A 2009 study conducted by Canada’s Trent University found that UV radiation given off by fluorescent lights may cause migraines, eye strain, and dizziness to people within immediate exposure. The study also concluded that these effects are mitigated by placing fluorescent lights at least 1-2 ft. away.
In 2011, the United States passed the Energy Independence and Security Act which prohibited the manufacturing of 100 watt incandescent bulbs. Amazed by the potential energy savings of CFL bulbs, many retailers and store shelves began to phase out incandescents for more efficient CFL bulbs.
Despite their significant cost-savings over the long run, many people have begun to question the health effects of fluorescent lighting. Is the UV radiation emitted from a CFL bulb comparable to spending a day at the beach or are there positive benefits in using CFL bulbs in the treatment of skin diseases and depression?
Is it conspiracy or science? Let’s explore the great CFL debate.
The Great CFL Debate
Fluorescent lights pass electricity through a ballast, which then excites mercury and other gas molecules to produce light. Although, unlike sunlight, the light that a fluorescent bulb emits only gives us part of the visual spectrum- primarily concentrated blue and red light.
Many people equate the harsh radiation emitted from a fluorescent light to many health defects, such as:
- Sleep Disruption
- Endocrine Disruption
- Increased Stress/ Anxiety
Some scientists have also attributed the UV concentration to obesity, menstrual cycle disruption, and maturation disruption. On the other hand, CFLs last up to 13x longer than incandescent bulbs and most modern day CFLs are much safer for consumption than older fluorescent light bulbs.
It’s important to remember that CFLs contain harmful mercury so you should always be safe when disposing of a CFL bulb. Check all new bulbs for any cracks or holes that will intensify the amount of UV light being emitted from the bulb.
Top CFL Health Effects
The flow of electricity through a fluorescent bulb is not always steady. This causes the bulb to flicker and has been shown to cause eye strain in individuals.
Most individuals will not regularly notice this effect and may become used to it unless it intensifies and crosses the JND (just-noticeable difference) threshold. For individuals with a heightened photosensitivity, the flicker effect may be perceived and can cause migraines. Light flickering may also contribute to headaches and seizures in other people who don't necessarily perceive them.
You may ask to install some fluorescent light filters at your workplace, though be careful- some filters may increase the amount of UV radiation produced and damage your skin in the process.
DISRUPTING SLEEP PATTERNS
Unlike older CFLs that produce a flicker, most industry experts contend that modern CFL flickering is unnoticeable to the eye, even of the photosensitive. Unfortunately, traditional and spectral frequencies may still hit the retina and pass through the circadian pathways, as opposed to the visual cortex.
This phenomenon severely disrupts physiological processes in the brain and restricts the production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that promotes sleep and wakefulness in your body.
Combine this with the amount of blue light emitted from a CFL and this could intermittently disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm.
While this is true, individuals can avoid this effect by staying away from fluorescent lights 2 hours before they go to sleep.
THE MOOD DEBATE
The fluorescent light did not come into the mainstream until the 1970s. Before the 20th century, people did not even have access to lightbulbs. Our earlier ancestors survived off of the light from the sun, completing work near a window and waking up when the sun’s light beckoned them forth.
Many people believe that the rise of artificial lights and the night owl phenomenon have led to the return of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression caused during the darker winter months when people have relatively little exposure to sunlight.
The oversaturation of blue light and lack of sunlight in most people’s lives have led many psychologists to conclude that fluorescent lights actually help mimic the symptoms of SAD.
On the contrary, fluorescent lights are actively used in the process of phototherapy, which attempts to mimic natural sunlight to cure the effects of SAD. Fluorescent lights are by no means a substitute for sunlight and avoiding sunlight may lead to stress and depression, which contributes to many of these symptoms.
Currently, there’s no definitive proof that CFL bulbs lead to an increase in cancer. Many of the effects of CFL radiation can be reduced by simply moving the bulb 1 to 2ft. away from the individual.
If you’re still worried, consider switching to LED lights, which are even more energy efficient, last longer and contain no mercury.
Individuals can also replace their existing magnetic ballasts with an electronic one to further limit the amount of radiation being emitted.
Regardless of which bulb you choose, both LED lights and CFL bulbs have numerous benefits which can help with your energy management. In the end, CFL bulbs have improved upon older fluorescent bulbs and will save you more money in the long-term, as opposed to sticking with an incandescent bulb.