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There are few things as adorable as a tiny kid in a cool pair of sunnies, but kids’ sunglasses are more than just accessories to go with their new swimsuit. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are no joke and experts say exposure to them can cause short- and long-term eye damage—even in children.
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Kids’ eyes, just like the rest of their body, are not fully developed yet. Thanks to their larger pupils and the less mature structure of their eye, a child’s eye may allow up to 70% more UV rays to enter the retina than an adult's.
The EPA reports that “most of an average person's UV exposure from the sun occurs before the age of 18.” What that means is it’s important to protect kids’ eyes and not just any kids’ sunglasses will do.
What to look for in kids' sunglasses
More than anything, our experts say you need to choose sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays. If a pair of sunglasses says “UV protection” but doesn’t specify that it offers 100% UV protection from both UVA and UVB rays, then you’re not buying the kind of eye protection your child needs.
Either look for glasses that say UV400 (which indicates that all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers, including both UVA and UVB rays, are blocked) or that they provide 100% UVA and UVB protection. If that information is not clear, buy another pair of sunglasses.
Faruk H. Örge, MD, FAAO, FAAP, director of pediatric ophthalmology at UH Rainbow & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, says there are lots of misconceptions about what makes a truly effective pair of sunglasses. He helped us bust five common myths, to help ensure your child’s fashion statement is also highly protective.
Myth #1: Expensive is better
While it’s often best to avoid novelty glasses that may look cute but don't offer much in the way of protection, that doesn't mean that you have to spend a ton to get a good, protective pair. Örge says that what matters most is protection level. Check to be sure that your child's glasses have a sticker or tag that indicates 100% UV protection or a UV rating of 400 or more to ensure their eyes are properly shielded from the sun's harmful rays.
Myth #2: Dark lenses are better
Often it's assumed that darker lenses offer greater protection. Örge says that just isn't a fact. "Just because lenses are darker, doesn’t mean they have better protection," he says. Similarly, colored lenses don’t mean they block more or less UV light. Again, look for the UV400 label.
Myth #3: Polarized lenses are all you need
Polarized lenses help cut the glare of the sun, but they have nothing to do with sun protection. If your child's eyes are sensitive, a polarized set of shades will help them see better in reflective conditions, like on a boat or in the snow, but—as we've said before—check the label before you assume that they are protecting them from UV rays.
Myth #4: Older glasses are as good as new
Think twice before putting hand-me-down glasses on your child. Research as to whether UV protection fades over time is inconclusive. If you wonder if older sunglasses still protect your children's eyes from UV light, either play it safe and pick up a new pair, or—particularly if your child has prescription glasses—have them checked by an optician.
Myth #5: Kids don't need sunglasses on a cloudy day
UV rays are just as potent on a cloudy day as they are on a clear day. You should be keeping up with sunblock, sunglasses and all skin protection even in overcast weather.
9 pairs of kids' sunglasses that check all the boxes
Here are some of our favorite, myth-busting sunglasses that check all of the marks for stellar sun protection. All of these sunglasses have 100% UVA/UVB protection and are UV400. They fulfill the recommendations of our experts, though these models aren’t specifically recommended by any doctors we've consulted.
1. A highly protective pair for the littlest beach-goers
Best for ages: 0 to 2
You can never start too young when it comes to sun protection. It’s recommended that children 6 months and older wear sunglasses but—in most cases—good luck keeping them on their faces. These shades have superior UV protection as well as a soft velcro wraparound strap that will keep them comfortably in place for long stroller rides or epic beach days.
2. A set of cool Wayfarer dupes
Best for ages: 0 to 12
If we are going to get real, these are our personal favorites. Ray-Ban Wayfarers are a classic style that’s always on trend. Not only do these pint-sized dupes (adorably called WeeFarers) keep with the retro style, they also offering superior sun protection and feel super lightweight on kids' faces and come in both polarized and non-polarized. Both types of shades offer 100% UVA/UVB protection and impact-resistant lenses—so they’ll stand up to play as well as they stand up to UV rays.
3. An extra wide set with style to spare
Best for ages: 6 months to 5
Made with soft, recycled polycarbonate plastic, the frames on these sunnies are flexible enough to withstand all of the crazy activities your kiddo can throw at them. The UV400 lens will filter out 99.9% of UVA and UVB rays and the large frames will give more protective coverage to your little one’s face.
4. A smart set that is super protective
Best for ages: 0 to 12
Covering UVA, UVB and UVC rays, these are some of the most protective pairs of sunglasses you can get. Their super-strong and hyper flexible lenses and frames are made to stand up to even the most destructive kid and their polarized lenses make them a perfect foil against reflective surfaces.
5. A polarized pair for the sporty kid
Best for ages: 3 to 11
The frames on these kids’ sport shades profess to be indestructible and reviewers seem to agree, praising them for being “super bendy” while holding their shape. Reviewers love the high quality of these lenses and the feel of the frames so much that they’ve inspired a bit of sticky fingers in the adults reviewing them, including one grandmother who bought them for her 3-year-old granddaughter: “They have such great glare protection that I may just keep them myself.”
While we don’t blame her for holding on to these sweet shades, they are well-priced enough that you actually don’t have to steal from a child.
6. A polarized pair with an incredible warranty
Best for ages: 3 to 7
BPA-, lead-, PVC- and phthalate-free, these shades are not only devoid of harmful chemicals, they have a flexible frame, sturdy, UV-blocking lenses and added polarization to reduce 99% of visible glare from water, snow, sand and pavement. These shades are impact-resistant and claim to be “virtually indestructible” and they come with a warranty that covers everything—including loss.
7. A wraparound set for ultimate protection
Best for ages: 3 to 10
These sporty sunglasses with extra-wide lenses cover more surface area with their wide frames and their UV protection packs a punch. Made from impact-resistant polycarbonate, they are a good choice for sporty kids or any type of outdoor adventurer. We are also fans of the rubberized tips that help keep these sunglasses in place, no matter what sort of excitement they may accompany your child on.
8. Shades that are as colorful as they are indestructible
Best for ages: 0 to 5
Colorful, cute and virtually indestructible, Babiators have a bendable rubber frame and shatterproof lenses. Offering 100% UVA/UVB protection, and a range of shapes and impossibly adorable styles to fit every child, these glasses have not only been tested to withstand impact—they’ve been tested to stand up to little teeth that mistake them for a teething ring.
9. A bendable pair that just won’t snap
Best for ages: 0 to 3
Twist them, bend them, throw them—these nearly indestructible glasses profess to be indestructible and reviewers say they live up to their claims. These glasses can be sat on or literally bent in half and still not snap. They also offer excellent UVA and UVB protection, and they are polarized to cut glare for even the smallest shade-wearers.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
This article originally appeared on Reviewed: These kids' sunglasses have ophthalmologist-approved protection