEISS UVProtect Technology give your child’s eyes the same level of protection as a pair of premium sunglasses.
- Kids glasses frames should fit comfortably, and you should take care in choosing the best frame for your child.
- As with children’s sunglasses, children’s spectacle lenses must be lightweight – plastic lenses are recommended for safety in case of breakage.
- If your child is particularly active or participates in sports, ask your eye healthcare professional for more information on specialised lens coatings, or prescription sunglasses.
Skin protection for your child
Once you’ve found the perfect pair of sunglasses or UV protection glasses for your child, the rest is easy. Keep an eye on the UV index and follow these skin protection tips:
- Apply sunscreen with a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) of at least 50+, 30 minutes before sun exposure, and opt for waterproof sunscreen for sports and water activities.
- Dress your child in sun protective clothing. Long sleeves and clothing that cover the neck and collarbone, arms and legs can be quite effective in preventing sunburn.
- Invest in a good sun protection hat to cover the face and eyes. Wide-brimmed hats or those with a neck flap are more effective than peaks, visors or caps.
- Ensure that your child’s hat fits well. Most hats have strings, straps or bands that can be tightened so it won’t fall off when they are running around.
- Babies should be kept out of the sun, as their skins barely have a self-protection time. Most strollers come standard with shade covers that can be closed to keep the sun out, so use it to cover your baby completely when outdoors. Also apply sunscreen even if you are keeping your baby in the shade.
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