Do Children Need Sunglasses?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, May 3, 2020

We all appreciate the need to protect our skin and eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation— this is even more important for children!

Your child’s over exposure to UV rays is a major cause for concern;

  • UV radiation can cause serious eye damage!
  • Up to 80% of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation is reached before age 18!
  • Only 5% of adults report that their child “always” wears sunglasses when outside!

Which type of UV light is harmful?

There are three different kinds of UV radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVA rays are not absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere and therefore pose the greatest risk to our ocular health.

UVB rays are partially absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, and also pose a great threat to our ocular health. Overexposure to UVB rays can cause sunburns of the skin and eyes, as well as other ocular conditions.

Since our eyes are exposed to both UVA and UVB radiation, protection against these harmful rays is absolutely necessary.

UVC rays are completely absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere and therefore do not pose any risk to our ocular health.

Why is UV light harmful?

Overexposure to UVB radiation over a short period of time such as a day at the beach, can cause photokeratitis, or ‘sunburn of the eye’.

This type of sunburn can cause temporary, but painful symptoms such as red eyes, light sensitivity, a feeling of something in the eye, and excessive tearing. Aside from the temporary pain and discomfort, photokeratitis generally does not cause any long term ocular damage.

However, an accumulation of UV exposure over the span of many years can cause severe ocular diseases such as cataracts or macular degeneration, and threaten partial or total loss of vision.

UVA and UVB radiation pose a great ocular health risk because the radiation is actually absorbed by the eye—UVB rays are generally absorbed by the cornea and lens, causing damage to these tissues, while   UVA rays penetrate deeper into the eye, causing retinal damage.

Why are children extra sensitive to UV exposure?

The lens inside the eye is our natural defense barrier against UV light, filtering out the harmful rays. Unlike an adult’s eye, a child’s eye is still maturing— consequently, their “filter” is not as effective.

It is essential for children to wear sunglasses from a young age— they spend hours outdoors in the sun! Parents can encourage children to wear sunglasses by allowing them to choose a pair that is both comfortable and stylish.

The color and tint density of the lens generally doesn’t impact the quality of protection. However, keep in mind that when choosing a pair of shades, it is important to ask an optician if the lenses have been approved by the FDA for safety and UV protection.

Also, it is generally beneficial to purchase polycarbonate sunglasses  for lightweight, impact resistant, and comfortable wear.

If you suspect your child has an eye condition, contact an eye doctor near you who can diagnose and treat the condition.

SEE RELATED: Why Does My Child Need Bifocals?

Find an eye doctor for children near you

Sunglasses are only necessary when it’s sunny, right?


Although many people think that sunglasses are only needed when the weather is sunny, eye doctors say otherwise!

UV rays reflect off of many surfaces such as snow, water, sand, and even buildings! Snow actually reflects up to 94 percent of UVB rays, compared to water which reflects up to 8 percent. Reflected UV light is just as harmful as direct UV exposure— responsible for 50 percent of the UV radiation we are exposed to!

Many people are also unaware that sunglasses are necessary even when there is an overcast. According to research, on days when high clouds are present, the UV index is just as high as when the sky is clear!

However, it is safe to go out without sunglasses when the weather is rainy, foggy, or there is a presence of low clouds, as UV radiation is greatly reduced in those conditions.

Since UV exposure is at its highest between 2pm and 4pm—when 39.8 percent of us are outdoors – sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection are the optimal choice of protection.

Are all sunglasses with UV protection created equal?


Not all sunglasses filter 100 percent of UV radiation. If you are uncertain how much protection your sunglasses provide, ask your eye doctor — they may have special instruments that can measure the UV filter on your lenses.

Keep in mind that the larger the frame, the more protection you will receive. Larger lenses, or a tighter, wrap-around frame will offer protection for the delicate skin around your eyes as well.

If your child is outdoors on a regular basis, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, specifically on sunny days, can further reduce their UV exposure by up to 50 percent!

Do photochromic lenses protect from sunlight?


If your child wears glasses full-time, you may be wondering what you can do, as an additional pair of sunglasses is just not an option!

If your child needs full time vision correction, photochromic lenses are a great solution. Eyeglasses with photochromic lenses, also called transition lenses, eliminate the need for sunglasses.

Photochromic lenses automatically change from clear lenses to darkened lenses in the presence of sunlight. These lenses come in many different lens materials and colors, and block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays.

Most optometrists can recommend sunglasses and photochromic glasses in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.

Let your child lead you to the frames they love best —this will ensure that they wear them regularly! Also, since UV light exposure can truly lead to harmful effects, set a good example for your child— wear your sunglasses whenever you go outside!

LEARN MORE: Guide to Children’s Eye Exams

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam, and to discuss any questions you may have about treating your child’s eye condition.