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Health

Here's What Staring Into A Microwave Actually Does To Your Eyes

Let’s settle this, once and for all.

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Microwaves are a beautiful invention.

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These magical little ovens make cooking possible for the lazy, college-aged, and/or culinary-challenged folks everywhere. Plus, they've made reheated leftovers the new main course. (And if you don't think reheated pizza is the best pizza, we can't be friends.)

Just don't stare directly at it when it's on! Or...at least that's what you've heard, right?

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You've probably been told — whether as a child or an adult — that peering into a microwave while it's cooking has all sorts of bad consequences, like poor vision, blindness, cancer.

But do microwaves actually do any damage to your vision?

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We reached out to Dr. Thomas Steinemann, board-certified ophthalmologist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Cleveland, to find out if looking inside your microwave is actually bad for your eyes or this is all a big myth.

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The myth originated from the false belief that microwave radiation can escape and cause heath problems.

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A microwave heats food by using electromagnetic radiation. This means it emits waves of light which "excite" the water molecules in the food, says Steinemann. All the molecules vibrate, which generates thermal energy and voila, hot food!

We know that too much exposure to certain kinds of radiation isn't great for your body, but that doesn't mean all radiation is harmful. Otherwise we wouldn't still have X-ray machines or bananas — all of which are radioactive.

But microwaves are designed with all the safeguards to prevent any unsafe exposure to radiation.

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Microwaves have been around since the 1960s, which means engineers have had a lot of time to figure out how to make them as safe and family-friendly as possible.

"The exposure to radiation is limited by two things — the grid on the door which blocks the waves and vibrations, and the seal around the door to keep all the gases inside," Steinemann says.

While it seems logical that all that electromagnetic energy in a tiny box could be harmful to look at, that's just not how it works, says Steinemann. There's no way any harmful amount of radiation can escape from the microwave, and especially not into your eyes.

All microwaves on the market have to meet the same safety standards, so the model makes no difference.

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There is a very low, acceptable level of radiation which won't harm our bodies, says Steinemann, and microwaves by law cannot exceed this level. (And keep in mind, we're exposed to harmless levels of radiation all the time from the environment.)

Have you ever seen a little uL symbol on your microwave and other appliances? "The uL means that the appliance meets XYZ standards of safety and there's no microwave on the market you can buy which isn't meeting those standards and is posing a threat to your health," says Steinemann. No uL seal? Then the product isn't legally available for sale.

By the way, that light in the microwave is actually there so you can look inside and see your food cooking.

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What you see in the microwave is just an appliance light like the one inside your oven, says Steinemann. It's there to help you keep an eye on your Easy Mac.

So don't worry, you can check on the status of your leftovers without fearing for your eyesight.

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"This is just an old wives' tale that won't go away, but I'm happy to say it's just that, a big myth," Steinemann says. While there's likely still ongoing research on the effects of microwaves on overall health, one thing is clear, says Steinemann: The past 50 years of research have consistently shown that microwaves won't harm us.

Just make sure to follow normal microwave safety practices — like no metal or flammable materials — and don't try to blow stuff up like you saw someone do on YouTube.