Can you get a sunburn from welding? Non-welders are often surprised to learn that welding sunburn is a real thing. Like UV radiation from the sun, the infrared, ultraviolet, and visible radiation from a welding arc will burn unprotected skin. Also, any radiation reflected from metal and other surfaces can cause a welding skin burn as severe as one that comes from direct exposure to UV radiation.
Although welding sunburn is an occupational hazard, it is as preventable as any other welding danger. Armed with the correct information, you can reduce or eliminate the risk factor. Here's what you should know to protect yourself from the short-term and long-term effects of welding sunburn:
What are the symptoms of welding sunburn?
Welding sunburns frequently occur in the eyes, and they are typically referred to as "flash burn" or "arc eye." A quick flash of intense ultraviolet radiation causes these burns, and the symptoms of arc eye include:
- Pain that can feel like mild pressure or concentrated burning
- Sensitivity to light
- Bloodshot eyes and tearing
- A feeling similar to grit in the eye
- Blurry vision
Although arc eye is the more common form of welding sunburn, welding skin burns frequently happen for welders, causing an immediate burning sensation. If the radiation is intense, the skin might even peel off.
Keep in mind that repeated and intense exposure to ultraviolet radiation from a welding torch could develop mutant cells, leading to skin cancer eventually.
How do you treat a welding sunburn?
Dealing with a welding sunburn is the same as treating the one you got from too much time under the natural sun:
- Keep the burn moisturized with an aloe-based lotion (taking in plenty of fluids will also help keep the burn moisturized)
- Apply cool water
- Cover the burn if you go outside
- Allow the burn to heal on its own—don't scratch, pick, or peel it
If you have eye arc, try these treatment options:
- Take a pain-reliever such as an acetaminophen tablet or ibuprofen (consult your doctor if your eyes do not start feeling better in two days)
- Wear sunglasses when you go outside (or inside if you experience light sensitivity)
- Do not wear contact lenses until your eyes have completely healed
- Use artificial tears and lubricants to help manage your burning or scratchy eyes
A doctor may prescribe antibiotic drops for your eye to prevent infection and specialized drops called "atropine," which dilate your pupils and help take the strain off the eye muscles.
How long does a welding sunburn last?
Welding skin burns will last according to the degree of the burn: First-degree burns are superficial and heal in three to five days, while the third-degree variety is much deeper and can take up to ten days. Eye flash should be better in 2 to 3 days, and if it isn't, see your doctor.
Does sunscreen help prevent welding sunburns?
Yes, sunscreens help prevent the harmful effects of UV radiation from welding. Just as they protect you from sunlight, they can keep you from getting a painful welding sunburn. The difference is that you will be much closer to the source of the UV radiation when you're welding, so the protection needs to be stronger.
Sunscreens containing zinc oxide are acknowledged as the best for preventing welding burns. Choose a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30, but SPF 45 or 50 is better for welding protection. Pick a 'broad spectrum' sunscreen since they offer protection from almost any rays emitted during welding.
Here are two products that could provide the proper protection against welding sunburn:
Industrial Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF36 is broad-spectrum sunscreen with anti-inflammatory properties. It's fragrance-free with 80 minutes of water resistance and no white residue left on the skin. Amazon price: $37.05
EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen is another broad-spectrum product from a mineral-based zinc oxide formula. It keeps skin calm, especially for those prone to acne, discoloration, and rosacea. SPF 46 facial sunscreen also contains antioxidants. Amazon price: $39.00
Welding sunburns are a real thing, and they can cause everything from slight discomfort to severe pain to skin cancer. Prevention includes sunscreen, long sleeves, pants, gloves, and a welding helmet. Keep the torch as far away from your body as possible when welding while keeping yourself hydrated and your skin moisturized. Take these steps and avoid the damage caused by UV radiation.