Q: We’ve spent many a summer weekend at the beach, and my baby often pulls off the sun hat I’ve bought for her. I’ve slathered her in enough sunscreen to cover a small elephant, but I’m worried about her eyes, because she’s often squinting the whole time we’re out. I’ve seen baby sunglasses marketed, but I feel like they’re more of a gimmick than anything else. Do I actually need sunglasses for my baby to protect her eyes from the sun?

A: That’s an interesting question. Do you wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun? If the answer is yes, then the same goes for your kids. (Actually, if the answer is no, your kids' eyes still need protection.) Just like the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause damage or even cancer to your skin, it can also cause cataracts, photoaging, and even cancer in your eyes. So it’s very important to protect your children’s eyes, especially when they’re very young. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this might be the most vulnerable time for damage to your children’s eyes.

So that being the case, which kind do you choose? Well, you first want to look for sunglasses that block at least 99 or 100 percent of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. The sunglasses in retails stores are usually labeled as such if they do indeed offer such protection. Labels that say that the sunglasses block UV absorption up to 400 nm (nanometers) offer this protection as well.

Also, don’t look for just darker sunglasses. Unless the sunglasses are labeled as UV-protective, how darkly tinted the lenses are really doesn’t matter. In actuality, dark lenses that aren’t UV-protective can be more dangerous than wearing nothing because they will cause your pupils to dilate and take in more light.

Try to look for sunglasses that wrap around your baby’s temples because this will ensure that sun doesn’t get into his eyes through the sides as well.

And finally, because your baby is just as likely to chew on these sunglasses as he is to wear them (actually, probably more likely…), I think it’s important they also be nontoxic — i.e. BPA- and chemical-free. There are only a few brands that I know of that are BPA-free, like Baby Banz (which have a wraparound design to make sure that no sunlight gets in your little one’s eyes), Julbo and Babiators.

One catch — though the frames on these sunglasses are all BPA-free, I’m not sure the lenses themselves are. That’s because on some of these sunglasses the lenses are made from polycarbonate, which can contains BPA. One brand I know of for sure that is 100 percent BPA-free is Babiators. The lenses are made from acrylic and not polycarbonate.

I own Babiators for my kids, and can tell you that not only are these sunglasses nontoxic, but they are also virtually unbreakable. My son has tried everything — stomping on them, stretching them, twisting them, you name it. And what’s happened to them? Nada. They are still like new! I wish I could say the same about his first pair of sunglasses that I bought from a retailer at the mall. We weren’t even all the way home before I heard “Snap!” from the backseat, and they were trash. (Not to mention that unnerving little screw is still nowhere to be found.)

No matter what you choose, though, know that getting sunglasses for those beach days and even just for those afternoons at the park is a smart move, both for your baby and for you.

— Chanie

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Photo: Babiators; MNN homepage photo: iStockphoto

Do babies need sunglasses?
Do I need sunglasses for my baby to protect her eyes from the sun?