Can I Use Welding Glasses to Look at the Sun?
People usually avoid looking directly at the sun. Beyond the fact that it’s painful, it can cause severe vision impairment and partial blindness. However, there are many good reasons for viewing the sun — such as during a solar eclipse. Although it occurs about twice a year on the earth, an eclipse is a rare event for any specific geographic location. This rarity means that when it does occur, solar eclipse glasses at local stores quickly sell out. People then look for alternatives, such as welding glasses.
Unfortunately, most welding glasses are unsuitable for looking at the sun. Only the darkest welding glasses with a shade level of 14 will protect your eyes. These are often used for heavy duty industrial welding and may not be available in many hardware stores. Eclipse watchers might then snatch up the darkest welding glasses they can find, which often have shade levels less than 14. This is a mistake because viewing an eclipse isn’t worth damaging your eyesight.
Solar eclipse glasses from Phillips Safety Products use lens material certified to be shade 14. It’s also compliant with all ISO 12312-2:2015 transmission requirements for direct solar observation. This means you can safely reuse them for viewing the sun indefinitely, provided they are kept in good condition.
Beware of welding glasses without a marking that designates the shading level because using them is like playing Russian roulette with your eyes. As mentioned previously, shade 14 is only used for heavy duty welding. This is uncommon. Even many of the welding operations in shipyards require shade levels less than 14.
In short, the answer to the question: “Can I use welding glasses to look at the sun?” is yes, but only when they have shade level 4 lenses.
Why Ordinary Sunglasses Won’t Work
People generally know that sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) that can harm the eyes. This is why a good pair of sunglasses should block UVA and UVB. However, UV blocking sunglasses are meant for exposure to indirect sunlight. That is, sunlight reflected off ordinary objects such as trees, rocks, and common surfaces, as well as scattered blue light from the sky. But sunglasses aren’t meant for direct viewing of the sun. This confusion is why some people wear sunglasses for viewing an eclipse, which has caused serious vision damage. Why are sunglasses inadequate? Because looking directly at the sun exposes the eyes to extreme levels of UV, visible light, and infrared radiation.
According to Kaiser Permanente, solar eclipse glasses reduce light intensity by 10,000, while ordinary sunglasses only give you a reduction factor of ten. Intense ultraviolet light damages the eye’s transparent outer layer (the cornea) and lens. Intense visible light and infrared will damage the retina. Infrared is the heat you feel when standing in intense sunlight on a summer day as compared to standing in the shade. The lens of the eye acts like a magnifying glass that focuses this already intense light onto a concentrated area on the retina. Focusing sunlight with an ordinary magnifying glass on paper or a dry leaf will cause it to burn. According to Scientific American, the eye’s lens is four times as powerful as an ordinary magnifying glass. Focused light on the retina will cause both thermal burns and photochemical damage
Sunglasses block little infrared and don’t block enough visible light to prevent retinal damage while viewing the sun. If sunglasses blocked sufficient visible light for eclipse viewing, you wouldn’t be able to use them for driving or walking because they would be too dark for seeing anything other than the sun or brilliant welding arc flashes.
Safety Tips for Viewing an Eclipse
- Protect your eyes. This point can’t be emphasized enough. Use either solar eclipse glasses that meet ISO 12312-2:2015 requirements, or welding glasses with a shade level of 14. Resist any temptation of viewing a partially eclipsed sun with unprotected eyes. Even though it may appear dim, the remaining part of the exposed sun is enough to cause damage. In fact, there’s a case study of a woman who viewed a partial eclipse without the right protection. After noticing vision problems, she sought medical help. Doctors found a crescent shaped burn on her retina. It was a burned image of a crescent shaped eclipse.
- Don’t view the eclipse with unprotected optical devices. Solar eclipse glasses and welding glasses (shade level 4) provide protection when directly viewing the sun. They aren’t strong enough for use with unprotected optical devices such as cameras, telescopes, or binoculars. These greatly magnify the sunlight’s intensity.
- Do your research. Will you be within the path of totality or outside? If you’re outside, you must wear eye protection throughout the entire phenomenon because the sun is never completely blocked by the moon. If you’re inside, know exactly how long the eclipse totality will last. Take off your protection (if you want) only when the moon completely covers the sun. Protect your eyes when the sun begins to reappear.
- Inspect your solar eclipse glasses and follow instructions. Damaged or improper use of your solar eclipse glasses can cause eye damage.
- Use the proper technique. Look away from the sun while putting on and taking off your protection. Never do this while looking at the sun.
Other Uses for Solar Eclipse Glasses
There will be ten solar eclipses from July 13, 2018 to August 2, 2027. Unfortunately, the United States won’t have one until April 8, 2024. Unless you’re willing to do some international traveling, it will be a long wait. However, an almost 5 and one-half hour transit of the planet Mercury across the sun will be visible in large metropolitan areas such as New York, Detroit, Chicago, and Washington DC on November 11, 2019. Viewing the planet as a black dot against the brilliant surface of the sun is a fascinating change from the usual way of seeing it as a white spot against the black night sky.
You can also keep track of large solar sunspots that periodically occur on the sun. During periods of high sunspot activity, solar flares erupt from the sun’s surface. These are responsible for the aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and aurora australis in the southern hemisphere.
If you aren’t inclined to view solar events, solar eclipse glasses are perfect for viewing dramatic sunbursts through clouds, trees, and buildings. These provide artistic inspiration for artists and photographers. Others draw spiritual inspiration from this beautiful natural phenomenon.
Do you have questions about shade 14 solar eclipse glasses? Contact us today.