Fact Check

Put suntan lotion on eyes to watch eclipse?

Headline: Eclipse 2017: People treated for putting suntan lotion on eyeballs to watch solar event. Where: This Aug 29 report was published in The Independent, a British online newspaper.

Forbes Magazine and Fox News picked up the story, according to Snopes.com, a fact-checking site, which said the news came from a single unverified source.

The headline in Forbes read: "For the eclipse, people put sunscreen on their eyeballs."

Checked: While it is unclear if anyone really tried to put suntan lotion or sunscreen on their eyes, it is clear that such an act is unwise.

"The chemicals in suntan lotion can certainly cause irritation to the delicate surface of the eye, although it will probably not cause permanent damage," said Dr Khor Wei Boon, a consultant at the Singapore National Eye Centre's cornea & external eye disease department.

"My reading of the report is that people really did spray sunscreen into their eyes. Of course, it is not a good thing to do. The irritation could include blurring of vision, tearing, pain and swelling of the eyelids."

Dr Khor advises people who get suntan lotion or sunscreen in their eyes to wash it out with clean water or lubricating drops. They should see an eye doctor if the irritation does not cease after a few hours.

What's more, staring directly at the sun can damage the eyes.

The article in The Independent quoted a health expert saying that it takes only seconds of staring directly at the sun to cause lasting damage.

Dr Khor said this is true. "The eye is extremely efficient in focusing light into the centre of the nerve layer of the eye (macula) and even a few seconds of exposure to direct sunlight may cause damage to the macula."

Symptoms include blurring. If it's a short exposure, the eye may still recover within a few weeks to six months, he said.

"However, prolonged staring at the sun may lead to permanant damage, resulting in distortion or loss of the central vision."

Joyce Teo

•This column seeks to debunk fake health news reported around the world. It will run till the end of October.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Put suntan lotion on eyes to watch eclipse?'. Print Edition | Subscribe