Why did I get a burn from glassblowing when nobody else did?
September 26, 2019 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Are some people more likely to burn than others?

I am taking a glassblowing class. After the first 2 weeks my left hand (closest to the furnace) felt tight, but not burnt. Last night I went to gather glass from the furnace and I could feel my hand burn. I have 3 blisters along my thumb/index finger. My teacher was really surprised and none of the other students burnt like this. We are all white. I don't think I am any paler than the others. I have one class left and I am concerned that I won't be able to gather glass with an existing burn.
We do wear gauntlets, but they don't cover the fingers.
Am I just cursed with fragile skin? I'd love to keep glassblowing if I can.
posted by Biblio to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I vote yes. I am way more sensitive to heat and I thought it was just me being a wuss. Then this happened: Standing with boyfriend at ironing board with hot iron. I touch iron quickly to see if hot. Yike! Hot. Boyfriend touches iron. He says: It's barely hot, yet. He touches for a full second. Fine. I touch. Get a burn.

Pale skin doesn't seem to have to do with it. While I am pale he is pale and very blonde.

I also don't seem to take my showers as hot as others. My bathroom isn't steaming like crazy like the rest of the family when I get out.
posted by beccaj at 7:39 AM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yep, my father was a chef & could handle pans & trays around the house that would leave the rest of us blistered. I suspect it had more to do with the fact he worked with his hands all day so had much thicker, drier rougher skin on his hands. Rougher drier skin would conduct heat less well.
posted by wwax at 7:47 AM on September 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

It's certainly possible, but at least based on my lab experience the alternate hypothesis is you got the injury earlier (the one that caused the blisters) earlier and either didn't notice it or discounted it. Then the injured area felt more pain from the hot glass when it was re-exposed to a "safe" level of heat that other people could handle easily.
posted by mark k at 7:59 AM on September 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yeah, burns can damage cumulatively, and skin that has a sustained minor heat damage and not fully healed is more likely to be further damaged when subjected to further heat, compared to healthy skin on the same person.

There is also surely some genetic variability and some ability to acquire resistance/tolerance for heat, but I think the repeated exposure of partially burned skin has compounded those effects.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:21 AM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've noticed it even on myself that two burns which feel similar at the time and have the same causes (oops, bumped the oven grate again) may have very different levels of severity ("ooh, that's gonna blister" and one does, and the other barely even made a pink mark) and heal at different speeds. If I had to hypothesize I would guess the differences have to do with my psychological state, stress levels, and general inflammation/immune response levels at the time. But I'm just guessing because those seem to impact EVERYTHING.

Just to say, may not be your innate static sensitivity to burning, may also be something that varies over time and you just need to pay attention to. Definitely it's a sign to trust yourself over the teacher in this case.
posted by Lady Li at 10:03 AM on September 26, 2019

My partner and I have observed something similar from touching hot stuff and it's our joke that he has poor baby fingers because he finds things super hot that I can just pick up with my hands on the BBQ and flip. It builds up.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:07 PM on September 26, 2019

I took a glassblowing class years ago, and they said the furnace gives off UV rays. We used to wear arm coverings, but sunscreen might also be a good idea.
I wondered if this might just be made up but after a quick online search there are a number of places that suggest it. (For example)
posted by exceptinsects at 6:40 PM on September 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have never known of someone who just couldn’t gather and would get burned. Was this a day tank? Some of ours used to have a pretty noticible flame shooting out of the front and if you stick your hand up into that, you can easily get burned (or lose all the hair on your hand, most likely, which by the way smells gross for at least a full day).

In the event you think you have been burned, even if it was severe like grabbing a hot rod or pipe, run cold water—lots of cold water—on it for several minutes. I’ve never gotten a blister if I’ve done that though I did lose all the feeling in three finger tips for around a week. But you can’t dink around “saving the piece,” you have to chill the burn right now. Sorry if you have already heard this, but it works too well not to pass on.

Also, wearing any kind of gloves can present the possibility of a worse burn. I wouldn’t recommend them for a beginner especially. Good luck and I’d wait until that burn is better before continuing.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:43 PM on September 26, 2019

Seconding the cumulative burn problem. If your skin was already injured from initial exposure and then you expose it to the same source again, it's going to get hurt worse.

As for sensitivity, the joke in my house is that my partner has asbestos fingers and will pluck pasta out of boiling water to test if it's done whereas I use a potholder to pick up the tea kettle's insulated handle. She's fairer-skinned than I am.
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:59 AM on September 27, 2019

Seconding that some people just burn easier than others - my skin can handle things that will raise a blister on my partner's.

Another possible culprit is phytophotodermatitis - if you've e.g. squeezed a bunch of limes recently your skin can become hypersensitized to UV, which furnaces can definitely emit.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:50 PM on September 27, 2019

I definitely didn't handle any limes!
All I did was gather from the big furnace, which did not have any flames.
I guess I am constitutionally not suited to glassblowing.
At least I got one piece done!
posted by Biblio at 10:41 AM on September 28, 2019

To follow on to the UV rays info posted by exceptinsects: medications, supplements, and cosmetics (including hand creams and body lotions) can increase skin sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:05 PM on September 29, 2019

Turns out both Seroquel and Lamictal, which I take, can cause photosensitivity. Never would have connected the two.
posted by Biblio at 1:46 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

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