From my experience humans can detect UV - not by seeing it but by pain in their eyes. Many people (me too) feel pain when looking at UV lamps. When looking at sun through clouds I still can feel pain very often even if the after -all-image is not very bright (because of the clouds) but when I look at a light bulb or when I look at sun through sun-watching lenses (which cut all UV) I don't feel that pain despite of them being much brighter than the cloudy sun. I also have read about it once or two.

So, can this be true (I mean humans can detect UV with their eyes) or that's just a coincidence? And if it's true, how it happens?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Related question: Are there specific conditions that allow humans to see ultraviolet wavelengths $\endgroup$
    – Amory
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ I've read that before but this is about seeing UV in specific conditions. I ask about feeling UV with normal conditions. $\endgroup$
    – Jantomedes
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ Well, UV damages your eyes and damage is often expressed as pain. I'm not sure what else you are looking for. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ Surely, but is only about damaging eyes and if so, which parts? But this sounds a bit weird for me... UV doesn't hurt (I mean just pain) our skin and eyes of course something different but they... well doesn't see UV. $\endgroup$
    – Jantomedes
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure which parts of the eye are being damaged, but I would imagine that skin is much more durable than your lens, retina, etc, which can cause it to be less sensitive to UV. Your skin was meant to take abuse, your eye not so much $\endgroup$
    – von Mises
    Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


First to address some of the comments:

Concentrated UV damage does hurt your skin, it's called sunburn. Lighter amounts of UV damage can cause cancer over time. UV damage can be "felt", as can photonic pressure in extreme cases. The issue at hand is "what is detection."

Back to your eyes: As addressed in this answer, the human retina is able to detect UV light if it is not blocked by the lens.

I believe your question, restated slightly, is "can we call the pain experienced by UV damage to our eyes human detection of UV light." Generically I think the answer is no, because we lack the specificity to determine that it is UV light. Many forms of ionizing radiation can lead to pain, and we would be unable to distinguish between them. We cannot tell the gradation from UV to gamma, despite the damage they might cause. Contrast this to the visible light spectrum, where we are quite good at determining the wave length.

Further, you could have similar damage caused by infection, where again you couldn't distinguish between the pain and fuzzy sensation caused by the very beginning of infection vs slight UV damage (though blueberry might help).

Does UV light damage your eyes? Absolutely in large enough doses. Can it be called detection? Probably not. We can deduce UV damage from lots of things, including changes in the color of the pigmentation of your eyes (gold flakes = bad). When we get to the level of deduction, however, we might as well be using machines to detect UV light and save our eyes (and skin) the trouble.


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