I Burning Your Magnesium! Is This Hazardous?

I got my kids a chemistry set for Christmas and we started off with the extremely scientific and technically challenging experiment of burning the little magnesium ribbon to see the intense white flame. I got a good close look at the smoldering, powdery remnants as the ribbon burned out.

The next morning I woke up with red, puffy and slightly peeling skin all over my face. It was very similar to the kind of burn you get on a sunny day at the ski slopes. I didn’t have any respiratory symptoms except possibly a very mild sore throat, and had no vision problems. (The light can be bright enough to damage your eyes if you stare at it for a long time.)

Could the magnesium combustion have burned my face? I looked up a few internet articles and it seems the bright, hot flame of burning magnesium can be enough to cause minor burns from the radiant heat. A couple of sites said the magnesium oxide dust and smoke can get into your skin and cause irritation. But none of the sites seemed all that definitive. They were more like, “This could theoretically happen.” I didn’t feel a lot of heat, and the burn/rash didn’t show up until the next day, so it took some time to develop. But that happens to me (and maybe everyone) with regular sunburns.

Anyone out there done this experiment with similar results?

Burning magnesium produces magnesium oxide, the process of which can release harmful amounts of UV light, which could account for your symptoms. Your sore throat could be explained by metal fume fever. Disclaimer; IANAD, nor do I play one on TV, so see a physician if you need serious medical advice.

More on the health effects of magnesium oxide:


IMHO, you got a radiation burn from the white hot flame of the burning Mg. I don’t know how much UV might be given off by that flame, but I’ll bet there was some.

I hadn’t heard of people being burned by the radiant energy from a magnesium ribbon. Although, looking at one closely while burning it is a good way to cause eye damage, it is very bright, the hand book should have suggested you look away. Then again, what fun is that. There’s also the possibility you have a chemical burn from the product magnesium oxide, it’s pretty fluffy, as I recall, and might have gotten on your skin. For that, I do have a citation:


Now for my question, I was sure by now that all the fun chemistry sets, with real chemicals in them were long since gone. Where did you get this cool one? Who makes it? And what other goodies are in it?

Yeah I’m a little slower. But I still what to know where this chem set is from.

Yeah, that’s what I want to know! I thought they were all cutesy wutesy not-dangerous crap nowadays! (I want one. Real bad.)

Magnesium oxide is the same stuff thats in Milk of Magnesia I think. So it is doubtful that exposure to it would cause the problem.

Your symptoms sounds like the UV burns I’ve gotten while welding without a hood. So UV exposure IMO.


Googling shows that it is magnesium hydroxide in Milk of Magnesia. It was a chemistry website that I read recently that said it was magnesium oxide, not sure if it makes a difference.

Thanks for the replies.

For the curious, here is the chemistry set I bought. It has maybe one fifth of the really interesting compounds you got in the chemistry sets of my youth (1970s). I remember making potassium nitrate and combining it with charcoal and sulfur to make some really crappy black powder. It went off with sort of a fizzling zing when I lit it. Good thing I wasn’t smart enough to fully dry the potassium nitrate or I’d have burned my house down.

Magnesium Oxide + water = Magnesium Hydroxide

It’s hard to believe that burning a small amount of magnesium will be enough to cause UV burns, but magnesium fires can cause UV burns so I don’t know.

In my town, there was a fire in a magnesium recycling plant a couple years ago. The police and fire departments evacuated several square miles of homes downwind.

And in general, living tissue provides a nice handy supply of water for this reaction, although the MgO won’t care two hoots whether losing the water is good for said tissue. If you hop down the “Alkaline Earth Metals” column of the periodic table to magnesium’s more reactive brother, calcium, you get to a rather less pleasant reagent of this type, quicklime.

That is right, but mostly I was pointing out that milk of Magnesia is just as well described as made from Magnesium Oxide as Magnesium Hydroxide since it is an aqueous solution. I suspect MgO is a very good desiccant, and fairly irritating, but I didn’t look up the MSDS.

I’d somehow doubt that a single piece of magnesium ribbon would cause that much damage. I met my old secondary school chemistry teacher the other day and he was fine despite burning it in front of the class at the drop of a hat.

And I’m sure his pupils were fine despite sneaking rolls of it home with them in the evening (as I’m sure all Dopers did ;))


Combine a few 20 foot rolls, and the some weather balloons from Edmund Scientific’s catalog (filled with hydrogen), and you have some dandy UFO sightings all across the county.

“You see officer, there was this bright light that turned into a fireball. I think it crashed over there!”

Good Times.

Good times indeed, I only burned a few centimetres in Dad’s garage :frowning: