Black light -- often referred to as ultraviolet or UV-A light -- is often used in clubs and museums, on Halloween displays and at amusement parks to entertain visitors and add to the ambiance, because it makes some colors glow when the regular lights are turned off. However, black light should not be used around babies because it emits ultraviolet radiation, which can be harmful to little eyes.
How Does Black Light Work?
A black light emits ultraviolet light, which creates a strong blue or purple glow when turned on in complete darkness. Ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye, because the eye can only see visible light on the spectrum. When black light hits an object containing phosphors, it glows brightly because phosphors convert the UV radiation from the black light into visible light. This is why white clothes, fluorescent-colored items and teeth glow in the dark when black light is turned on.
How Dangerous is Ultraviolet Light?
Temporary exposure to ultraviolet light is unlikely to be harmful; however, prolonged exposure within a short period of time may cause photokeratitis, warns the American Optometric Association. This is a minor burn to the eye and can result in discomfort, excessive tearing and increased sensitivity to light. Although normally temporary, photokeratitis can be uncomfortable for several days until it heals. Damage to the retina and a greater risk of eye disorders such as cataracts are other risks of prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, warns Elaine Kitchel of the American Printing House for the Blind. According to doctor of optometry Gary Heiting of AllAboutVision.com, all children -- including infants -- are more susceptible to retinal damage from UV rays because the lens of a child's eye is clearer than an adult's, allowing for a deeper penetration of UV into the eye.
How Do I Protect My Baby?
It's easy to protect your newborn's eyes from black light, simply by keeping him away from amusement parks, parties and anywhere else black light may be used. Don't get too anxious if you walk through a black-lit area with your baby, as long as you're only there briefly. If you know you'll be going somewhere that will have black light, invest in a pair of infant sunglasses to shield your newborn's eyes from UV-A rays.
A premature baby may be more susceptible to the dangers of black light because his eyes haven't completely developed yet. According to WebMD.com, the most rapid eye growth and development occurs during the last 12 weeks of pregnancy. If a premature baby's eyes are exposed to light sources that emit UV radiation, his retinas could be permanently damaged, according to Peter Robert Boyce, author of "Human Factors in Lighting."
- American Optometric Association: UV Protection
- Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: Ultraviolet A, Blue Light and Children
- All About Vision: Children's Sunglasses, Choosing the Best Sun Protection for Kids' Eyes
- WebMD: Premature Babies and Eye Problems
- Human Factors in Lighting; Peter Robert Boyce
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images