When it comes to letting the children 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.
Spending time outside is an essential part of your child’s development, and family time often involves playing outdoor sports and games together, going for a walk or having a 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
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 your children, and you may feel conflicted encouraging outdoor play when there are dangers involved. The good news is that your children can enjoy outdoor activities with proper UV protection. To understand what UV protection constitutes, let’s take a step back and learn what UVR is.
The sun emits visible light, heat, and Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR). This UVR is divided into three bands – UVA, UVB and UVC.
Sun rays move 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.
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 204.
- 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
Children are more sensitive to UV rays. Make sure you know how to protect your child’s skin and eyes.
- 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.
- 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 block UVR partially.
- 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.
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 will give your child’s eyes the same level of protection as a pair of premium sunglasses would.
- 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.
- 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.