Chances are you've seen the cutesy-cute photos: a baby or toddler dressed up like an adult, with a too-large pair of sunglasses on the verge of sliding right off baby's face. The pictures are fun, cute, and lively - a bit of whimsy to make you smile.
But the sunglasses that were once meant simply to charm are now finding a new, straightforward purpose. Some doctors and researchers say early exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) presents a higher risk of cataracts in small children.
While the research is by no means conclusive, some sunglass manufacturers aren't waiting for empirical proof to come in. Foster Grant, Baby Banz and Julbo are already introducing a line of specially built sunglasses especially for the toddler market. Made of sturdy plastic, the frames feature an elastic wraparound strap to hold the glasses firmly to the child's head without uncomfortable pinching. Naturally, they come in a variety of child-friendly colors: light blue, pastel pink, and dozens of other shades.
Some experts applaud the industry's leap into protective eyewear for children. It's never too early to protect your child's eyesight, they say, and cataracts especially can have devastating consequences in anyone's later life. To encourage this trend, the Lions Club International is already starting a campaign to promote sunglass use among children.
But some critics remain skeptical, saying there's already too much action, even before final research results have a chance to be evaluated by pediatric ophthalmologists and other experts. At least one researcher says there's no proof that cataracts can't be caused by other environmental factors. For example, families living at higher altitudes are much more susceptible to cataracts than people living at lower altitudes. Without conclusive proof that sunglasses positively benefit and preserve children's eyesight, these critics would prefer no statements about "saving children's eyesight" be made in the press or in advertising materials.
Still, some say, protective sunglasses can't hurt in the meantime. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following when choosing sunglasses for your children:
1. Look for lenses that offer protection from UVA and UVB rays, two kinds of ultraviolet light that cause tissue damage to the eyes over time. Cheaper lenses can often cause the eyes' lenses to dilate, which can cause more damage than simply going without.
2. Make sure the lenses are acrylic, or otherwise scratch-resistant.
3. Choose frames that are made from polycarbonate, which are less likely to bend or break than plastic or aluminum frames.
4. Buy frames with a built in nose saddle, which are more comfortable than adjustable nose pads.
5. Wear your own sunglasses outside, to set a good example for the children.