Can you use sunglasses to view the solar eclipse?

(NEXSTAR) — The U.S. will soon have the chance to see a celestial event we haven’t seen in years: a total solar eclipse. It’s something you may not want to miss, especially because it will be another 20 years before a solar eclipse is visible in the U.S. 

Before you look skyward on April 8, it’s important to know that you’ll need to protect your eyes.

While the moon will partially block out the sun (or entirely, if you’re in the path of totality), it will still be dangerous to stare directly at the sun during the eclipse. Looking at the eclipse without protection even for just a short moment “will instantly cause severe eye injury,” NASA warns.

This damage — known as eclipse blindness, or solar retinopathy — can heal over time, but it’s possible it will become permanent because there is little that can be done to repair it, Dr. Andrew Neighbors, a Seattle-based optometrist, told Nexstar’s KXAN.

“Anywhere that the retina was exposed to that level of energy, it can burn it permanently and hurt your rods and cones, which can give you bad central vision, distorted vision, and it can affect your color vision as well,” optometrist Dr. James Forde told Nexstar’s WSYR.

This may leave you wondering: are sunglasses enough to protect your eyes while viewing the solar eclipse?

The short answer is no. 

According to NASA, “regular sunglasses, no matter how dark, are not safe for viewing the Sun.” Instead, you’ll want to find special eclipse glasses. These are at least 1,000 times darker than the darkest sunglasses you can find, Scientific American reports. 

And before you ask, a welding mask probably isn’t strong enough either. The exception, Phillips Safety explains, are welding glasses or masks that have a shade level of 14.

People watch a solar eclipse from the deck of a specially chartered ferry in the English Channel, 11th August 1999. (Photo by Colin Davey/Getty Images)

If you don’t have a strong welding lens handy, you’ll want to get a pair of solar eclipse glasses. 

Solar eclipse glasses, according to the American Optometric Association, are usually made of paper with a dark film that covers your eyes. That film should meet the international standard of ISO 12312-2. Experts say that code, as well as the authentic ISO certification label, need to be on any eclipse glasses you pick up to ensure your eyes are protected. 

Your glasses should also fit properly, come from a reputable manufacturer and vendor, and not have any defects to the film intended to protect your eyes.

You may be able to find eclipse glasses for free or at various major retailers.  

You can also create your own eclipse viewing device. Speaking with Nexstar’s KRQE, Dr. Robert Avery, professor of ophthalmology at the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the UNM School of Medicine, suggested people make a pinhole projector that allows “the sun’s image to be indirectly projected onto a piece of cardboard or, or paper so that you can view the eclipse indirectly without staring directly at the sun,” he said. NASA’s video tutorial on how to make a pinhole projector can be found by clicking here.

If you find yourself driving during the solar eclipse, AAA says you should find a safe place to park before watching the event. Don’t drive while wearing your eclipse glasses, and be sure to turn your headlights on when the temporary darkness sets in. 

The total solar eclipse will take place on April 8. You can view this map to determine what you’ll be able to see and when you’ll get to see it.

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