There are several common sayings out there that help describe the old economic principle of risk and reward. “No pain, no gain” or “no risk it, no biscuit” are a couple off the cuff. You could easily apply these sayings to the welding profession. Many welders make good money but face some inherent risks on the job on a day-to-day basis.
Can you get sunburned from welding? Yes, you can get sunburned from welding. Not only can welding outdoors increase your risk of getting sunburned, but the intense flashes of ultraviolet light released from welding torches can cause specific “sunburns” known as “flash burns.”
Every welding job, no matter how brief or innocuous it may seem, should be started with the proper personal protective equipment. This should include full-coverage face masks, gloves, and fire-resistant suits.
Can You Get Sunburned from Welding?
Yes, you can get sunburned from welding and the most common type is on your eyeball.
First and foremost, some welding jobs performed outdoors cause the welder to face extended exposure from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.
However, the threat of sunburn is much higher for welders than any other person who goes out in the sun. Welding arcs emit radiation across a wide range of wavelengths, including ultraviolet, which has wavelengths between 200 to 400 nanometers.
The most common of these burns are caused to the eye and is known as “arc eye,” “welder’s eye,” or “flash burn.” When getting an arc eye, a welder’s eyes are quickly exposed to a flash of intense ultraviolet radiation coming from the welding arc. Symptoms of arc eye include:
- Pain, from feelings of mild pressure in the eye to intense burning
- Eye tearing and reddening
- A gritty “sand-like” sensation
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty looking directly at light sources
While these symptoms are similar to a sunburn on the eyes, they can be much more acute and common for welders who have to make dozens of arcs daily.
The symptoms of arc eye generally pass in a day or two, but when left untreated after many exposures can lead to loss of vision or more severe issues.
Although arc eye is the most common form of sunburn for welders, the skin can just as quickly be burned when left unexposed.
UV radiation from welding arcs causes sunburns when directly introduced to the skin. It can also deflect off metal and other surfaces to reflect and burn unprotected skin.
Can Welding Light Burn Your Skin?
Yes, welding light can burn your skin.
While it is most common to experience sunburns to the eyes because of welding, the skin can just as easily get burned from extended exposure to UV rays.
Therefore, long sleeves and sunscreen are recommended for welders.
Can You Get Skin Cancer from Welding?
Yes, you can get skin cancer from consistent, prolonged exposure to the UV radiation that welding produces.
Just as UV damage from sunlight can lead to melanoma and various other skin related issues, UV damage from welding arcs can just as easily lead to skin cancer.
Skin cancer is highly unlikely from an isolated burn or even a series of burns.
Repeated, extended exposure to UV radiation from anything, including welding arcs, can damage skin cells. After repeated exposure, the skin cells are not able to reproduce correctly, opening the door for cancer.
If you experience flash burns from welding, make sure to utilize hygiene practices and researched-based treatments. This is your best chance for the wound heal to minimize the risk of cell mutation occurring and leading to skin cancer.
How Do You Treat Flash Burn from Welding?
Dealing with flash burns from welding is very similar to how you would treat a sunburn due to excessive sun exposure.
If the flash burn happens to the skin, make sure you are taking the following steps:
- Always keep the burn well moisturized, preferably with an aloe-based sun-soothing lotion.
- Apply cool water to the burn, as necessary.
- Always keep the burn covered when going outside.
- Avoid picking, scratching, or peeling actions that can interrupt the burns natural healing process.
If you are dealing with the more common “arc eye,” there are some steps that you can take to provide some relief and expedite the healing process:
- Take pain-relieving medication, such as ibuprofen or codeine. Take the recommended dosage for no more than two days and consult your doctor if your eyes do not start feeling better.
- Do not wear contact lenses until your eyes have completely healed.
- Wear sunglasses any time you go outside. Wear them inside if you feel like you are experiencing light sensitivity.
- Use artificial tears and lubricants to help manage burning or scratchy sensations in your eyes.
Does Sunscreen Help Welding?
Yes, sunscreen does help prevent UV burns from welding.
While you can get sunburned from welding, the good news is that just like with the sunburns you get at the beach, these burns are readily preventable with the correct preparations.
The first place to start is with personal protective equipment. As mentioned earlier, this will include a UV-protectant mask or visor, gloves, and a fireproof suit.
However, if, for some reason, you cannot utilize all the necessary preventative equipment, there is a special welder’s sunscreen (this is an affiliate link and you can see the best price on Amazon here) that will help block UV rays. It is a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of 36 that will protect against the UV radiation emitted from welding arcs.
This particular sunscreen is helpful for welders on the job because there is no waiting period for it to absorb in the skin, allowing welders to get to work right when it is applied.
If you do not have special welder’s sunscreen, any broad-spectrum sunscreen will help prevent flash burns, as long as it has an SPF over 30 and is applied correctly.
When possible, try to use a combination of sunscreen and personal protective equipment to provide optimal protection from UV radiation when welding.
Best Practices for Preventing Sunburns When Welding
While most professional and experienced welders will be well-versed in the realm of safety and burn prevention, many people are still learning the trade and/or not in a position where they can invest in all the protective resources.
If this is the case for you, try to employ all the following safety techniques to avoid painful and damaging flash burns while welding:
- Always wear pants, long sleeves, and proper facial protection. If this gets too hot and/or uncomfortable for you, try to limit yourself to shorter shifts where you can cool off, refocus, and get back to welding as safely as possible.
- Apply sunscreen to any part of the body that is not covered. When possible, try to use both sunscreen and long sleeves to provide an extra layer of protection.
- Keep your torch as far away from your body as possible. This is a delicate balance, as you need to be in a position of strength to operate the torch when making a weld safely. But, in-between uses, if you keep the torch as far away as possible from your eyes, and avoid exposure to your skin, you can help prevent burning.
- Stay hydrated and keep your skin moisturized. Ultraviolet rays are particularly damaging to dry skin and, in fact, once burned, extra moisture is transported to and from the skin to expedite the healing process. As such, going into a welding job with properly moisturized skin can slow down the damage caused by UV radiation.