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Is It Safe To Photocopy Your Face?

The mother of a five-year – old who had his face photocopied in school fears that he might have been blinded. What are the risks involved? It’s a standard office prank to photocopy a part of the anatomy.

But the experience of Luke Wilson, five, was anything but light-hearted to his family. Complaining his eyes, he told his parents that his face had been photocopied at school. The doctor has diagnosed allergic conjunctivitis due to strong light, and his mother fears that his eyes might be damaged.

While not a practice that would ever be advisable, what are the risks? Very low from a single exposure, says the Health and Safety Executive spokesperson.

“We wouldn’t advocate people photocopying their faces, but we think it’s extremely unlikely that a single exposure would cause long-term damage.” Not all photocopiers generate ultraviolet light, and most would dissipate the glass, “he added.

Eye experts take the risk of photocopying the face once or twice. “It’s not a good idea, let’s face it,” says Chris Inglehearn, Professor of Molecular Ophthalmology at the University of Leeds. “There are studies done on animals, and if you shine a bright light in their eyes, it can cause retinal degeneration, so there’s evidence that very severe light exposure can damage the eyes, but I suspect this isn’t serious, you’d have to do a lot.” Triggering epilepsy would be more of a concern, he adds, because there is anecdotal evidence that this has happened in the past.


The eyes could be damaged by hours of photocopying, says Professor Neville Osborne of the Nuffield Ophthalmology Laboratory in Oxford. “But if it’s just one or two flashes, then I can’t see that it’s harmful. UVB could be harmful and could affect the lens of the eye, and there’s a big story about that UV light of any kind can be harmful to the lens and the retina.”

But you’d have to be exposed for a long time. Ordinary light may even damage the retina if a person has a “stress” condition such as glaucoma. Professor Neville says that the headache and eye irritation experienced by Luke Wilson is not unexpected. “Light can cause eye infections because it interacts with various components, such as mitochondria, in the cells, and may cause irritation, such as conjunctivitis, but not cell death.”

But what about potential skin damage?

Ultraviolet light is made up of UVA, which can cause skin cancer but can not travel through glass, and UVB, which ages the skin and can travel through certain types of glass, says dermatologist Geoff Fairris.

“A one-off dose of UV through a glass photocopier is not going to do anything to your skin,” he says. Sales reps who drive about 30,000 miles a year often have brown marks and red veins on their right cheek but not their left, he says, because UVB light travels through a car’s side windows but not windscreens. To prevent readers putting themselves at risk, the Magazine tried it and found it to be hot and bright.

By Geraoma - Own work, Public Domain,

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