If you’ve ever had a sunburn you know how painful it can be. A welding flash can have the same reaction. I’ve personally experienced this several times over the years. From being burnt on my face, neck, arms, and even my chest. However, all of these incidents happened because I failed to take the proper preventative measures to protect myself. So can welding give you a sunburn?
Welding can burn your skin from the Infrared and Ultraviolent light that it gives off. This happens because of uncovered skin either directly or indirectly from reflective surfaces. You can protect yourself by keeping your skin covered, avoiding reflective surfaces, and putting up welding barriers.
So whether your want to avoid burning your skin by looking for some simple methods to prevent this issue or because you are suffering from a welding burn right now and you’re looking for some relief keep reading.
How Welding Gives You a Tan or Sunburn
When it comes to welding it produces a very intense bright light. This light is actually liquifying metal at extremely high temperatures between 10,000 to 15,000 degrees. Believe it or not, that’s actually hotter than the surface of the sun.
Along with this bright light welding also gives off Ultraviolent and Infrared Light both of which you cannot see with the naked eye.
Ultraviolet light is produced by very hot objects such as the sun or by a welder. However, don’t be alarmed the UV produced by a welder is very low and can be blocked much like protecting yourself from the sun.
Then you have IR or Infrared light, which is produced by the heat a weld gives off. You can’t see it but you’ll most likely feel it.
In most cases, UV and IR will be blocked by your welding gear but if you would happen to have exposed skin on your neck or arms it will burn it if it received too much.
How Close Do You Have to Be to Get Flash Burn From Welding?
This all depends on how close to the weld and how intense the welding is. If you are close to the weld and the welder is running at 800 amps it won’t take much to get burnt. Five to ten minutes of direct exposure would likely burn you.
If you’re 100 feet away and only running at 200 amps then it will take a lot more to burn your skin at that distance. However, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about anything.
The golden rule I tend to live by is this…
Golden Rule: If someone is welding around you, whether close or far away, always treat it as a weld that can burn you.
If you follow this simple rule you will avoid getting burned on your skin or eyes. I’ve had employees in the past who’ve made this mistake thinking they’re far enough away and yet they still burn their skin and eyes.
Now you might be wondering how can you protect yourself from this harmful light? Keep reading.
How to Protect Yourself From Getting a Welding Sunburn?
The best way to protect yourself from welding burns is to take preventative measures to avoid these problems altogether. So here are some simple to protect your skin and eyes.
1. Keep Your Skin Covered
The first tip is to keep your skin covered at all times. In most cases, a cotton or leather long sleeve shirt, pants, and gloves will protect most of your skin surfaces.
I also like to use welding sleeves as extra protection as well. Welding sleeves are additional covers that go on your arms. Below is a set of sleeves I typically wear.
Your arms are one of the closest body parts to the weld and when your welding the spatter that comes off of your weld can often burn holes in your sleeves. With holes in your sleeves, you become more susceptible to burning your skin.
I use these to add an extra layer of protection and keep the intense heat off of my arms.
You’ll also want to invest in a decent welding helmet to protect your face. A good welding helmet blocks UV and IR light so you don’t burn your face. This is probably the other closest part of your body to the weld. Below is the helmet I use.
I personally like this Jackson Welding Helmet because it covers my neck well and prevents a lot of harmful light from coming up from underneath me.
2. Avoid Reflective Surfaces
Next your need to watch out for reflective surfaces that could harm you as well. Most people don’t think about it but the clothes you wear can cause your skin to burn.
White Clothes. I had one employee who wore white T-shirts to work and found out the hard way the next day. Since white is a reflective color it would reflect just enough light off of his shirt onto his neck and face.
Reflective Surfaces Around You. Next, you also need to think about the reflective surfaces around you while you are welding. If you’re welding aluminum it can reflect the light and cause it to burn your neck and face even if you have a good helmet and welding shirt on.
To avoid these issues you may want to consider using neck and overhead covers to protect yourself. Below are a couple of options I’ve used in the past.
With these kinds of covers, you’ll protect your neck and head from reflected UV and IR light.
3. Put Up Barriers
The final tip is to protect yourself from other people who are welding around you. While neck and overhead covers work well for this as well sometimes what you need is a barrier between you and the person next to you.
Here are a few options to consider.
Wood or Metal Block. The option I use in most cases is a wood or metal block. In my shop, we use 2 foot by 4-foot sheets of wood to block welds or 1/8″ sheet metal of the same size.
With this option, it will block the light out completely. However, if the people welding around you are moving constantly there is a better option.
Welding Curtains. With welding curtains, they block out a majority of light but are also easier to move around. I prefer the dark green curtains as opposed to the brighter yellow or orange curtains because they keep the brightness of the weld down.
How to Treat a Welding Burn?
Now that you have some options to help protect yourself from getting burnt in this next section I’m going to go through some tips to help you treat your welding burns.
1. Clean the Burn Area
The first thing you’ll want to do is clean the burnt area. The reason you’ll want to do this is that a welding shop is not the cleanest place. If you have a cut or scrape you wouldn’t want dirt on that either.
Start by wiping the area with a clean rag that has cool soapy water. I personally don’t like to use hot water because it doesn’t feel too good on the burn.
2. Aloe Ice
Next, I like to use Aloe Ice on the burnt area. Aloe will help moisturize the burnt skin. Below is a bottle of the stuff I use. You can learn more here on Amazon.
What’s nice about this aloe is that it gives a nice cooling effect after it’s been applied. In most cases applying this a few times over the next couple of days will fix the issue.
However, if you’ve been burnt really bad you may want to go on to the next option.
3. Burn Cream
If you’ve been burnt really bad then you may want to use a burn cream. Below are a couple of the options I’ve used in previous situations.
With burn cream, it is an over-the-counter option you can use to put on the burn area and it will give some relief from the burn. I rarely have to do this but if the aloe isn’t working then this is your next option.
4. Bandages and Dressing
If things are still not getting any better then consider using burn relief dressing that allows you to wrap the burn and protect it.
I’ve never had to use these options but if you’re in this situation then this will allow you to wrap it and keep it out of any harmful light and not make the situation worse than it already is.
5. Seek Medical Attention
Finally, if the burn is not getting better or worse then it may be time to seek medical attention. A lot of times a quick trip to your family doctor will allow you to get a prescription medication to use.
If the situation is severe then seek immediate medical attention. I’ve had employees who’ve dealt with this kind of pain in the past and if you are experiencing severe burn pain on your skin and eyes you’ll want to take care of it immediately.
How Long Does a Welding Burn Last?
Over the years I’ve dealt with varying degrees of different welding burns. Some not so serious and some very painful moments. However, here is what I’ve found when it comes to how long these types of burns will last
A welding burn will last between one to two days in most cases depending on the severity of the burn. With proper treatment and medication, it will heal faster than if you do nothing. If the pain persists after 1 or 2 days seek medical attention.
I can remember one time in particular where I burnt my face in December of all times and it felt painful. This happened because I neglected to wear a welding helmet and used my hand to cover the weld.
Covering a weld with your hand once or twice may not do much to burn your skin but if you do this a whole bunch of times as I did it can burn your skin without realizing it.
And like a sunburn, it’s oftentimes much later when you realize that you’ve burnt your skin and that something is wrong.
Can Welding Burn Cause Skin Cancer?
This is a common question most people have as welders since they are around the harmful bright lights. So can welding cause skin cancer?
Welding produces Ultraviolet and Infrared light that are known to cause skin cancers. Overexposure to these harmful lights can increase your chances. Protect your arms, chest, neck, and face. Finally, check your skin for any irregular spots and report them to your doctor.
To learn more about this check out this article on Cancer.org.
My best advice is to take the preventative measures I’ve covered in this article and that will give the best chances to avoid cancer.
However, this doesn’t mean you will be free of it. Take time to look at your skin to make sure you are not forming any irregular spots. If you do see something irregular then report it to your doctor.
I like to do this when I shower at the end of the day. Doing this regularly will help catch it sooner and allow them to remove it before it gets too serious.
If things like burning your skin and getting skin cancer scare you just remember that you prevent a lot of this stuff by just taking the proper safety precoutions.
Welding can hurt you but so can a lot of other things as well. Just follow the tips and you will give yourself the best chances at staying safe.