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Can a Laser Pointer Cause Cancer?


Generally, low intensity, everyday-use laser pointers cannot cause cancer or any skin diseases, as the concentrated light acts like normal red light would. However, there is always the risk of eye injury from improper use of laser pointers. 

Let’s examine whether laser pointers carry the risk of cancer in detail. 

Can A Laser Pointer Cause Cancer?

A cancer article

As mentioned above, conventional laser pointers used as visual or instructional aids in classrooms and offices are not harmful. The light emitted by these laser pointers does not pass through the skin, and it’s not strong enough to heat or energize any living cells. In contrast, X-rays and UV rays can pass through your skin and flesh, and being exposed to them for long durations can harm your health. Prolonged exposure to X-rays, in particular, can charge your cells up and may even break them down, and this is known to cause cancer.

Any common laser apparatus gives a very negligible amount of laser radiation, and the light from these lasers can’t pass through the skin; therefore, these lasers cannot affect your health negatively. However, the concentrated light emitted by this apparatus can damage a person’s eyes. 

Some laser pointers emit quite a lot of radiation when turned on, but it only results in a visible light beam. While visible light beams represent more intense radiation, not every visible laser beam is intense enough to cause cancers to develop.    

Multiple colors laser

Some lasers emit radiation that we can’t see with the naked eye. This radiation depends entirely on the color of the laser and can either be UV or infrared radiation. Low-intensity UV or infrared rays aren’t harmful to the human body, either. 

Keep in mind being overexposed to anything would increase your chances of developing illnesses. Similarly, spending a few days exposed to a low-intensity laser will increase your chances of developing cancer.

Some systems also generate infrared and UV rays, and you need to take precautions that help you avoid being exposed or limit your exposure to them. Examples of such systems include the 5mW laser, typically used for astronomy and industrial-strength laser pointers that can set fire to any surface it touches. Exposure to such lasers is extremely dangerous. 

Is Laser Radiation Harmful?

A caution sign of laser radiation

The word laser is an acronym that stands for:

Light 

Amplification by the 

Stimulated 

Emission of 

Radiation

Radiation here can refer to any energy, including plain photons amplified and concentrated at one point. Laser devices turn energy into visible light, and a stronger energy source can produce more light. With so many different lasers out there, each uses a different base material to create light. 

However, one thing is common to all of these laser devices; they all amplify or excite photons, causing energy to release. Energy across the light spectrum, i.e., infrared, visible, and UV rays, are also released in this process. The UV and IR ranges are considered to be radiation that isn’t dangerous in small amounts. 

This radiation should not be confused with relatively harmful radiation, i.e., microwaves, x-rays, radioactive radiation that can ionize everything, and radio waves.  

Red laser beam

High-intensity lasers are much more harmful because of the infrared waves around them that cause everything to heat up. This heat can be dangerous and lead to second or third-degree burns; however, IR does not cause cancer. On the other hand, UV radiation can alter your cells’ structure, causing lesions called actinic keratoses. These lesions can grow into lymph nodes and cause cancer if not treated immediately.

You may find that your skin becomes scaly, red, and irritated with a constant burning sensation; however, it won’t cause a lot of swelling. If the swelling is excessive, it’s a sign that you may have been exposed to radioactive radiation. However, keep in mind that you need to be exposed to a lot of UV radiation for this to happen. Usually, it takes a lifetime of sun exposure for skin cancer to develop from the sun’s UV rays.

What Kind of Laser Can Cause Cancer?

focus red laser using a lens

Lasers classified above Class 2 are known to present an increased risk of cancer, especially after prolonged use. Below is a table that shows how these lasers are classified by the FDA and IEC Standard 60825:2021 based on their potential hazard. 

Class (FDA)Class (IEC)Hazard ClassificationProducts 
I1, 1MNon-hazardous unless pointed directly at an eye or used with magnifying equipment.
  • Printers
  • CD/DVD player
IIa, II2, 2MSlight hazard to eyes. Not a potential hazard to skin unless exposed for at least 12 hours consecutively. 
  • Barcode scanner
IIIa3RHazardous if used for long periods. Risk of injury upon eye contact. Presents no risk of cancer.
  • Presentation laser pointers
IIIb3BImmediate skin and eye hazard. Slight risk of cancer if used for months.  
  • Laser projectors
  • Research lasers
IV4Very high skin and eye hazard. Fire hazard. Cancer hazard if exposed for a few hours.
  • LASIK surgery. 
  • Heating/cutting lasers.

The table above shows that average-powered and some high-powered lasers will not be enough to cause cancer on their own. A general rule of thumb to follow is to avoid buying any laser pointer with a power output of 5mW and above. Pointers that exceed this limit aren’t exactly illegal, but they do require filing a compliance report. 

Another important consideration to make is regarding the battery powering your laser. Button battery-powered lasers are usually not powerful and AA batteries may only go as high as 4.2 mW, making them safe for everyday use. In contrast, D-size batteries provide power greater than 5mW; hence, they aren’t suitable for use in everyday laser devices.

Laser Go On Forever

Furthermore, blue and violet laser pointers are much more dangerous for your skin, even if they don’t cause cancer. 

As per FDA guidelines, blue and violet laser pointers can cause immediate damage to the human eye and irritation to the skin because we are naturally less sensitive to these colors. We would most likely be slower to react to these colored lasers, and in the duration between exposure and our probable reaction, the likelihood of injury may have increased considerably.

a gun transmitting laser light

High-power handheld laser devices started becoming very popular a few years ago, and many opticians called the rise in their popularity an “ocular epidemic.”  

The risk of cancer with common laser pointers is non-existent. Still, you should keep other safety issues in mind when working with these pointers, like the risk they pose to people’s eyes. Low-powered laser devices continue to be part of event lighting, presentations, construction work, and a range of other applications, and even though they don’t cause cancer, people should continue to take proper precautions when working with them.


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