“Don’t stare at the sun,” for many, is a warning they grew up hearing from their parents. The dangers are evident as soon as someone dares to look at the sun. You immediately notice the issues with your vision. There are ways to avoid the sun with hats and sunglasses, but what can you do if you want to look directly at the sun without going blind?
Can you look at the sun through a welding helmet? Information from NASA indicates that you can use a welding helmet to look at the sun as long as the helmet is equipped with a lens shade of 12 or higher. Looking directly at the sun is not recommended. If your work puts your vision in line of sight with the sun, try to use objects around you as a barrier.
Not all welding helmets are made the same (and in more ways than just the paint job). Different shade levels protect the eyes, making some welding helmets safer than others when it comes to sungazing.
In this article, you will learn what happens to your eyes when you stare at the sun and how certain welding helmets can allow direct sungazing.
Can You Look at the Sun Through a Welding Helmet?
NASA’s Safety Guidelines recommend using a special solar filter to view the sun directly. Your everyday sunglasses are not safe enough. If you want to use a welding helmet to look at the sun, they recommend welding helmets with a shade level of 12 or higher.
If you are uncertain what the lens shade is on the welding helmet that you intend to use, then the safest thing to do is not look directly at the sun and find a different helmet.
How Do Welding Helmets Protect Your Eyes from the Sun?
A welding helmet, according to J. Welder with Welding Helmet Genius, is a piece of headgear welders use to protect their eyes, face, and neck.
Welders are concerned with flash burns ultraviolet lights (both can affect your eyes and with enough exposure, your skin) sparks, and heat. They use helmets when arc welding to protect the eyes by preventing inflamed corneas and retina burns.
The welding helmets have a window in front of the eye area with a filter called a lens shade. The lens is there so the welder can see, but the shade protects their eyes.
The Lens Shade
Welding helmets have numbers assigned with their lenses. The numbers correspond with the ability of the lens to filter out infrared and UV rays.
If you want to use a welding helmet to look at the sun, you will want to make sure you use a welding helmet with an appropriate shade number.
At a minimum, you want a shade level of 12, but a level 13 is better. Often, the level 14 is too dark for viewing the sun in most situations.
Auto Darkening Helmets
Since the early 1980’s welding helmets that include an LCD shutter that adjusts to light automatically have been available.
Welders prefer auto-darkening welding helmets because when they are working with different metals, a one-size-fits-all approach to a welding helmet is not useful.
The auto-darkening shade adjusts to varying levels of brightness, so this feature helps protect their eyes no matter the material on which they are working.
If you decide to use an auto-darkening lens for viewing the sun, note that not all auto-darkening welding helmets go up to a lens shade of 14. Most have a range that ends at shade level 13.
Those who are using welding helmets to look at the sun may find the auto-darkening feature helpful.
However, be sure to change the sensitivity up and turn the delay down. This adjustment allows the lens will transition to a higher shade quickly enough to protect your eyes.
If the delay takes too long to transition, you run the risk of damaging your eyes.
What Happens to Your Eyes in the Sun?
When people think of sunburns, they typically think of damage to the skin, not the eyes.
However, the eyes can become sunburned, as well. According to NVISION, the ultraviolet rays from the sun cause eye damage.
There are three different ultraviolet (UV) rays that can damage the eyes:
- Ultraviolet C (UVC) rays are damaging, but the ozone layer blocks nearly all these types of rays.
- Ultraviolet B (UVB) are weaker rays, but they cause lots of trouble for both the eyes and the skin.
- Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays can damage the cornea and are believed to be what causes cataracts and macular degeneration, but these rays are weak.
Long term eye issues that are caused by sun damage include cataracts, macular degeneration, and pinguecula, to name a few.
Unfortunately, many eye issues that result from sun damage cannot be reversed, so it is important to understand safe ways to sun gaze.
Symptoms of Eye Damage
If your eyes hurt in the sun, you have seen too much sun. There are some symptoms to watch out for that are signs you have been overexposed. If you have these symptoms, it is essential to get out of the sun immediately.
Symptoms of your eyes being overexposed to the sun include:
- Your eyes feel uncomfortable.
- Your eyes begin swelling.
- You see halos, have blurry vision, or even loss of sight.
- Your eyes feel gritty or are twitching.
Welding Helmet Options
Not every welding helmet was created equal as far as lens shade goes (sometimes the shade needs fixed, if it even worked properly to begin with).
Companies make welding helmets in a variety of shades. According to Mary Constantine’s article “Most Welder’s Lenses Not Suitable Alternative to Solar Eclipse Glasses,” the most common shade selected is a 10 or 11.
These shade levels are too low for sun viewing and should be avoided.
Lenses do not always have a marking to indicate their shading, so it is vital to have first-hand knowledge of the welding helmet’s shade level before using one to look at the sun.
If you are unsure if the shade level of the welding helmet you found is suitable for looking at the sun, you should consider buying a new one instead of risking your eyesight with an old helmet.
There are several suitable welding helmets (see our recommended welding helmets here) to choose from, but here are three options to consider:
- One of the best in the industry is The Lincoln Electric Viking 3350. This helmet gives users a wide field of vision and has proven to provide consistent eye protection.
- The Antra AH6-260-0000 is a budget-friendly and lightweight option. The view area is reasonable, and this helmet is sturdy enough to handle wear and tear.
- Jackson Safety BH3 W70 is another sturdy option. It is lightweight and adjustable for added comfort.
When evaluating welding hats, be sure to avoid options that do not provide the correct shade coverage.
The following are examples of welding lenses and helmets that are suitable for welding tasks but will not protect your eyes from the sun.
- The YESWELDER True Color Welding glasses might be a great choice in some situations, but because the shade only goes to an 11, you will damage your eyes if you use them to look directly at the sun.
- This welding helmet by Miller Electric is another example of a helmet suitable for specific welding options but not safe for looking at the sun. The shade of this helmet only reaches 12.
- Another example of a helmet with insufficient shade for looking at the sun is this helmet by Lincoln. This model has a shade control of 11, which is below the recommended 12 to 14.
Eye protection is essential when dealing with the sun. Even everyday exposure can cause medical problems, so intentional viewing of the sun requires protection.
Welding helmets offer protection for sun gazing, as long as you have a modern helmet with the correct lens shade.