» Energy Saving Lamps
Energy-Saving Lamps & Health
Context - Currently, conventional incandescent lamps are in the process of being replaced with more energy-efficient lamps, mainly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Fluorescent light has been used for many years in overhead fluorescent tubes without causing any problems. Nevertheless, certain “light sensitive” citizens’ associations have voiced concerns about compact fluorescent lamps.
Do these energy-saving lamps aggravate the symptoms in patients with certain diseases?
An assessment by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR)
Latest update: 29 May 2009
2. How does light, infrared and UV radiation interact with skin and eyes?
Interaction with skin and eyes depends on the wavelength of the
Light is essential to life on Earth and affects humans and other
living organisms in various ways. For instance, the interaction of light
with our skin and eyes influences our perception of warmth and cold. It
also helps the body regulate processes that lead to wakefulness and rest
during the cycle of day and night, and across the different seasons.
When radiation reaches the skin or the eyes, it can be reflected or it
can penetrate the tissue and be
absorbed or scattered in various
directions. This interaction depends on the wavelength of the radiation.
does not penetrate further than the upper layers of the skin.
Although it has some beneficial effects such as helping production
of vitamin D, in general it is
considered to be harmful as it can damage
DNA in the skin and eyes,
especially ultraviolet radiation with short wavelengths (UVCs). Some
people are particularly susceptible to UV radiation and become
sunburned even after extremely low exposures or show abnormal
allergy-like skin reactions.
- Radiation of longer wavelengths, including
is usually harmless although it can warm up exposed
tissue. The interaction of
visible light with the light-sensitive
cells in the eye allows us to
3. How do fluorescent lamps work?
A single-envelope compact fluorescent lamp
Fluorescent lamps are made of a
glass tube containing a low pressure mixture of gases including
mercury. The tubes are coated with
fluorescent chemicals. When the current is switched on, the starting
mechanisms at each end of the lamp produce
electrons that excite the gases
inside the tube and make them release ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This
UV radiation hits the fluorescent coating, which produces light. The
colour of the light produced depends on the chemical composition of the
coating. Some fluorescent lamps emit more blue light than conventional
incandescent lamps and therefore
simulate daylight better.
Fluorescent lamps have a glass
envelope which filters out
ultraviolet radiation but, in some
cases, some UV radiation can get through. Using double glass envelopes
dramatically reduces the amount of UV radiation emitted.
Compact fluorescent lamps
(CFLs) emit light and some UV
radiation, but their electronic circuitry – like any electronic or
electric device – also generates
some electromagnetic fields. The
magnitude of these fields, at typical operating distances, remains well
below what is tolerable and typical for household appliances.
In contrast to conventional
incandescent lamps that only
generate low frequency
compact fluorescent lamps generate
both low and intermediate frequency fields. The exact frequency range
depends on the type of lamp.
Any lamp’s intensity may oscillate or ‘flicker’ when powered by
alternating current. While older
technology of fluorescent lamps
showed considerable flickering, due to the electronic circuitry needed
for operation, this problem has been reduced considerably with current
technology, to such an extent that
CFLs are called “flicker-free”.
4. Can fluorescent lamps worsen health conditions not related to the skin?
Flicker can induce migraine
Source: Bob Smith
Some people suffering from various health conditions not related to
the skin claim that the use of
fluorescent lamps aggravates their
symptoms. Such a link is not supported by scientific evidence. There is
a need for additional studies before final conclusions can be drawn
regarding several conditions. The concerns have been attributed to
different characteristics of energy-saving
compact fluorescent lamps
(CFLs), namely flicker, the
ultraviolet radiation and blue light
they produce, and
Flicker in general can induce
migraine and even
seizures in some epileptic patients, but no such
effects have been reported with properly working
There is some evidence that blue light in general can aggravate
retinal diseases in susceptible patients.
It cannot be excluded that
abnormal sensitivity to light, is induced or aggravated by different
There is no evidence that fluorescent light has negative effects on
autism, but an
influence cannot be excluded.
There is sufficient evidence indicating that the use of
compact fluorescent lamps does not
Irlen Meares –
learning disabilities that result in difficulties with reading and
There have not been any reported effects of
compact fluorescent lamps on
chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, dyspraxia,
It is extremely unlikely that
fluorescent lamps used for room
illumination can cause
snow blindness or
There does not seem to be any link between
electromagnetic fields generated by
compact or other fluorescent lamps
5. Can fluorescent lamps affect people with skin conditions?
Lamps used close to the skin could cause problems for people who
are extremely light-sensitive
Source: Simon Cataudo
Exposure to certain types of
compact fluorescent lamps
(CFLs) with a single glass
envelope may induce problems in patients who are extremely sensitive to
sunlight, in particular to its UVA
and UVB components. This is
particularly the case when the source is close to the skin (i.e. 20 cm
or less). Extremely sensitive patients include people with inherited
skin diseases brought on by light, as well as people with some skin
diseases which have no known causes. Unfiltered UV light from such
compact fluorescent lamps could
also cause skin reactions in people with
Several drugs cause skin problems when used in combination with
exposure to light.
Compact fluorescent lamps are
unlikely to be a problem. In the treatment of some
cancers, several drugs are used
that are activated by exposure to light and that can cause skin problems
in some patients. Patients receiving such treatment could potentially
show a marginally greater reaction when exposed to light from compact
fluorescent lamps compared with
light from incandescent lamps.
These adverse reactions are expected to affect only a relatively small
number of people and could be avoided by using double-envelope
CFLs which are better at filtering
out ultraviolet radiation.
For these diseases, more research is needed to establish whether
compact fluorescent lamps
constitute a higher risk than
The UV doses from
compact fluorescent lamps are
estimated to be too small to contribute to
6. Do energy-saving lamps pose a risk to some groups of patients in the EU?
Some patient groups are concerned that using
compact fluorescent lamps instead
of conventional incandescent lamps
would aggravate certain diseases. The main causes for concern are
flickering and the
electromagnetic fields and blue
light that these lamps produce.
Flickering lights can aggravate the symptoms of
certain diseases such as epilepsy
and migraines. There is, however, no evidence that the use of
traditional fluorescent tubes or
compact fluorescent lamps have the
There is no evidence that
from compact fluorescent lamps
cause or aggravate existing symptoms in patients with certain
UVC and blue light radiation
could potentially aggravate the symptoms in some patients with diseases
that make them abnormally sensitive to light. In the worst case
scenario, this would roughly concern some 250 000 people across the EU.
The risk from
compact fluorescent lamps is
negligible for the general public. However, using some single-envelope
compact fluorescent lamps for long
periods of time near the body (less than 20 cm away), may lead to
ultraviolet exposures approaching the current workplace limit set to
protect workers from skin and retinal damage. Using double-envelope
energy-saving lamps would largely or entirely mitigate the risks for
both the general population and light-sensitive individuals.
Double-envelope lamps would mitigate risks for light-sensitive
patients and others
The SCENIHR examined the characteristics of energy-saving
compact fluorescent lamps
(CFLs) in order to assess health
risks related to their use. Based on this analysis, the Committee
- There is no evidence showing that flicker and
electromagnetic fields from
compact fluorescent lamps pose
a risk to sensitive individuals.
- The only property of compact fluorescent lamps that could pose
an added risk is the ultraviolet and blue light radiation emitted by
such devices. In the worst case, this radiation could aggravate
symptoms in roughly 250 000 people across the EU, who suffer rare
skin conditions that make them exceptionally sensitive to light.
- The general population could receive significant amounts of
ultraviolet radiation if they
are exposed to the light produced by some single-envelope compact
fluorescent lamps for long periods of time at distances of less than
- The use of double-envelope energy-saving lamps or similar
technology would mitigate risks both for the general population and
for light-sensitive patients.